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After a yearlong stage hiatus, Debbie Moore is back in the spotlight.
A lifelong Fort Wayne resident, Moore says her parents, Anthony and Deborah Kirkland, “had their hands full when it came to me as a child.”
Not only was she energetic and inquisitive, she says, “I came into this world ready to be heard. I wanted to be the spotlight everywhere I went.”
To give her a more formal outlet for her energies as well as her musical interest, her mother signed her up for piano and voice lessons when she was five years old. She soon was on to the Fort Wayne Children’s Choir with whom she performed for several years.
She was raised in a family of musicians, in fact, and they all enjoyed performing together at her grandfather Hobart Gregg’s church. “I used to sit in the pew and mimic the beautiful voices I heard,” Moore says. “I sang at the Christmas program with my grandfather, and I felt like nothing else mattered because I was doing something that was fun with people I loved.”
But she never really considered it performing.
“Anyone who knows me will tell you, my nerves can really get the best of me,” she says. “But I’ve always found so much pleasure in singing. I didn’t understand it at the time, but singing is so freeing”
Moore attended her first theatrical performance when a fellow Fort Wayne Children’s Choir singer was cast as the lead in the Civic Theatre production of Annie.
“I was in awe of all of the action on the stage, from the lighting to the moving set,” she says. “I think that was the point I wanted to continue training to possibly one day sing well enough to do what these kids were doing. It was something that truly caught my attention and showed me a different way I could use my voice and personality.”
She first got the opportunity to act during her 7th grade year at Memorial Park when the school produced Mame.
“That audition was the most nerve-wrecking situation ever!” she says. “Yes I had been performing for years, but there’s something about people judging me that has never set right with me. To this day I get butterflies.”
She sang “Somewhere Out There” from An American Tail and was cast in the ensemble. “That was okay with me,” she says, “because I didn’t know how to act.”
The experience gave her a deeper appreciation for the arts and opened her up to the world of theater – both the craft and the social aspects of theatrical production.
“I made so many friends in that show,” she says. “It pushed me to work harder and to want to keep pushing myself to do more. I wanted to do more shows and perform in different avenues.”
As much experience as she was gaining through performance, she didn’t pursue it seriously until adulthood.
“I always just auditioned to be in the ensemble,” Moore says. “There was safety for me there. I got numerous call backs for lead roles but never felt confident enough in my acting ability to go for it.”
She attended Northrop High School where she only knew five other students, all of them from Memorial Park. She sang in the school choir her freshman and sophomore years, but she was the only one in her circle of friends who sang, so it began to lose its appeal. She focused more on sports and academics, although she still performed with the Fort Wayne Children’s Choir and with her church.
She even auditioned for the Fort Wayne Civic Theatre a few times, but her nerves got in the way and she grew discouraged when she wasn’t cast after several attempts.
After high school, she attended IPFW, studying biology and pre-med. Interestingly, it was then that she rekindled her love of theater. She would watch the theater students rehearse or perform and she longed to be a part of that. She attended all the theater she could – at IPFW, all around Fort Wayne and even in Chicago and Indianapolis.
“I just wished I could be half as talented as these people,” she says.
The highlight of her four years at IPFW was taking two theater courses: Theater Appreciation and Acting.
Nevertheless, it was several years before she ventured into the audition room again. Her good friend and local actor Lovey Marshall encouraged her to try out for the Fort Wayne Civic Theatre production of Dreamgirls in 2012. She used every excuse she could think of. She was a newly-divorced mother of two young girls. She hadn’t done theater since she was a kid. The auditions were held on Mother’s Day.
But her family convinced her that it was time to do something for herself and promised to support her decision by taking care of her children if she made the show. So she went to the audition.
“I was so nervous because I was in a room full of people I’d been watching perform for years,” she says. “I hadn’t auditioned for anything in almost 10 years, so it was overwhelming. When I was called back, I was elated.”
She was cast in the ensemble and the experience rekindled her love for theater. But it did more than that.
“The show reconnected me with one of my favorite actors, Prentis Moore,” she says. “Three years later, he asked me to marry him.”
But it still wasn’t quite enough to get her onstage on a regular basis. She let acting take a back seat to raising her family, letting Prentis take the spotlight. Four years later, Andy Planck and Billy Dawson convinced her to audition for Hair, the summer show of the inaugural season at Three Rivers Music Theatre. “They even went as far as ensuring we had a sitter for the entire process.”
She was cast in the ensemble and as the understudy for the role of Dionne. She was enjoying a relaxing return to the boards when the actor playing Dionne left the show, and Moore was asked to step into the role. She still needed some reassurance that she could deliver, but her performance was a memorable highlight of the production.
Moore recently left full-time employment with Fort Wayne Community Schools and is now a stay-at-home mom with a new baby and her older daughters. Although it’s been a year since Hair, she’s quietly working on her craft by carefully selecting the roles she auditions for.
“I make sure to do things that are relatable in some way – I’m very quirky and nurturing – so it’s not hard to get into character,” she says. “As I allow myself to let loose and have fun, I would love to venture into straight theatre.”
Her current role should give her a good boost. She’s making her Arena Dinner Theatre debut playing Mrs. Johnston in Blood Brothers. The show is directed by Jake Wilhelm whose previous directing jobs at Arena include the award-winning musicals Bat Boy and Violet.
Although Moore finds her character easy to relate to, it’s not without its challenges. The entire cast has been tasked with the challenge of learning to speak with Liverpudlian accents. Additionally, this is only Moore’s second production in the past six years, and she’s been working hard to trust in her own talents and instincts.
“Jake has helped keep me motivated during this entire process,” she says.
She likewise has nothing but praise for her cast mates and she feels that working alongside them has helped make her a stronger performer.
“They’re all stellar both musically and dramatically,” she says. “The positivity from everyone has been such a blessing during this show.”
The experience has also reinforced her childhood realization that theater can bring a cast together more closely than many other experiences.
“The most fun about this show is how we have connected over such a short time frame,” she says. “One of the reasons I gravitated to doing theater was the camaraderie that happens during shows.”
She describes Blood Brothers as an action-packed emotional roller-coaster ride.
“I am beyond humbled to be a part of this production and truly appreciate Jake for trusting me with this role,” she says. “All I can say is bring some tissues.”