A former junior and senior high school teacher and public school administrator, Pam Leptich also taught at the University of South Carolina, Washburn University and Northeast Oklahoma A&M.
Since moving to Grove in 2007, Leptich has taken part in 20 shows with the Playmakers, either as an actor, technician or director. While she enjoys all aspects of the theater, Leptich prefers acting.
“I love character acting. I like everything about it,” Leptich said. “And, of course, the applause is glorious.”
Leptich is no stranger to playing strong female roles. Her acting resumé includes recognizable characters like Aunt Martha Brewster in “Arsenic and Old Lace”, Miss Hannigan in “Annie” and Mama Rose in “Gypsy”.
Since starting her acting career in a production of “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” with the Hilton Head Community Theatre in 2000, the lean, 6-foot tall Leptich has portrayed a wide array of characters. She’s put on a habit several times for roles in “Nunsense”.
She even portrayed the 32nd president of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, while doing the role of Miss Hannigan in the same production of “Annie”.
Even with all these strong characters and others under her acting belt, Leptich jumped at the chance to take on Vivian Bearing, Ph.D., a role that, according to reviewer David Sheward, requires an actor “to run the proverbial gamut of emotions, from imperious disdain to shattering despair.”
“Suzanne Boles emailed me about doing ‘W;T’ last year, asking if I would want to play Vivian,” Leptich said. “It didn’t take me two seconds to say yes, I would do it. I said ‘oh my god, yes!’ I’ve always wanted to do ‘W;T’.
“I enjoy doing musicals and comedies, but to sink my teeth into something that is not only dramatic but also so meaningful to so many, I’m challenged and humbled to be given the chance.”
Despite playing a character who is dying of cancer, Leptich doesn’t see “W;T” as a play about death.
“It’s not so much about cancer and dying as it is about human relationships. We’re all affected by our relationships with each other,” Leptich said. “As Vivian looks back on her relationships, with her professor and with her students, her biggest frustration is that there’s nothing she can do to change the past. She preferred scholarship to humanity.
“The play doesn’t give us any recipe for not saying the wrong thing. It reminds us most about keeping your past in your mind so you’ll learn from it. To realize human relations are very fragile. Use the memory of the past mistakes to not do it again.”
Leptich sees many dimensions in “W;T”.
“Vivian dying of cancer, going through the treatments, the journey. She’s at a research hospital where they see her as a test tube. She also takes a journey through her past," Leptich said. “Both the young doctor and Vivian learn compassion that they didn’t know before.”
Leptich also feels the play speaks to caregivers, pointing out that while the most important person in a cancer patient’s life is a caregiver, Bearing doesn’t have one.
As soon as she was contacted by Boles about doing “W;T” last year, Leptich ordered the play from Amazon and immediately started memorizing her lines.
Leptich and her husband, Bill, had seen “W;T” performed 16 or 17 years ago by the South Carolina Repertory Company on Hilton Head Island. They also had watched the movie version of “W;T” on HBO.
Little did the couple know when they first saw “W;T” that one day Leptich would be practicing and rehearsing for her role in the play while acting as caregiver for her husband, who lost his battle with stage IV colon cancer on Thursday, Feb. 9.
When asked if taking the stage as a dying cancer patient would be hard so soon after losing her husband, Leptich said performing will actually help her.
“In a way, it’s therapeutic and, in a way, personally I’m fulfilling what he wanted me to do. It’s a tribute and honor to Bill. In a kinda ironic sense, it helps,” Leptich said. “Bill insisted I do the play. He used to help me run lines. He would be very ill or doing his cancer treatments or in the car coming back from the hospital in Joplin and we would run lines.
“It brings me closer to him to do the play.”
Leptich describes her husband as the quintessential volunteer, saying he supported a number of organizations with fundraisers and in other ways.
“Kids, the library, Kiwanis, the Y, that was Bill’s stage. This is mine,” Leptich said. “He’s been a stage dad through the whole thing. Bill had spent his whole life waiting for me to come home from rehearsal. In doing this play, I’m extending our time together. I’m keeping him with me.”
Leptich believes that audiences will feel the same way.
“For an hour and 45 minutes, that person will be there. They will have their loved one too. It’s dynamic for a play to do," Leptich said. "There isn’t anyone in the cast who hasn’t been affected by cancer. My story is just now.”