Erin Oechsel delighted local theater audiences for more than a decade while growing up in Naperville. Today, the 2008 Benet Academy graduate and professional actor continues to share her talent, albeit on a much bigger stage.
“It originally started off as a way to do something with the family over the summer,” said Oechsel, whose dad and siblings are also involved in theater. “It grew into this love of telling a story; that’s why I do it, working and auditioning and training myself to get the opportunity to tell a story the way it should be told.”
At Magical Starlight Theatre in Naperville and through high school productions, Oechsel fell in love with the stage. Brian Wand, director of choral music at Benet, recalls her as a performer “who was extremely natural on stage and incredibly humble off stage.”
“Erin is the best kind of performer — a thinker,” Wand said. “She makes great choices and is able to surrender to the demands of the role. I am extremely excited for her success as a performer and know that this is only the beginning.”
Oechsel said that at Benet she gained not only an academic foundation but organizational skills that have proved to be invaluable.
“Benet really prepared me for college and the real world,” she said. “It is a rigorous program; I needed to balance getting good grades in class while doing activities like plays and theater outside of school. I learned to maintain a good work ethic and juggle many things at a time.”
And she’s still juggling.
After graduating from Ball State in 2012 with a degree in musical theater, she has landed roles in a number of productions, all while working a “day job” at Maggiano’s in Naperville.
In April, she began performing in “Les Miserables” at Drury Lane Theater in Oak Brook, which runs through June 8.
“Ever since I was a little kid, I dreamed of doing a show at Drury Lane,” she said. “When you get an opportunity like ‘Les Mis,’ you remember why you did this in the first place. You are up there with these fantastic performers, telling this beautiful story. You don’t always do projects you believe in with all your heart and soul, but when you do, it’s really, really magical.”
When she’s not working or performing, she’s auditioning for her next role.
“You definitely have to learn to hustle,” Oechsel said. “The challenge is to remember that theater and performance is my career. When you are starting out, sometimes it’s tough when (the work) is not as consistent as you would like. It’s easy to lean into your day job when really that has to be in support of your main career.”
Although the profession comes with its own set of challenges, she wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.
“I did a show at Steppenwolf in the fall, and it was an incredible experience,” she said. “It reminded me that this is what I want to be doing; this is why I fell in love with theater in high school and why I continued in college.”