Wednesday, Aug 15 2012 03:55 PM

Couple act out life's journey

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    Casey Christie / The Californian Eric Tolley and Michelle Guerrero Tolley will work together again at the Bakersfield Community Theatre, where they first met, when Eric directs his wife's play “Once upon a Midnight Dreary,” based on the poems of Edgar Allan Poe, in October.

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    Eric Tolley and Michelle Guerrero Tolley pose at Bakersfield Community Theatre, where they first met. The pair have been married for 12 years and have two sons.

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BY CAMILLE GAVIN Contributing writer gavinarts@aol.com

Our community is blessed with a number of married couples who seem to manage with ease their jobs, their families and their involvement in the various aspects of local theater. Eric and Michelle Guerrero Tolley are one of those couples.

Married for 12 years and parents of two sons, aged 5 and 9, both Eric and Michelle have acted in or directed local shows off and on for about 15 years.

Michelle, 34 began seriously pursuing a career as a playwright about four years ago and recently sold a play about bullying to a publisher in Chicago. In addition, she's a member of a comedy team called The Tuesdays and is the marketing director for The Empty Space, or TES.

"We try really hard not to do the same show at the same time," she said. "But we have a really strong support system with our families -- both (sets of) grandparents live here and they take care of the boys if we're working late."

Both Tolleys will be working together in October at Bakersfield Community Theatre. Eric will direct "Once upon a Midnight Dreary," a new play by Michelle based on the poems of Edgar Allan Poe.

Although she's had no formal training in playwriting, Michelle became interested in writing at Highland High School, where she was active in journalism. She took criminal justice courses at the University of Colorado, has a degree in massage therapy and currently is attending Cal State Bakersfield.

Eric, 41, has a master's degree in theater history and theory from the University of Colorado. He was born in Ann Arbor, Mich., and says he's "lived all over the world," including six months in London and six months backpacking through Italy, Germany and France. He came to California in 1997 and currently is employed by ARRC Technology.

With a friendly laugh he said, "I discovered there aren't many paying jobs in theater. So I work in technical support at ARRC -- I'm the guy you go to when your computer breaks down."

To learn more about the Tolleys, we sent them a list of 10 questions. Their responses follow. As you can see, some questions resulted in a bit of lively repartee between this well-matched pair.

How did you meet? Was it love at first sight?

Michelle : We met at BCT. I was directing "Six Degrees of Separation" in 1998? 1999? I cast Eric as the lead. I had originally cast Maceo Davis, but Maceo was cast in "Big River" and had to bow out. And that left the door open for Eric and I to meet. I thought he was cute, but I wasn't looking for a relationship.

Eric : I thought she was beautiful, and even though she kept saying she didn't want a boyfriend I didn't go away.

Michelle : He stalked me.

Eric : I didn't stalk; I was an extra-persistent suitor.

Eric, we've heard that you do most of the cooking at your house. What's your specialty?

Eric : Right now my favorite thing to cook is cioppino and paella, and I'm starting to bake more, but I just love cooking. It is very relaxing for me.

In shows where one of you was a cast member and the other the director, how did it work out? Was there any friction?

Michelle : Ha! The only time there is friction is when Eric is my director. I give him such a hard time. But he keeps casting me.

Are your two boys involved in theater?

Michelle : Last year they were in "A Christmas Carol" at TES with me. Our youngest seems to enjoy it, our oldest not so much. After our youngest had his first line on stage, we were walking back to the green room and he turns to me and whispers "I want to do that again." I thought, oh no! What have I done?

Is there a particular role that either of you yearns to play? Or direct? What's on your wish list?

Eric: Wow -- so many I want to act in. I want be Richard from "Richard III," Iago from "Othello," Georges Seurat from "Sunday in the Park with George," Cyrano (de Bergerac) and Don Quixote. I would like to direct "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog," "End Game," "Figaro," "The Piano Lesson" and "The Bacchanal."

Michelle : Right now I'm really enjoying directing and getting my own scripts produced. I have so many stories I want to tell people.

Michelle, how many plays have you written and how many have been produced?

Michelle : Right now I have about 30 stage plays -- two full-length plays and a mix of monologues and one-acts. I also have completed two screenplays and a multitude of scripts "in progress." A few of my one-acts have been produced, "Cupid Hates Your Face," "Never Enough Time," "The Good Life and Donuts" at The Empty Space, and "So Charming" at BCT. Two of my full-lengths are premiering this fall; "The Bullied" opens Aug. 31 at The Empty Space and "Once Upon a Midnight Dreary" opens Oct. 26 at BCT.

I also have a late night (11 p.m. performance) at The Empty Space with my Tuesdays called "Stripped.") I wrote all but two scenes -- those were contributed by one of my fellow funny ladies, Alisha Mason. It opens late night at The Empty Space on Sept. 21. And I am directing "The Unexpected Man" with Kamel Haddad, which opens late night on Oct. 19. I think that's all I'm doing this year.

What inspired you to write "The Bullied"?

Michelle: I was inspired to write "The Bullied" after Seth Walsh of Tehachapi died as a result of bullying. I started researching and was shocked as to how many kids had died because of bullying. That led to me talking to my friends about bullying and then talking to a lot of other people. Everyone is affected by bullying, in some way. And I wanted to bring what kids and even some adults are going through into the light.

Eric, you were once a sommelier. When and where was that? And do you maintain a personal wine cellar?

Eric: I was a sommelier in 1994-1997 at a restaurant called Bella Restaurante in Denver. Sadly, I do not have wine cellar right now, but I've turned my wife into a lush and a wine snob. Just kidding, I am trying to start building my collection back up.

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