by Sarah Squires
Tara Salyards didn't find her voice until she was 18.
In fact, no one had even heard her sing.
That didn't mean she hadn't spent hours in the basement alone, singing songs from Broadway musicals, imagining herself on stage playing her favorite leading roles.
Then at 18, on a whim, the Winona native decided to try out for a role in a Home and Community Options production of "Children of Eden." She sang "On My Own," from "Les Miserables," and surprised even herself in landing a supporting lead role in the musical.
That whimsical bit of courage led Salyards down a new path for herself, one that has most recently brought her to the stage of the new Guthrie Theater in the Twin Cities. She'll play a small role in a unique production of "The Merchant of Venice," and will be able to take her voice with her. The Guthrie's performances will include songs written exclusively for its showing, and Salyards' role is a singing part in the play.
Salyards, who says she's a singer first and an actor second, said that this is the perfect opportunity for her. "The Guthrie, no less!" she said. "That is a theater that even the big shots in New York City know about, and I would have given anything to put that on my resume."
She said that she feels so blessed to have the opportunity to share a stage with seasoned and well-known actors, and will have a lot to learn. "Professional theater is going to be very different from what I have experienced thus far in community theater," she said, "and I know it's going to be some of the hardest work I've ever done. As my dad says, a small role at the Guthrie is worth 1,000 leading roles in community theater."
And Salyards doesn't plan on stopping there. "Broadway is definitely in my future," she said. "I have a huge dream that few people ever achieve, but I am determined to do everything in my power to become a Broadway performer."
Preview performances of "The Merchant of Venice" begin at the Guthrie on March 10 at 7:30 p.m. The show will make its official opening on March 16 at 7:30 p.m., and will continue with 7:30 p.m. performances Tuesday through Sunday, along with a scattering of matinees, through May 6. To find out more about ticket information the performance schedules, visit www.guthrietheater.org.
Climbing the ladder
When Salyards first sang in front of other people during her audition for the Home and Community Options musical, and even landed a role, it didn't calm her fears that her voice was less than lovely.
She said that after a friend of hers heard her sing "On My Own" during the audition, she convinced her to sing the song during a Cotter High School talent show. At 18, this was the first time her parents had heard her sing.
"I'll never forget that day," said Salyards of the talent show. "I sang my heart out and after the song was over, there was literally a short period of silence. ‘Oh no!' I thought. ‘I must have been really bad!' Then the audience exploded in applause and collectively got to their feet. I couldn't believe it! From that moment on, the bug had bit, and I knew this was something I could quite happily do for the rest of my life."
After high school, Salyards performed in a few more community theater musicals in Winona and Fountain City during her summers home from college at the University of Minnesota in Morris. She then landed her first leading role for a theater company near Morris as Ado Annie in "Oklahoma," and said it was a truly wonderful experience.
She landed some roles in community theater productions in the Twin Cities, and then took a few years off. She came back with a bang starring in a Lyric Arts Theater production in Anoka as Marina Paroo in "The Music Man," and followed it up with a leading role in one of her personal favorites - Emma Carew in "Jekyll and Hyde."
After "Jekyll and Hyde," Salyards said she really began thinking about acting, singing and theater in a different way. "I began to really think seriously about wanting to make my singing more than just a hobby. I wanted to make it a career," she said.
She looked to more professional theater and found that she'd have a tough battle ahead of her. Salyards said that becoming part of professional theater productions often means that a person has to join the actors union, which limits what shows an actor can perform in. "Joining the union means no more community theater. Period," she said.
But the chance she landed at the Guthrie called for nonunion singers to play the roles in "The Merchant of Venice." This will give Salyards the chance to test the water in a new world of theater, as a professional taking in what it takes to get to the top.
"It may not be a large part," said Salyards, "but it's a singing role at the Guthrie, so I couldn't feel more blessed. Now ‘The Guthrie' will be listed proudly on my resume and I will get the chance to work with some of the finest actors the Twin Cities has to offer."