"Being on stage, being somebody else, is the difference between living in Disneyland versus living in my apartment," says Payson actress and EAC acting instructor Kristin Crowley. "Acting is just a wonderland. It's the greatest thrill of my life. It's my passion beyond all other passions to approach a character and live inside of her."
Actually, when you meet Crowley, you don't have to know this about her to figure it out. Even in casual conversation, she exudes so much raw energy that, clearly, it could be accommodated only by something as large as a theatrical stage and absorbed only by a full house of applauding drama junkies.
But this 33-year-old thespian was not born in a trunk. She began life in the Bronx, New York, along with her identical and "introverted" twin sister, Kelly who was indirectly responsible for pushing Crowley onto the stage.
"We both wanted to go our separate ways," Crowley said. "We were dressed differently as kids although my mom would take us shopping, we'd have knock-down, drag-out fights over the same piece of clothing. My mom would say, 'All right, I'm taking you shopping separately.' And when she did, we'd always end up buying the same thing.
"But I wanted to be different," she said. "I didn't want to be known as 'a Crowley twin.' I'd always loved theater anyway, as a kid, so when I was a freshman in high school I just decided to try out for the theater club to make myself a little more different."
By then, her family had moved to Lafayette, Calif., and that's where Crowley auditioned for her first play, "Up the Down Staircase," in which she portrayed an air-headed school newspaper reporter.
Crowley vividly remembers the first time she stepped in front of an audience and it is not a pleasant memory.
"I had a scene with this guy who did not remember his lines. He just blanked, and I just started improvising after that 60 seconds of hell when you're trying to psychically convey the message, 'Why don't you say your line? You've got to get on track. You've got to!' But he never did.
"After that, I never wanted to go on another stage ever again. It was so traumatic.
"Today, I stress to my students, 'Always have a backup plan. Always know where you're going in the script. Always know how to save yourself. Because even though you'd love it to be a joint, group project, someone's always going to be lazy or blow it or get stage fright ... and it'll be up to you to pull things back together.'"
After graduation from high school, Crowley became a drama major at the University of Southern California. She was one of 20 students accepted, thanks to her success at performing scenes from "Bus Stop" and "Julius Caesar."
"I was called back to do my scenes for John Houseman, who was the head of the program there ... and, I'll be darned, I was accepted," Crowley said. Of her performance that day, she said, "I just had the feeling that I was right on; you know that chemistry when you know that it's working, and you're full of confidence and you feel like you could do anything."
In ensuing years, Crowley appeared in such shows as "Little Mary Sunshine," "Ordinary People," "Having a Wonderful Time," "The Odd Couple," "Pizza Man," "The Way of the World" ... and one thankfully forgotten title so bad, she recalled, that every night, at least 50 people would leave at intermission. "My parents came every night just to see what else could possibly go wrong."
Ultimately, Crowley decided to give Hollywood a try for six months, make it or break it.
"I did OK," she said. "I got a lot of callbacks but pathetic things, like Whitney Houston Coke commercials and Kodak commercials in a bikini. Me? In a bikini? I didn't go to those. I was like, 'I can do Shakespeare, man! I'm not getting into a bikini!'"
At the end of the six months, "very soured on theater in general," Crowley moved to San Francisco to find a day job and continue her education. She enrolled in San Francisco State to study health education with a minor in women's health. The day job she landed was as a medical assistant with Planned Parenthood for which she worked until "a complete fluke" compelled her to give Payson a try.
"I injured myself jumping on a trampoline and went in to see a doctor who said, 'Have you ever heard of Payson, Ariz.?' I had just been thinking that I wanted to move to a small town. I was sick of the city. I needed an adventure. So I just picked up, moved out, came here and managed a yogurt shop."
That position was so short on personal rewards, however, Crowley went back to work as a medical assistant. But all the time, she was asking everyone she met, "How do I get involved in theater here?"
Soon after that question was finally answered, Crowley found herself cast in Payson Shoestring Productions' presentation of the French-style farce, "In One Bed, Out the Other." That was followed by performances in "The Man with the Plastic Sandwich," "A Coupla White Chicks Sitting Around Talking," "A Tuna Christmas, "The Butler Did It" and her favorite, "Laundry and Bourbon."
Now in her second year as an acting instructor at EAC, Crowley is not unafraid to give her students the real skinny on life in the theater.
"I tell them that acting is a very disciplined craft ... and there are a lot of decisions you have to make, starting with, Do you want to do Hollywood or theater? You have to know the difference between them. And the difference is big.
"You have artistic freedom with theater. To me, theater is a religious experience. For me, it's my religion."