Home Again for Local Actress

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Erika Schindele, in South Coast Repertory’s production of “A Christmas Carol,” returns to her hometown for a role in Laguna Playhouse’s next show.
Erika Schindele, in South Coast Repertory’s production of “A Christmas Carol,” returns to her hometown for a role in Laguna Playhouse’s next show.

When Erika Whalen Schindele presented the Art Star lifetime achievement award to her former high school teacher and mentor, Mark Dressler, last April, the honor had personal significance.

“I credit him with inspiring me to become a professional actress,” she said. “I felt proud to be able to present that award to him. I took part in every single show he produced. Theater became my life because of him.”

After studying with Dressler in middle school and at Laguna Beach High School, she went on to UCLA and earned a bachelor’s degree from the theater, film and television department in 2005. “I was a trained in a broad spectrum, including television and film, stage sets and costume design,” she said.

With her career on an upward trajectory including an appearance on “Criminal Minds,” she’s now realizing a long held wish of performing on the Laguna Playhouse stage. Wish fulfillment came in a part in Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple” directed by former artistic director Andrew Barnicle.

She’s cast as Cecily Pidgeon, one of a pair of sisters living above the apartment of Felix and Oscar, the main protagonists of the play scheduled to open at the Laguna Playhouse on March 4. “I’ve auditioned for Andy and I’ve been wanting to be in that production for a long time,” she said.

Erika Whalen in “An Italian Straw Hat” at South Coast Repertory in 2008.
Erika Whalen in “An Italian Straw Hat” at South Coast Repertory in 2008.

Barnicle describes his interpretation of the play as straight forward and based on the original Broadway production. “Erika is perfect for the part. I almost cast her in a couple of works but this time is was a done deal; she did not even have to audition,” said Barnicle.

Current artistic director Ann E. Wareham said that she had had her eye on Schindele for the part. “I’ve been trying to find the right part for Erika for a few years now. She’s such a fine actress; it was time to get her onto our own stage,” said Wareham, who cast Schindele with her former UCLA classmate, Alyson Lindsay, who plays Gwendolyn Pidgeon.

One of three children of artist Kirsten Whalen and attorney Robert Whalen, Laguna Beach’s mayor, Schindele says she was encouraged to try dancing, music, acting and sports by her parents, who are avid arts supporters.

At age 31, her resume includes stints at the Theater for Young Audiences where she played in “A Year with Frog and Toad,” “The Brand New Kid” and other children’s faves like “The Stinky Cheese Man” and “A Little Monkey Business.”

Empathy with students and a desire to stay connected to the Laguna community brings her back weekly to choreograph Dressler shows. This year she will take part in “Bye Bye Birdie” and “Legally Blonde.” In the past she worked on “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Little Women,” “Guys and Dolls,” and “The Crucible,” to name a few.     “Teaching is one of my passions. I am so proud of the kids, watching them grow and improve,” she said. “Education, including theater is so important, I feel blessed to be here at least once a week.”

She describes performing at the 2008 world premiere of “An Italian Straw Hat” at the South Coast Repertory as a professional highlight. Since 2011, she has performed in SCR’s annual “A Christmas Carol.”

She is a member of Actor’s Equity and SAG-AFTRA, stage and film unions difficult to break into, she said.

In 2013, she married fellow actor Brent Schindele, 42, a Fullerton native, who is also a pianist. They met while performing in a Los Angeles musical.

The couple, who live in South Pasadena, created a cabaret act with classic love songs for “The Golden Age of Broadway,” which they performed at the Coachella Valley Repertory last year.

So what does Schindele envision in her future? She is open to opportunities. “I’ve been a working professional all my adult life and learned that acting is not a linear profession,” she said. “Good agents help a lot.”

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