Singer and actor Greta Oglesby
This weekend Greta Oglesby will give two performances at the Capri Theater in Minneapolis, singing some of her favorite songs from both gospel and Broadway. The event brings together her love of music and her love of acting, in a venue with which she has an intimate connection. But if you'd asked her when she was a kid what she wanted to do with her life, you would heard a very different answer.
"I always wanted to be an accountant - I was fascinated with numbers," Oglesby chuckles in retrospect.
At the age of 30, Greta Oglesby had a finance degree and was working for the City of Chicago as an accountant. She thought she had found her calling.
But then, theater intervened.
"I was in my office flipping through the Chicago Times and saw an audition for a little musical," she explains. "I didn't have anything; they asked for a headshot, a two minute monologue and a song, and the only thing I had was a song. So I committed a Langston Hughes poem to memory." She laughs as she recalls her stage debut. "My monologue sucked hard, but my song got to them."
For Oglesby, being in the play was a revelation; she says she can only describe it as "I came into myself."
"I thought I was living my dream as an accountant for the city, but I found that I loved acting, and I didn't even know it. And suddenly I couldn't live without it."
Fastforward to 2009, and Oglesby wowed audiences at the Guthrie Theater as the title character in the musical "Caroline, Or Change" by playwright Tony Kushner. Kushner himself said she gave the defining performance of the role. Since then work has picked up for her noticably - she's just returned from performing "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" on tour, and will soon be in The Gospel According to Jerry at the Minnesota Jewish Theatre. Then she'll be in a Pillsbury House production of "In the Red and Brown Water."
In 2012 Oglesby will reprise her role as Caroline in a production at Syracuse Stage, directed by the Guthrie's Marcela Lorca. One of the key songs of the show is one she'll be singing this weekend - "Lot's Wife." In the song, the character of Caroline has a total breakdown.
"I never thought I'd want to sing that song again in my life - but I've grown to love it," she says. "It's so challenging, physically and vocally; in rehearsals I dreaded every time I had to sing that song. But once we were into the run of the show, it just became a part of me. I finally made peace with it."
Oglesby says for her, both acting and singing on stage feel like a form of ministry. It's something she's been called to do.
"I know that these are God-given gifts, and two things that just come really naturally to me, and so I want to use these gifts in a way that honor him, that help people."
The accomplished actress never saw a play when she was growing up; there was no drama department in her high school. She wishes she'd had been exposed to theater earlier, and so she's put her energy into teaching kids in the Plymouth Christian Youth Center, who use the Capri Theater for their performances. She gets them excited about Romeo and Juliet, and gets them to write their own plays.
"I think it's so very very important that we do here with PCYC and the kids here; it so enriches their lives. It not only broadens their horizons but gives them life skills. I just watch them transform themselves. It enhances the lives of these kids in a way that is phenomenal and I see it day in and day out."
At the end of the year she's directing the kids in a play called "Dance on Widows' Row" - but this weekend it will just be Oglesby on stage, singing her heart out and giving thanks for the gifts she's been given.