Arts and Humanities
3:51 pm
Mon August 4, 2014

'Dexter' Star Jennifer Carpenter Comes Home to Walden Theatre

Walden Theatre artistic director Charlie Sexton with Jennifer Carpenter, class of 1998.
Credit Erin Keane / WFPL News

Jennifer Carpenter, who wrapped the eighth and final season of the acclaimed Showtime series "Dexter" last fall, isn't Walden Theatre's only notable alumnus - right now, for example, Walden grad Adam Brown ('08) is co-starring on Broadway in the musical adaptation of the indie rock film "Once." And every year, the youth conservatory theater program honors a graduate who's gone on to forge a career in the notoriously tough  theater and film landscape. Carpenter is this year's honoree, and she spoke at the program's awards breakfast this morning.

Artistic director Charlie Sexton, who directed the Sacred Heart Academy graduate in three plays during her time at Walden, introduced Carpenter with a telling anecdote about the time she brought in a brand new audition monologue from Chekhov's "The Seagull" a mere week before that year's Chicago unified auditions. He didn't think they'd have time to prepare it, but Carpenter assured Sexton she was prepared - she'd worked it up on the drive to the theater.

"She did this monologue, and everybody in the class was pretty much speechless," said Sexton. "She said well, okay, so what should I do? And I just said, don't do anything. Don't do it again until you get to Chicago, and [then] do it just like that." 

"Jennifer did well at Walden, she did well in college, and she does well in her career because she's got incredible self-motivation," Sexton added. "She was always motivated and eager, and always wanted more and more feedback, and that's how you make it in this career."

When Carpenter accepted her award, though, she insisted that was was only part of the equation, even though she knew at eight-years-old that she wanted to be an actor.

"Walden was the way," she said. "I appreciate you saying I was self-motivated, because I was, but it’s like an Olympic athlete who’s been training since they were a kid. If you’re lucky enough to be born with passion, and someone is there to give it some attention and some care, there’s nothing in the world you can’t have.”  

Carpenter, who made her breakout role in the 2005 horror film "The Exorcism of Emily Rose," gave some insights into her acting process, which she credits Sexton and Walden with instilling in her at that early age. 

"Charlie and Walden hand you a character. A stranger, covered in dust. It's your job to research where they come from, what period of time they're living in, how they move, how they walk from head to toe. With every piece of research you do, you dust them off. You give them a heartbeat, and you lend them your body and your heart and your empathy," Carpenter said.

And for students, she said, there's no better exercise in character development. 

Barbara Sexton Smith and Jennifer Carpenter at the Walden Theatre annual Stage Setters Breakfast.
Credit Erin Keane / WFPL News

"Yes, your SAT scores will improve and grades will improve and you'll become better at reading and understanding literature," she said. "But you will become a better person with a better moral center. You'll treat people differently. That's where I think you really build character, when your own character is revealed through them." 

Outgoing Fund for the Arts president and CEO Barbara Sexton Smith was also honored for her impact on the arts community. At the event, Sexton Smith praised the Walden Theatre students she worked with on workplace campaign presentations during her tenure with the Fund, and she quoted poet Emily Dickinson in her final official pitch for arts education support.

“Walden Theatre and I have something in common. We both want to instill hope in the hearts of children every day," said Sexton Smith. "And hope is a thing with feathers that perches in the soul, and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all.”

In addition to its lauded conservatory program, Walden produces a robust educational outreach program that serves more than 17,000 students in schools and community centers every year with programs like Connecting Cultures Through Drama and the new Zombie Math problem-solving initiative. It's also in the process of merging with Blue Apple Players, another Louisville theater arts education organization that focuses on early childhood arts education. Together, the two institutions will serve an estimated 75 percent of Title I schools in Jefferson County. 

Walden Theatre students are performing Shakespeare’s “Pericles,” directed by artistic associate Julane Havens, at the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival (Wednesday, Friday and Sunday nights) this week. Walden, which produces the Young American Shakespeare Festival every year, is on track to have produced the complete stage works of Shakespeare by 2018. Their upcoming season includes "Henry IV, Parts 1 & 2" and "Romeo and Juliet."

The conservatory program has open houses scheduled for September 11-12 at the theater (1123 Payne Street) at 5:30 p.m. Contact the artistic staff for more details.