Their stories, offstage: CTC conservatory actors on their journey at Chautauqua


Chautauqua is a community that values enriching life through learning and opening audiences up to new ideas and experiences. One way Chautauquans accomplish this is by visiting the theater. But how did the seven young conservatory actors with the Chautauqua Theater Company come away from their time on the grounds? What were the experiences that shaped and enriched their lives this summer? Through a portrait series in Bratton Theater — which, due to COVID-19 safety regulations, was used solely as a rehearsal space for this season’s shows — these actors opened up about their experiences in Chautauqua, their goals for the future and how they’ll take the lessons they learned here into their professional lives.

My time here has been revolutionary. … It’s definitely been empowering.”

Christopher Portley

Christopher Portley attends Case Western Reserve University, where he is a rising junior in their Cleveland Playhouse master of fine arts acting program. After seeing his first play at a young age, he fell in love with the idea of acting, but “being from the South, and being from Texas, (acting) wasn’t the cool thing to do. So naturally, I kind of fought that urge.” His love for acting, however, overpowered any fear of not being “cool,” so he began acting in high school. “I love watching old movies, any type of movies, TV shows. I just love all of it. It keeps me inspired just to see the people who came before me, to see their trajectory and be inspired by their work and their storytelling.” 

As far as his time in Chautauqua, Portley said he’s “discovered that there’s a lot inside that I have to give and to share, and to trust it. That I don’t need permission from anyone to share that other than myself.” As he looks ahead to his goals for the next 10 years, Portley wants to perform in a Broadway show and to act in his first TV show or film. Separate from that, he always wants to find a way to give back to the next generation “whether I’m speaking to young audiences, or to that 14-year-old boy that thinks that it’s not ‘cool’ or possible, I want to give back in whatever way I can.”

“Don’t forget to breathe.”

Walker Borba

At just 20 years old, Walker Borba is going into his junior year as a theater major at Kenyon College. “Being younger than everybody else, I always wondered what the professional theater space was like. It’s been nice to be a part of a professional space with people who are in graduate programs and who are very serious, talented actors, and to not feel completely out of my depth. … So that’s been a super-cool feeling to be like, no, this is something I can feel confident at and that I could actually do if I wanted to.” 

Besides finishing college, Borba’s big goals for the next 10 years span farther than just acting. “I would love to create some piece of entertainment where I have broad creative say in the direction and the writing of said piece, and maybe the performance. I’d love to do more directing, more writing and just to continue to act in things that I think are challenging and rewarding.”

“This was the summer I found myself as an actor.”

Daphne Kinard

Daphne Kinard is going into her second year at Columbia University’s master of fine arts acting program. Kinard has been acting for a long time, but this summer she finally had the time to explore what works for her as an actor. “What’s my technique? Who am I as an actor? What do I bring that other people don’t? I really felt encouraged and completely safe here to just explore what works for me.” She’s also learned a lot from her characters, from playing Asha in Blood at the Root to more light-hearted characters like Madame Pantalone and Tartaglia in Commedia, adding new pieces to her repertoire. As far as the next 10 years go, Kinard has big plans.

“I hope to get famous in the next 10 years. I think that that’s a good timeline to get famous. … A nice off-Broadway gig or a nice recurring role on a TV show out of school is the dream. … I just want to keep working up to continue being the little fish in the big pond. Every time I feel like, ‘Oh, I’ve got this,’ I want to put myself in a new arena to challenge myself.”

“It’s the beginning of a new phase of my life.”

Justin Von Stein

Justin Von Stein just finished his undergraduate degree at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, where he was a theater major. Von Stein was always involved in drama clubs and acting. 

“I’ve done other things, I’ve tried other things but nothing fills me up inside as much as acting does,” he said.

He’s felt that he’s done great theater at Chautauqua and being on the threshold of moving forward — whether that be to grad school or further out into the professional world — this is Von Stein’s moment where he feels his career as an actor has really become serious. Von Stein has humble goals for the next 10 years: “I’m going to try not to starve,” he said, “but really I just want to find success in this career, in this business, in this thing that I love to do. Success is not seeing my name on movie posters or anything — although that would be awesome — it’s just, you know, making enough money to survive doing this career path as an actor, for as long as it continues to fulfill me like it does.”

“I’m responding from a more authentic place than I ever have.”

Malachi Beasley

Malachi Beasley is a junior at the School of Drama at Yale University. His experiences as an athlete and from his time serving in the military shape how he approaches both life and acting. “(As an actor), I’m serving in a totally different way than I was in the military, which was just to protect. This role is to lift up and show people’s truths. So really, every day feels inspirational, because I’m around everyday people. Watching people live their lives is just so inspiring and listening to certain conversations gives me motivation to tell those people’s truth. And I really like to find the nuance in every character that I’m given so that then people can see themselves reflected back at them.” As far as his future goals, Beasley is confident that Chautauquans will see him on TV, in films and on Broadway. His main priority, however, is to be healthy, both mentally and physically. “I want to be mentally at a place where I feel like I could sustain myself and not be overworking. I don’t want to outwork myself; I want to work smarter, not harder. … I feel like I trust myself to know that I will go in the direction that my career has for me. But really, I just want to live a fruitful life.”

“I re-learned to trust in my voice, imagination and intuition.”

Rachael Fox

Rachael Fox is going into her fourth year of her acting master of fine arts at University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. She described her time in Chautauqua playing characters like strong-willed high school journalist Toria in Blood at the Root to mischievous and hungry Arlecchino in the improv show Commedia as “a wonderful, weird and wild ride of making theater with some rad artists.” Fox has her near future all planned out, with a few specific goals in mind: “I’m moving back to New York next year and would love to work in exciting and imaginatively rich theater and film/TV. I’d love to explore both the classics through new lenses and new works and find an awesome creative community of friends and collaborators to work and make art with. … And someone better cast me as the femme fatale in a new film noir, if they know what’s good for them.”

“A journey that changed my heart, mind and soul.”

Jada Owens

Jada Owens is in her last year of grad school at the University of California, San Diego, where she studies acting. Owens is excited to take what she’s learned here in Chautauqua into her final year of graduate school.

“I have been given such a great and beautiful opportunity to explore three different characters here, one being Raylynn (in Blood at the Root), who is and will always be in my heart, just because she provoked something in me that has caused me to stand proudly in my Blackness. And then also experiencing different facets of my Blackness in Commedia with Isabella and Dottore, has given me the freedom to use language in such a way that it is my own cadence, my own rhythm.” Taking what she’s learned here and going out into the professional world, Owens said her “goal and dream in the next 10 years is to continue to tell stories that will provoke an audience to reflect on the decisions that they have made and the privilege that they have. I want to tell the stories that will continue to make them question what they can do as audience members to change this world for the better. … Alongside all of that, I really want to teach young actors, so that they can feel seen.” 

Tags : 2021actingChautauqua Theater Companychristopher portleyconservatory actorctcdaphne kinardempowermentJada OwensjourneyJustin Von Steinkristen triplettmalachi beasleyphoto storyRachael Foxtheir storiesWalker Borba

The author Kristen Triplett

This is Kristen Triplett’s first season with the Daily where she serves as a photographer. She discovered her love for photography in college and will be graduating from Ball State University with a degree in photojournalism at the end of this summer. Her passions are portrait photography and portraying stories through her work. When not working, Kristen enjoys frequenting local coffee shops, playing guitar and spending time by the riverfront in her hometown of New Albany, Indiana.