Local girl trying to make it big in New York acting world

Published 11:25 pm Friday, November 14, 2008

The first time actress and Franklin native Natalie Newman ever stepped on stage was as Toto in a community theater production of “The Wizard of Oz.” Although she had no lines, just being onstage made the 5-year-old realize she never wanted to leave it.

“I just got up on stage and I was bit,” Newman said. “And ever since then I just knew that [acting] was what I wanted to do.”

Born in Franklin to Pat and Sybil , Newman spent much of her youth in North Carolina. As she grew up, she took dance classes and performed in school, church and community plays. According to her mother, young Natalie appeared in shows such as “Annie” and productions of the Carolinian Shakespeare Festival in New Bern, N.C.

“She has a natural ability to wrap her brain around a character and act them out,” her mother said, adding that even as Toto, her daughter “stole the show because she was so animated.”

Natalie says acting has always seemed the natural result of her personality.

“I’ve always been sort of ham, I guess,” she said, laughing as she spoke. “Acting has never been much of a stretch for me.”

While attending Elon University, Newman continued to pursue her love of acting by earning a bachelor of fine arts in music theater, and bachelor of arts in dance. After college, Newman moved to New York City and has appeared in productions all around the country, most notably in a recent national tour of “Grease.” She says there is nothing else she would rather do.

“There is nothing else like performing in front of a live audience and sharing that back and forth, that trading of energy, with the crowd,” she said. “It’s a hard career, but I get to do what I love — it’s awesome.”

Earlier this month, Newman appeared in a Roanoke production of “The Spitfire Grill” with the Mill Mountain Theater. Based on the 1996 film of the same name, the musical tells the story of a young parolee who moves to a small, southern town and how she affects the people in the town, and how they affect her.

According to Newman, acting in the production brought out the best and worst parts of her profession, namely being part of a good production but then having to leave a well-loved cast.

“I look at all of my roles very fondly,” she said. “‘The Spitfire Grill’ is very near and dear to my heart, because it was such a tight cast and it was so well-cast. I doubt there was anyone in the audience who looked at any of the actors and didn’t believe they were that character.”

Newman explained that acting requires one to get to know a whole lot of people in a very short amount of time and to become good friends with them. However, “as soon as it starts it stops” and cast members go their separate ways.

“My least favorite part of acting is leaving a production,” Newman said. “Especially in this past production, we all got along exceedingly well.”

Newman advises aspiring actors to work hard and never assume acting will be easy.

“It’s a lot of harder then people think, and it’s not as glamorous either,” she said. “But it is fun.”

Although she is known for playing a range of characters, a Southerner was not much of a stretch for Newman, given her Franklin roots. She often returns to Franklin to visit her parents, who returned to the city years ago. Newman says although she loves New York City, it’s nice to come back home where she can order sweet tea without getting weird looks and where she can be with friends and family.

“It’s fun to walk in downtown Franklin and meet an old friend and have a 20-minute conversation. Just being home and touching base with friends and family is nice,” she said. “I do miss the South; if I could live there and do what I do, then I would love to be able to do that.”