For this talented Fort Myers stage and screen couple, one standing ovation doesn’t seem quite enough.
To hear the stories stage actors will tell, it can often be a challenging journey they’ve chosen in life — or better put, life’s chosen for them. You go where the work is, meaning if you’re good or lucky, you can be traveling from city to city, around the country, eight weeks here, six weeks there. Or, then there are the times when there’s no work to be had — sometimes months on end — rejection at its finest, whether you’re called to audition or the phone doesn’t ring.
But actors are artists, and they do it for the love of their craft. And here in Southwest Florida, there’s a highly talented couple who not only do it for love, but in love.
Rachel Burttram Powers and husband Brendan Powers are familiar names to those aficionados of Florida Repertory Theatre, named among the “top repertory companies in the United States” by the Wall Street Journal. And while combined they’ve performed in more than 100 plays, it was an innocuous first rehearsal late in 2007 that might be called the most important performance of their lives.
“The first time I met Rachel was in the rehearsal hall of the Rep,” Brendan recalls. “I had been hired out of New York and was contracted for only one six-week show. We knew we got along well and enjoyed each other’s company, so when the show ended and I was scheduled to return to New York, there was some disappointment. But then, fate stepped in.”
In this case, fate was in the form of an actor who was unable to perform for the next show — and fate was aided, in no small part, by Rachel’s dual role as both actor and Associate Director for the Rep, as she convinced the company hire Brendan to fill the role for the next performance. And thus, they began to live happily ever after.
A graduate of the University of Alabama-Birmingham with a theatre degree, Rachel found her way to Southwest Florida via stops including Louisville, New York City and tiny St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin. “I did some shows off Broadway, auditioned a lot, but I didn’t spend enough time in New York,” she says. “We’d rather be working actors than waiting actors, so we gladly performed wherever the opportunity was.” Eventually, she landed the job of company manager of the Rep in 2002, also performing in three shows that season.
Originally from Boston, Brendan holds both a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree and Master’s Degree in English (with a focus on theatre). While his first gig was on stage, he shortly thereafter landed a production in Buffalo and made a reconnection with someone from his alma mater, Niagara University — whereupon completion of the show’s run, he wound up (“a long story”) becoming artistic director of the theatre studies program. But five years later in 2007, the itch to act was too much to resist, so without a plan, he quit his job and started looking for work. “I went four or five months and couldn’t get anything,” he said.
But then, along came Florida Rep — and Rachel Burttram — in 2007. Three years later, moves to Boston and Ithaca, where they played everywhere the work took them in the Northeast, then back to Fort Myers. Eventually in 2013, they were married in the ArtStage at the Theatre, once the rehearsal hall where they met.
“It’s a fairly rare thing when you find couples who are both professional stage actors. It’s a really amazing bond, because you both understand each other’s madness,” he laughs. “But it’s also difficult for the obvious reasons: stability, travel, separation.”
However, Rachel notes that “because we both have relationships with a lot of theatres, here in Florida and across the country, we’ve often cast together. We’re very lucky in that regard.”
They’ve also been lucky (read: talented) enough to be able to expand their art beyond stage performances. Brendan has performed in both “Graceland” and the series premier of “Bloodline,” and also has an extensive advertising commercial and long-format video background — most notably as the spokesperson for Alabama Tourism’s “Road Trips” campaign the past three years, for which he’s been the featured talent in 13 spots. “They didn’t want me to sound like a guy from Boston, but they didn’t want Southern either,” he explains. “Sort of the American everyman. It seems to be working!”
Rachel’s filmography includes a role in USA Network’s “Burn Notice,” as well as the season two finale of “Bloodline” she recently wrapped in Key West. But the project she seems most excited about is her starring role in a 12-minute Indie shot in 2014 called “Emma’s Fine,” directed by international Emmy award-winner (and Bonita Springs resident) Miguel Matias. With 11 international festivals and six U.S. festivals to its credit, “Emma’s Fine” is carried virtually solo by Rachel’s performance. “It’s been such a great little treasure in my life, totally unexpected,” she says. “It was a real blessing and I learned so much. When it played in New York last year, I had to go — I mean, how many times are you going to see yourself on the big screen?” A screening of “Emma’s Fine” in Fort Myers is hopeful in 2016.
But while these two artists are able to succeed in multi-media settings, it’s really theatre that stirs their passions. “Theatre is free and dynamic and exciting and beautiful,” Rachel states. “It’s the thrill of like anything could happen any night, and every night is different. You’re creating something with living, breathing people — including the audience. That’s so different from the vacuum of the sound stage.”
– Story by John Sprecher | Main Image by Milissa Sprecher Photography