Amber McNew’s acting journey continues on the Urbanite Theatre stage— in an edgy play her former teacher is directing.
Amber McNew is now in hot pursuit of her master’s degree in acting at The FSU/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training. She graduates in 2020 and has already portrayed a range of challenging characters, including Lady Anne from “Richard III,” Rachel from “Reckless” and Lotty from “Enchanted April.”
Kes is her latest role — the gender-curious protagonist of “Scorch,” Stacey Gregg’s one-person play. As McNew sees it, Kes might just be her most challenging character yet.
But McNew knows she’s in good hands: Summer Dawn Wallace, one of her most influential acting teachers in her first year at the conservatory, is directing the play.
Wallace was filling in for Andrei Malaev-Babel, who was on sabbatical in 2017. The course taught the Nikolai Demidov technique, an offshoot of the Stanislavsky method. Demidov’s system draws on yoga-style breathing techniques to calm the mind and focus awareness. From there, actors learn to drop their masks, trust their spontaneous gut responses and not overthink their roles. McNew took her lessons to heart.
Wallace remembers her as a student with feeling. “Amber is a courageous, talented actor,” she said. “She’s not afraid to risk failure and try something new. She always brought out the best in her scene partners.”
Without giving too much away, “Scorch” is a love story revolving around a nuanced, introspective and gender-curious teen.
Gregg’s one-person play is an X-ray of the soul. Wallace had only one person in mind for the part: McNew, of course. She was still in Wallace’s class at the time.
“The second I read the play, I wanted to do it with her,” Wallace said. “I couldn’t wait.”
The window opened while McNew was performing the lead role in the Asolo Conservatory production of Craig Lucas’ “Reckless.” Brendan Ragan was directing, and the show was going great. What could be better?
Perhaps the experience of being approached by both co-artistic directors of Urbanite Theatre, who then inform you they want you for a demanding part.
The young actor read the script that night. “The script spoke to me,” McNew said.
“Amber blew us away at the first reading,” Urbanite Artistic Associate Director Daniel Kelly said. “My reaction was, ‘We could sell tickets now. What are we going to do for the rest of rehearsal?’”
McNew started out at a high place, but that didn’t mean she had no place left to go.
She described her rehearsals as a journey of constant discovery. For McNew, much of the joy of acting is getting to know the people she becomes. She has had the pleasure of playing several unique individuals. But Kes is a completely different person.
“Kes is the first queer role I’ve ever played,” McNew said. “I didn’t fully know who my character was. … Kes is an actor’s roller coaster. This character just continued to unfold for me throughout rehearsals — physically, emotionally and on every level.”
McNew and Wallace quickly got to the heart of the character.
“Amber and I worked together in acting class 15 hours a week for five months,” Wallace said. “We speak the same language and fully trust each other. It moved things along very quickly.”
After weeks of intense rehearsals, McNew and Wallace got to know Kes. Now they can’t wait to introduce her to Sarasota.
“Kes is a beautiful person with a beautiful story,” McNew said.