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A self-described introvert, Karen Burzin has stretched out of her comfort zone since getting her start in acting with the Ivoryton Players, which will stage its final show, 4 Beekman, on Friday, Nov. 30 and Saturday, Dec. 1. (Photo by Rita Christopher/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
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Karen Burzin was not in her elementary school class play; she was not in her middle school play, nor her high school play.
“I was never accepted for anything, not even into the ensemble,” she recalls,
In fact, she was never in a play until three years ago when she saw a notice in an email from the Ivoryton Playhouse seeking new members for the Ivoryton Players, a community theater group that performs under the aegis of the playhouse.
“I thought I would like to do that,” she says—and she did.
Audiences can see Karen, who lives in Ivoryton, and the other members of the Ivoryton Players on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 at the Deep River Town Hall Theater in 4 Beekman, a comedy by Ron Clark with a plot that demonstrates founding director’s Joyce Beauvais’ gift for putting on comedy.
Still, there is some sadness behind the laughter. This will be the last production of the Ivoryton Players. Rising insurance costs have become too burdensome for the Ivoryton Playhouse to continue its sponsorship of the community theater group.
“I’m sad but incredibly proud of we’ve accomplished; we’ve grown into a family, a true definition of teamwork,” Beauvais said.
Karen recalls the email she sent Beauvais when answering the advertisement.
“I told her I couldn’t sing, I couldn’t dance, and I’d never acted,” she recalls. “Joyce wrote back...’You sound perfect. Come join us.’”
Her first role was a substantial one, June Stanley, daughter of the host in the classic Kaufman and Hart comedy The Man Who Came to Dinner. The rest of the cast reassured Karen as she tackled the role.
“They were so supportive, giving me tips, sending me encouraging emails,” she says.
On her own, Karen went to YouTube and watched how-to videos on stage presence and voice projection.
One comfort was that the play was performed as a staged reading with scripts.
“The script equaled security,” Karen says.
But more recent productions have removed that security. The actors now memorize their lines. For help, Karen once again turned to YouTube for videos on memorization skills. Still, in the 2017 production of Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite, Karen didn’t have to worry about lines because she didn’t have any, though she was onstage for an entire act crying because she did not want to come out of a locked bathroom for her wedding.
The challenge was not to laugh at the comedy swirling around her.
“It got funnier and funnier, but Joyce kept telling me not to react,” she says.
Karen still hasn’t told many friends about her acting nor invited them to see her perform.
“That would have been too much pressure. To screw up in front of family is one thing, but to screw up in front friends and family was too much,” she says.
Her husband Jeff and three daughters, nonetheless, have been impressed.
“They are really proud of me. Jeff says he knew I could do it. The girls? They can say, ‘Hey that’s my mom,’” she says.
Karen even signed up for an acting class in Old Lyme and was cast in a production with what she says would have been the part of a lifetime, but the group wasn’t able to secure the rights to perform the play. As it turned out, that disappointment led to another opportunity in an entirely different field.
Karen saw a newspaper advertisement for a part-time office administrator at the First Congregational Church in Essex and applied for the position.
“If I had done that play, I never would have applied for the job,” she says.
Office work seemed as much a reach for her as acting had initially been.
“I had done nothing but volunteer work for 18 or 20 years,” she says, and her professional life had been in a completely different area: She was a dental hygienist, and though she hasn’t been in the field for many years, there are some things that she carries with her. “Brushing and flossing are still part of my soul.”
Dentistry is also responsible for the blind date that led to her marriage. Karen, who grew up in Shelton, met Jeff, an orthodontist, when both were working in West Hartford.
“Somebody said you two should meet,” she remembers.
Karen was at first hesitant to apply for the job at the church in Essex.
“Honestly, I hadn’t had a paying job in so many years,” she says.
At her interview, she discussed her volunteer experience with Reverend Ken Peterkin of the First Congregational Church, particularly her six years as chair of the education committee of Congregation Beth Shalom Rodfe Zedek in Chester. She has also been a volunteer delivery person for Meals on Wheels and for five years was a member of the Ivoryton Library Board.
“I felt comfortable with the responsibilities [Revered Peterkin] presented and I knew I could do the work,” she says.
After seven months in the position, she loves the job.
“It’s nice to make a difference to people whose last name isn’t Burzin,” she says.
Getting involved in acting, Karen feels, has played a role not only in deciding to apply for her new job, but also in how she views life.
“I have always been an introvert and in acting you can’t be that introverted. You have to put yourself out there. Joyce doesn’t let you hide,” she says.
Ivoryton Players in 4 Beekman
Friday, Nov. 30 at 7 p.m. and Saturday, Dec. 1 at 1 p.m. at Deep River Town Hall Theater, 174 Main Street, Deep River. Tickets are $12 at the door or in advance at the Ivoryton Playhouse Box Office 860-767-7318. For more info, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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