Student Spotlight: Aimee Paxton

Photo of Aimee Paxton acting in a play at the University of Montana

Aimee's Story

In this episode of confluence, hear from Aimee Paxton, a first year graduate student at UM's School of Theatre & Dance on her decision to come to UM, taking on the biggest role of her life, and learning from a 'mad scientist'.

My name is Aimee Paxton, and I am a grad student in the Theatre and Dance department.

I always knew that I wanted to go back to school for a theater degree, I just didn't know when or where that would happen. What brought me to Missoula was that a few years ago, I was at a big theater festival, and they have something called Next Step auditions. Someone from this department was viewing the auditions, and a day later, I received an email just to let me know, you know, 'we have this grad program in Missoula,' and then I spoke about it with some friends and they spoke highly of this program and I visited for professionals weekend and ended up really liking it. So I completed the application process and the audition process. And here I am.

I love that they are incorporating more musical theater and dance into their program. I was very impressed when I toured the school of how tech heavy it is for the students. And how many wonderful tech students come out of this program. It's just a huge program. I love that there's so many students that are majoring in theater, and it's just very encouraging. That definitely drew me to the department.

I skyrocketed into this program at a hundred miles an hour. Day one of school we started rehearsals for Summer and Smoke. Alma is an amazing character, and a beautiful character and a huge character, the biggest role I've ever taken on.

What have been some of the biggest challenges or favorite moments from having this major leading role?

First and foremost, the lines that she has. Secondly, there are a few moments of– I think it would be called Hyper Realism?– where some things are kind of in her head, but they're shown on stage. There's a moment when she sees John Buchanan outside and she shouts, 'There he is!' and reaches forward and and then has like a contraction or something inside, and something strikes her.

It's all not real. But Tennessee Williams wrote that into the play beautifully. I think that that is my most challenging moment.

I'm learning tons from Bernadette Sweeney, who is the director of Summer and Smoke and just freaking brilliant. Just brilliant. She started right off the bat with object work, which is basically just working with an object that your character might use in the show, and learning the different ways that you might interact with that object, whether it's a hot day, or someone just yelled at you. She would give us all these different circumstances. There's something about physical performance theater that she's really good at.

Bernadette was able to create these moments in Summer and Smoke between John and Alma. They're like repeated moments. In the beginning of the show, John touches Alma's heart, and then towards the end of Act One, Alma touches John's heart, and then you're reminded of the beginning, 'Oh, remember that time when things were a little more bright and cheery and he was touching her heart?' There's little reminders in there. I don't know, she's brilliant. Ryson Sparacino who plays John in Summer and Smoke calls Bernadette a mad scientist. And it's very true.

Our days are very, very full. I'm not teaching this semester, but I am doing all of the publicity. So there's meetings: meetings with the newspaper and meetings with faculty and just trying to figure all of those things out for publicity and lots of classes. Then on my downtime, I'll study more Alma or do homework, and then I'll go to rehearsal for about four hours in the evening. It's a long, long day, but I love it.

I guess I feel like I need to do theater because I love storytelling. It can be a very self centered profession or business. But there's something so inspiring about going into the theater and putting on a show with the mindset that you're going to reach one audience member today, at least one, and they're going to be able to relate to you or they're going to know that they are not alone in something.

I would love to, in five years, work for three or four different regional theaters, professional theaters, and audition for them and travel a little bit. I also think it would be fun to one day be an artistic director of a theater company. But we'll see. We'll see. That's way down the road.