By Alec Clayton
Local storyteller and co-founder of StoryOly, Elizabeth Lord, says Amy Shephard is a powerhouse. She should know — Shephard was her StoryOly co-founder. StoryOly is Olympia’s premiere story-telling slam. Locals brave the stage at Rhythm & Rye once a month to tell stories — the rule is they must be true stories. Local judges pick first, second and third-place winners at each story slam, and the first-place winners compete in a grand-slam event once a year. They’ve been doing it to sold-out crowds since November 2015.
“Amy is a smart, creative, committed producer backstage and an incredibly talented performer on stage,” Says Lord. “I feel quite lucky that she chose me as a collaborator for StoryOly. Her unlimited enthusiasm is contagious. I am eagerly looking forward to her future undertakings because I know that what she touches will turn to gold.”
Known as Olympia’s “Diminutive Spitfire,” Shephard has done and continues to do it all. She is a theater artist, singer, choreographer and playwright, whose work has been enjoyed throughout the pacific northwest for the past decade.
Shephard regularly performs with professional theater companies including Harlequin Productions, and Olympia Family Theater. She is the lead singer of Sugar and the Spitfires, and, if that were not enough, she runs the commission-based baking service, Barred Owl Baked Goods.
Remembering her very first stage appearance, Shephard says, “I was in a dance recital where I was dressed as a fish and did a dance to ‘The Octopuses Garden’ by the Beatles. My first theater role was in the chorus of the musical ‘Kiss Me Kate’ when I was a sophomore in high school. That was also my first experience as a choreographer as I got to choreograph the big dance number ‘Too Darn Hot’ because I was a competitive swing dancer at the time.”
Shephard’s most recent on-stage performance was “The Originals” by Tamara Keaton and Katherine M. Kelly. A story about the lives of the first women to fly for the United States military during World War II, was performed in a limited run at the Olympic Flight Museum. It is scheduled to be performed again in January 2021, and Shephard will direct.
Shephard was also scheduled to be in “Suzette Who Set to Sea” at Olympia Family Theater (OFT), but the entire run of that was canceled due to the Coronavirus. OFT plans to include it in next year’s season. Also postponed due to the pandemic was a Queen tribute produced by Broadway Olympia and featuring the vocal talents of Shephard, Bruce Haasl and Jerod Nace. She also showed off her singing chops at last year’s Center Salon at the Washington Center for the Performing Arts when she electrified the house with a rocking rendition of Aretha Franklin’s “Dr.Feelgood.”
At Harlequin, Shepard sang with the girl group Doo-Wops in “Little Shop of Horrors” — which she also choreographed — and she choreographed and performed in Harlequin’s musical productions “A Stardust Christmas Blizzard” and “A Stardust Christmas Commotion.” Also at Harlequin, she played the part of Neill Gwynne and doubled as other characters in the Neo-Restoration comedy, “Or,” based on the real-life the story of Aphra Behn, playwright, novelist and poet, and spy for King Charles II—a most challenging role for any actor. At Olympia Little Theater, she played a man in “Men in Boats,” in which every member of the all-female played a man.
In collaboration with Andy Gordon, Shephard wrote the delightful children’s musical “Fishnapped,” with music and lyrics by Daven Tillinghast and directed by Jeff Painter. “I am part of Open Road Productions, which regular writes murder mysteries,” Shephard recalls. “I had the idea (for ‘Fishnapped’) one day while walking down Fifth Avenue and then set to work on it with Andy and Daven. We had regular writers’ rooms where I would write scenes and we would workshop them. Once we had a completed script, we had two staged readings to further refine the script and pitch it to OFT for their 2017 Season. Jen Ryle liked it and agreed to put it in, and the rest is history.”
Gordon says, “Amy and I got to know each other in ‘Charlotte’s Web’ over a decade ago as actors, and have worked together since then in pretty much every capacity. We’ve each directed each other, spoken lines each other have written, and have co-authored three plays together (and counting). She’s also choreographed me several times. Amy brings everything she has to everything she does — she has an intensity and focus that makes her a great acting partner and writing collaborator. I love the energy and passion she brings to everything she does.”
Born and raised in Pullman, Shephard comes about her theatrical involvement naturally. Her father was a theater professor at Washington State University, and her mother was a costumer.
Moving to Olympia, Shephard went to The Evergreen State College from 2005 to 2009, where she studied Experimental Performance, Puppetry and Viewpoints, a method of acting that encourages actors to focus less on their characters’ psychology and more on observation and movement.
From 2011 to 2012 Shephard went to the University of Exeter and got a Masters degree in Applied Theater where she focused on Theater in Education and wrote a thesis paper advocating for the inclusion of gender studies in secondary school with a focus on how theatrical forms such as forum theater can be used to explore gender.
Deane Shellman worked with Shephard on “Three Tales with Eight Tales” at OFT and “Club 90” dinner theater with Open Road Productions. She says, “As a director, you want to work with people who give, who aren’t afraid to try things, who are willing to go further — Amy gives and then some. She brings total dedication to her work. Bonus — she’s a joy to be around.”