An Actor’s Life: A Conversation with Mary Frick

I recently had the opportunity to interview Mary Frick. Our conversation took me behind the scenes into a world that I had only previously seen at the movie theater, through a television screen and on the stage.

Mary was born and grew up in Southeastern, Pa. She has many fond memories of a childhood spent with four sisters and two brothers.

Her parents not only provided them with a solid foundation, but also an active life that included many outdoor activities. Fishing, ice skating and hiking were just some of the pleasant experiences that she and her six siblings shared.

They also spent many treasured moments indoors.

“We would put on comedy and musical sketches during family get-togethers. We would often break out into improvisational scenes,” Mary said.

Family influences also added to her creative development.

“My father’s side of the family had a musical group who played and sang at family functions. My Grandmother (Nanny) was also musically inclined.”

Early experiences

Mary showed a talent for writing, directing and acting as early as grade school.

She responded to her sixth grade teachers request when he asked the class if anyone was interested in writing a Christmas play. Much to his surprise, she presented him with a completed play about a week later.

After seeing the script, he gave her permission to cast, direct and act in the play. Her efforts resulted in an all-around success and affirmed her belief that the dramatic arts were going to be a part of her future.

She excelled academically through her high school years. She also won art contests, played field hockey, was on the swim and gymnastic teams, played two instruments in the band, was a cheerleader and was elected to the student council.

After graduation, she traveled across the country.

Mary was living in Ft. Lauderdale at the time and drove with a friend, on Highway 10 West, across the southern states to San Diego, Calif.

They made a stop in Carmel to see her friend’s relatives and then made their way up to San Francisco, where they delivered the car they were driving to its owner. They were out of money at that point and saw a sign on Market Street about joining the Air Force.

“I talked to a recruiter. He said that we had to go onto the base to take the test and that we needed a score of 90 or above to be accepted into the Air Force. We then studied at the San Francisco Public Library for a couple of days, went onto the base, and took the test. I scored a 97 and the recruiter said that we were in.

“My friend called her cousin, who was residing in Carmel, to tell him the good news. But, he had spent 20 years in the Army and told us not to join. He drove up to San Francisco and brought us back to Carmel, where we lived and worked for awhile.

“It was a very beautiful and incredible experience to drive across the country and up the coast of California.

“I realized that I wanted to be an actress. So, I enrolled at West Chester University and earned my Bachelor of Arts Degree in Speech Communications.

“I was a single parent at the time, with two beautiful young children to support, so I landed a job at a Pharmaceutical Company where I was employed for 10 years. When my children were older, I decided to pursue the acting field.”

Mary’s pursuits helped to develop her acting abilities. She also broadened her skills through the camera operation and directing training that she received.

Fighting the good fight

“During my first semester, I landed a part in the play “Mother Courage.”

“When my son was diagnosed with a terminal illness, I immediately dropped out of the play to care for him. I continued on with my studies at the University while taking care of my children.

“That part of my life was such a turning point in the path that I was pursuing to become an actress.

“I had to give an enormous amount of attention to my son. We traveled back and forth to Children’s Hospital (in Philadelphia) and to the University of Penn for ten years. Children’s Hospital became like a second home to us.

“I thought that I may have lost him, but he fought the good fight and won the battle.

“The good Lord saved him and for that I am very grateful.”

David Shuman

After college, Mary attended a few acting schools in New York. She eventually found an exceptional coach in David Shuman, at the prestigious Weist-Barron school, and studied with him for several years.

The well respected Shuman has coached many well-known actors, including Whoopi Goldberg, Kevin Spacey and Christopher Walken.

“He was incredible!

“He was very knowledgeable about the psychological makeup of a character, relationships and the business.”

She noted that Shuman’s no-nonsense style and ability to be in control were keys to his effectiveness.

“He was able to pull a good performance out of you and always helped you to do your best.”

Television and movie roles

Through Mary’s training and persistence she earned roles in films, appearances on television shows and work in commercials.

She can be seen in the HBO series “Sex in the City” and the NBC series “Third Watch”.

She had a part in The Learning Channel series “Forensic Files”, which is now shown on truTV, was on the set of Law & Order: SVU and had a background part in the HBO series “The Sopranos”.

Her feature film credits include “Spiderman”, “Changing Lanes” and the independent film “The Middle Voice”.

How a performance develops

Many entertainment fans are fascinated by the method in which actors develop the portrayal of their characters.

Mary advised that after a successful audition, an actor will receive a script and then begin to develop a character as they study their lines.

“After studying lines, if you get the opportunity you can improvise, which helps with the scene.

“An actor has to determine the character’s agenda, motive, background, etc.”

When working on stage, an actor will generally exhibit dramatic physical movements and project their lines to the audience in a louder voice than would normally be used in other venues.

Work done in front of a camera would be presented differently, because each feeling that is expressed is captured in a more intimate visual form.

Free time

Beyond work, Mary enjoys watching movies, gardening, painting, photography, writing, reading and is in a Bible study group with a former acting friend.

She also is involved in a community group through her church.

“We clean the streets, plant flowers, and distribute groceries. Our mission is to spread the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

The next generation

Mary’s varied career experience has allowed her to be in a uniquely positive position. It’s one where she is able to offer seasoned advice to those who are planning to pursue, or who are currently pursuing, this particular creative field.

“I have learned a lot by watching other actor’s performances.

“The more I grew as an actor, the more I was able to appreciate other actors.”

She recommended those who are considering attending an acting school should first audit classes. Doing so will allow potential students to preview a school’s atmosphere and help to formalize the decision making process.

“If you want to become an actor or actress and believe in yourself, find a good coach, study, perfect your craft and get a good talent agent.

“I found that studying to be an actor helped to open my eyes to the intricacies of the human spirit.”

Sean has written professionally since 1990. Read his Blog: Insight and follow him on Twitter @ SeanyOB

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