Kelly Cronenberg: 30 Stories for 30 Years - The Theatre Lab

Editor’s Note: This feature is part of the 30 Stories for 30 Years series. Learn more.

Over the past three decades, The Theatre Lab has taught, collaborated with, and worked with a tremendous number of artists. One of those artists is Kelly Cronenberg. Check out our interview with Kelly.

TTL: Good afternoon, Kelly. When did you first discover The Theatre Lab? What was going on in your life around that time, and what purpose did The Theatre Lab serve for you?

KC: In 2004, I was working as a second grade teacher in an inner city school and although I loved being with the children, I found that I had no place to let go. My creative energy went toward the children and there was little left over for myself.  It was a very lonely and stifling time in my life. 

I was cast in a show with The Arlington Players and made a good friend who introduced me to The Theatre Lab. We took a couple of on-camera acting classes together. I then auditioned for the Musical Theatre class, A Man of No Importance, and met Buzz and Deb [Theatre Lab founders and directors, Buzz Mauro and Deb Gottesman]. 

Buzz suggested a few more targeted classes for me and then I learned about the Honors Conservatory. My friend encouraged me to vigorously pursue acting full-time and I quit my teaching job and started nannying so that I had more flexibility with my time. Soon after, I was a student in the inaugural class. 

The Theatre Lab was (and still is) a lifeline for me. No actors came from the small town in Kentucky where I grew up. My parents could not see a path for me to become an actor. I could not see a path. The Theatre Lab gave me the gift of that path, the vision of the path. The faculty and staff believed in me so much that I started to believe in myself. 

What do you remember about your classmates and instructors? 

This is specific to the Honors Conservatory, but I remember being relieved that my classmates were just like me: adults searching for a way to become better actors. We all had jobs during the day, and despite being tired or stressed from our jobs, we came to class eager to learn, work, and support each other. But I think that can be said for any Theatre Lab production or class that I have participated in. 

The Theatre Lab instructors are some of the most talented and dedicated people I have worked with. Before the Theatre Lab had a dedicated space, classes would meet in an interesting mix of weird, eerie, and not very glamorous areas of DC. I admire those instructors and professionals for putting aside their egos and the rewards of “prestige teaching” to give a small group of amateur actors an opportunity to grow and learn. It takes a real teacher and actor to turn musty church naves and small industrial spaces into vibrant theater. 

Kelly in Othello, 2006

When you think back to that time, is there a mental picture or Theatre Lab moment that comes to mind for you? 

My clearest mental picture is one in which I am brave enough to try something new and something bold, whether it’s in a scene, a class, or a production. I am able to do this because of the supportive nature of The Theatre Lab. Buzz and Deb and the entire staff are able to see in me qualities that I never knew had. As an adult it’s easy to say no to taking risks and potentially embarrassing yourself. The Theatre Lab makes you want to say yes. 

Jumping forward to 2022, you’re now a member of our youth faculty, teaching 1st through 3rd graders about movement, character creation, and creative storytelling. What were some of the events in your own life that led you to this role?

Even though I’m no longer a traditional classroom teacher, I still love working with young kids. I had been a Scout leader and a Sunday school teacher when my child was little. When Covid-19 required all camps go online, Terah Herman-Saldaña asked me to teach over the summer in an online format. I continued to teach the following summer and throughout the year. Again, another example of someone seeing a talent in me. I will keep saying yes!

How do young artists inspire you?

Young artists are bold and brave by nature. Play is still very important to them. They have an imagination that far exceeds what my adult imagination can create. Give them a prop or a costume piece and they will spend an hour creating theater. 

Speaking of emerging artists, your own child has been a part of several of our tween and teen productions – having appeared in last summer’s Spamalot, as part of the Musical Theatre Institute for Teens. What’s it like to watch your own child up on stage?

I enjoy watching Jeremy do something that he really loves. He played violin for 6 years and was on the swim team and explored some other non-sport activities, but he thrives in this environment. I admire his courage to sing and dance in front of strangers. He never complains about the work!

As a parent, what kinds of changes do you see in your own child through their involvement in studying at The Theatre Lab?

As a child, Jeremy was always shy with large groups of people in traditional settings.  But at the age of 7, he was cast in Theatre Lab’s production of Titanic: The Musical and has been enamored with theater ever since. I think he likes escaping from boring teen routines and expectations and creating fun and interesting characters. He also gets to abandon an only-child maturity that he has exhibited since he was little.

Is there anything else that you would like to share with us that we didn’t cover?

I am grateful for the Theatre Lab not just for my own journey but for those people who we’ve not necessarily heard from on this 30th anniversary. I think about all the small ripples of light and love that the Theatre Lab has created in this city. I think about all of the non-actors and children over a 30-year period who have taken a class or camp and discovered something new and exciting about themselves and brought that light and love with them to their home, workplace, or school. Or maybe that experience and feeling sustained them when life got challenging. You cannot possibly measure all the good the Theatre Lab has done and you cannot imagine this city without a Theatre Lab. Thank you Buzz and Deb for your perseverance, your gifts, and your talents. 

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