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Imagination, family and the outdoors have always played a big part in Teresa Bower’s life. As a tomboy growing up in Fort Wayne, she, her brother and her friends spent hours outdoors, creating dramatic scenes in their backyards and the adjacent woods.
“I was filthy, bruised and sunburned most of my childhood,” she recalls. “With the help of my dad, we built a functional bridge, a terraced stairway into the side of a hill replicating the stairways of Aztec temples and even a zip line over a creek.”
Religion also came into play early in her life.
“My first performance was when I was eight in a Holy Week drama at my church in which I played the donkey bearing Jesus,” she says. “I was ecstatic about the entire experience, because I had a mad crush on the little boy playing Jesus.”
But she didn’t get officially bitten by the theater bug until her eighth grade class staged an abbreviated production of Tom Sawyer. As a child, she had identified with Tom and Huck, but as a young teenager, she portrayed Aunt Polly.
“I imagine it was awful – full of stilted performances and cracked voices,” she says, “but to me at the time, it was a magical experience.”
She continued to perform and work backstage throughout her teen years at Wayne High School, participating in two shows per year.
As a high school senior, she appeared in the ensemble of the PIT (Purdue-Indiana Theatre) production of Fiddler on the Roof under the direction of the late Larry L. Life.
“The production had a huge cast spilling off the stage and covering all the aisles,” she says. “That was my first taste of how serious theater was done.”
She went on to Valparaiso University where she took some acting classes while majoring in education.
Due to family circumstances, she returned home to Fort Wayne for her sophomore year and went to IPFW, switching her major to nursing with an emphasis in mental health. As a result, her love of theater fell by the wayside.
“Nursing was a field of study and profession requiring every ounce of my physical and mental energy,” she says. “Sadly, I believed that theater was something belonging to my childhood. Now it seemed time to grow up and make sober, responsible choices that more closely reflected those of the other adults in my life and led to a predictable paycheck.”
She abandoned theater for nearly a decade, although she says that as a psychiatric nurse “during those wilderness years,” she saw her own fair share of real-life drama.
But theater was always in the back of her mind.
“I don’t think a day went by that I didn’t deeply miss it,” she says.
Eventually the pull became too strong, and in 1988 she took a small role in the First Presbyterian Theater production of Ah, Wilderness!, along with an actor/writer, Alan North. Thus began a series of events that would change her life – in more ways than one.
The year before, along with Larry Bower, North had founded Bower North Productions, a local company producing original audience-participation murder mystery comedies. North invited Teresa to attend one of their first productions.
“Let’s just say that during the audience participation portion of the evening, Larry’s character interacted with me a lot,” she says of her future husband.
She was soon invited to be an actor with the company and became a permanent member of the group, appearing in around 25 different shows. She and Larry fell in love and got married.
She was so thoroughly re-infected by the theater bug that she even went back to school to study theater officially about 10 years ago.
“I was attracted to the high standards of Huntington University’s curriculum, faculty and student productions,” she says. “However, going back to school as an adult surrounded by young college students was easily one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Talk about feeling out of place!”
She pressed on, she says, gaining the trust of her fellow students, and learning about the art of acting.
She was close to finishing her theater degree when a job opportunity came along that she couldn’t pass up.
“I thought I’d go back to tie up the loose ends of a degree, but I just never did,” she says. “Life built up too many roadblocks. But I’m grateful for the time I had there, the people I met and the skills I learned.”
All told, in addition to the 25 Bower North productions she has appeared in, Bower has performed in 30 other plays as well. Her current one is in all for One production’s 2015-16 season opener, Bend Us.
“The show is a new musical drama that retells the challenges and victories of the Welsh revival of 1905,” she says. “It’s a gripping story overlaid with richly textured music.”
Some of the music is original, written by David Frinke, and some is actual music from the era.
Bower plays the wife of a Welsh coal miner and the mother of another major player in the story. These characters are based on historical figures of the time.
The role has come with some unique challenges, including a Welsh dialect, research, and “a lot of subtext.” But Bower embraces the challenges.
“I always enjoy doing dialect work,” she says, “and it’s fun to escape to a completely different time and place. I also enjoy stringing together the clues to my character and how she fits into the story being told. The woman I play is conflicted, which is great fun to portray.”
One of her favorite aspects of the show on a personal level is that her son, Andrew Bower, is also in the show, playing two roles.
“We did our first full-length show together four years ago,” she says, “and we’ve done a show together every year since.”
She loves that theater is a way to bring her whole family together. “Our family’s shared onstage experiences have been a unique way to go through life together,” she says. “One of the great thrills of my life is to share the stage with my guys.”
Although she has performed with all the local theaters (“as well as some that no longer exist”), Bower says that what sets all for One apart from the rest “is the immediate spiritual connection we’re invited to make from the first read-through until closing night.”
Actors and crew have the opportunity to join in group prayer, if they so desire.
“As a group we often sense God’s presence uniting us and moving us forward,” she says. “Divine inspiration, you could call it.”
In addition to her stage role, Bower is appearing in her first film as well.
The film, Healed by Grace II: Ten Days of Grace, is the sequel to a film her husband Larry had starred in for writer/director David Weese through Blended Planet Productions.
“Dave thought I had a quality intrinsic for the character that could translate to film,” she says. “I hope he was right.”
The film is a dramedy about a dysfunctional family in need of grace. “Another strong storyline,” says Bower, “is the timeless tale of a girl and her horse, curiously named Grace – just the quality this family needs.”
Bower plays an equine veterinarian, which she says is the fulfillment of a real-life childhood dream.
“My character’s name is Marianne, so you know she’s going to be sunny and positive,” Bower says.
She is the perfect foil to Gauff, the “crusty, pessimistic ol’ critter” who is played by husband Larry.
“My character spends a significant amount of time encouraging him to do the right thing,” she says. “Not much of a stretch from reality. Just kidding.”
As much fun as she is having now, appearing onstage with her son and on film with her husband, Bower says her life is a little more hectic than she would like.
“I don’t think I’ll ever try to do a play and a movie simultaneously again,” she says. “Right now almost every minute I’m awake has to be extremely productive with no margin for error. This is definitely not the way I prefer to live.”
In addition to two simultaneous productions, she is continuing her part-time contract work as a case manager – “with a dash of nursing thrown in,” she adds.
“God is helping me navigate this tricky time,” she says. “I’m blessed to have a husband who is very responsible at home. That’s what really paves the road for me.”