For Theresa Chiasson's newest role, in the Internet TV series Family Problems, she must not only take the lead – a mother whose family murders someone and then tries to live an ordinary life – she must also leap between time periods, playing a young woman, middle-aged and elderly.
The biggest challenge, Chiasson said in a recent interview, is embodying youth, especially when bouncing between a character burdened by murder and her earlier, unknowing self.
"How do you play hopeful?" she asked.
The obvious answer, leaving aside elusive qualities like natural ability and an adaptable face, is years of practice.
Chiasson is a Braintree resident and nurse at Abington High School and Linden Ponds. Her real passion, though, is performing. About a decade after diving into the local theatre scene, Chiasson has recently added web series and some film work to her resume.
Family Problems is scheduled to premiere on YouTube in February. It was written and will be directed by Seth Chitwood, a Rhode Island film and theatre student with a penchant for the gruesome. One of his previous Internet TV efforts, Red Circles, featured paranormal activity surrounding a homicide investigation.
Production will begin on the new series next month. One day of filming will take place in Braintree, at Chiasson's apartment, and the rest will be based in Attleboro and Barrington, RI. The story will unfold over 12 episodes, each about 12-14 minutes long and will shift between the time periods.
Playing different ages is "all about body language," Chiasson said. When she returned to drama school 10 years ago, one of her first roles involved performing the same character at 80 years old and 30 years old in a play at Emmanuel College.
Another role took her to a national competition in South Carolina, where she played an older woman trying to be the first into a newly-opened Graceland museum. The only other character was a young woman, and the entire performance took place on a stage with only a pup tent and pillow.
"It was all about the acting," Chiasson said.
One of the best pieces of advices she ever received was from someone during that competition. How you walk is fundamental, she said. What part of your body do you lead with? Young, middle-aged and elderly people all move differently, as do people from various backgrounds.
In Family Problems, her youngest time period features Chiasson as a single mother of a bratty child. Chiasson herself has no children, but researched the role, watching TV, keeping her eyes open in restaurants.
"I think I'm a pretty observant person," she said.
Chiasson never thought she would be an actor. Growing up in Cohasset, she was a cheerleader and singer, having taken to heart advice against acting. After school, Chiasson performed in a local barbershop quartet and became a nurse.
Then, one day in 1999, her nephew's sister-in-law auditioned for a role in Guys and Dolls in Hingham and encouraged Chiasson to try out. She got a part, which expanded to include time alone on the stage before the show playing a drunk, wearing old clothes from Savers and picking up cigarettes off the stage.
She soon found more parts and currently performs in one or two plays a year. Right now she is directing Steel Magnolias in Cohasset, and looks forward to more theatre work and a potential move into traditional TV and film.
"I thought I was a singer who could act, it turned out I was an actress who can sing," she said. "The universe does the right thing."