Monadnock Profiles: A passion for being on stage

  • Lisa Bostnar of Jaffrey has made a career in theatre and on screen after learning the craft of acting as a young girl in Ohio. Courtesy photo—

  • Lisa Bostnar of Jaffrey has made a career in theatre and on screen after learning the craft of acting as a young girl in Ohio. Courtesy photo—

  • Lisa Bostnar of Jaffrey has made a career in theatre and on screen after learning the craft of acting as a young girl in Ohio. Courtesy photo—

  • Lisa Bostnar, left, of Jaffrey has made a career in theatre and on screen after learning the craft of acting as a young girl in Ohio. Courtesy photo

  • Lisa Bostnar. Courtesy photo—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 3/13/2021 9:44:01 AM

Lisa Bostnar still gets butterflies when the curtain opens and the lights get bright. But not the nervous fluttering kind, more like an excited anticipation of performing in front of an audience, there to capture her every move on stage.

Since moving to New York City in 1986, acting has not only been Bostnar’s career, but it has fulfilled a passion for creativity and imagination that really began as a child playing in the backwoods of Ohio.

“I consider myself so fortunate because this is what I’ve been doing for a living since 1986,” Bostnar said.

If you’ve been to the Peterborough Players over the last 25 years, it’s more than likely you’ve caught one of Bostnar’s memorizing performances. Her work with the Players dates back to 1996 when then hired artistic director Gus Kaikkonen brought her along from New York. The two have been friends for decades and Bostnar can’t even count the times she’s acted alongside Kaikkonen or been under his direction – at the Players, and in New York, Washington and Michigan.

“I could never thank him enough,” Bostnar said.

She had never been to the area prior to that summer 25 years ago, but quickly fell in love with it and the people. She came back almost every summer for Players’ productions, sometimes three or four a year. Two decades after first coming to the Monadnock region to act in a play at a theatre located on a back road in Peterborough, Bostnar moved to Jaffrey to be with her husband Steve Jackson, CEO of The Park Theatre in Jaffrey, who she married eight years ago. The two met at The Players, a private social club in New York, where they both belonged and it quickly blossomed into a relationship. While Bostnar considers Jaffrey home, she still maintains a residence in New York City, where she travels to frequently for work, although not so much in the last year due to the industry essentially shutting down.

She has worked all over the country because as an actor, you go where the work is. That means places like New York, Georgia, New Orleans, Boston and Peterborough.

“It’s a journey,” Bostnar said. “Every day can bring something new and unexpected. I’ve learned to never discount anything.”

Like most actors, Bostnar started with small roles in small plays in small theaters. But her persistence and willingness to take on a variety of roles allowed her to make a name for herself. But it was her role as Genia in “Far and Wide” at The Mint Theater Company in the city that led to Bostnar’s first New York Times review. It was just one line: “Lisa Bostnar delivers a star turn,” but more than enough to get the phone to start ringing with offers.

And sometimes it’s who you know that helps land a role.

Kaikkonen is the one who gave Ed Sherin of the Law & Order franchise Bostnar’s name, which led to an audition for a small part.

“I didn’t get it and I was kind of bummed,” Bostnar said. “But he told me I didn’t get it because he was saving me as a guest star in the following season.”

It was an eight day contract for one episode, her first big TV role, where she played a woman who police thought had killed her child. It led to a few more appearances on the show. That foray into acting for the screen gave Bostnar a look at how the other half of the industry lived.

“The stage is so presentational, you have to be big out there. You’ve got to sell the back row,” she said, and the audience reaction is instant feedback. On a television set, “you just don’t know how you’re doing,” Bostnar said. “You’re very much on your own and when they say the camera doesn’t lie, it’s true.”

While she’s enjoyed his time in television and film, “the stage is my first love and nothing beats it,” Bostnar said.

Bostnar believes the beginning of her acting days took shape in the woods of Aurora, Ohio.

“It was very rural,” Bostnar said. “I grew up playing in the woods with a bunch of kids on back roads, so we had to use our imagination a lot.”

While Bostnar remembers those days in the woods fondly, it was around the age of 10 or 11 that “she got sucked in,” to acting, she said. That’s when she joined the Heights Youth Theatre, and even though it was a youth program, it was something that had to be taken very serious under the tutelage of Jerry Leonard.

“If you weren’t going to do this for a profession, you probably would have left the Heights Youth Theatre in a matter of five days,” Bostnar said. “And I can’t tell you how many people from Heights Youth Theatre from the early 70s that made their careers in the theatre.”

As Bostnar put it, being handed a script with somebody else’s words was inspiring, even to a young kid.

“It opened up a whole new world of structured creativity,” she said.

There was no drama club at her high school, so instead she joined the youth theatre at the Cleveland Playhouse. She loved the idea of acting, but at that point in time one thing stood in her way: she was inherently shy. Bostnar wouldn’t audition for roles, even though she wanted them.

“I wouldn’t put myself out there that way,” she said. Soon though, she began being asked to audition.

Growing up she got the same advice that a lot of aspiring actors receive.

“You hear all your life, don’t become an actor. It’s going to be a hard life, it’s going to be a struggle,” Bostnar said. And it hasn’t always been easy. She said only about five percent of actors are ones that people have heard of, that are stars.

In high school, even though the passion for acting was there, Bostnar decided she wasn’t going to act – at least not for a career. While needing to fill a free period in her schedule, Bostnar had to choose between Russian and geometry. She decided to give Russian a try and loved the nuances of the language. She picked it up quickly, being the only student in the class.

It led to her choosing Russian as her major at Case Western Reserve University with a minor in Chinese. She had the idea of working for the UN.

But there was that draw back to the stage. Freshman year, Bostnar performed in a long production of Nikolai Gogol’s “The Inspector General” for the Russian department – entirely in Russian – and it caught the eye of the head of the theatre department. She was asked to sign up for a few classes. By the tail end of her sophomore year, Bostnar added theatre as her second major.

“Little by little I got sucked back in,” she said. “I knew it was something I couldn’t ignore. And it’s a testament to following your heart.”

By the end of her time at Case Western, Bostnar was determined to continue acting. Her first job was an internship at Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival in her home state. It was her opportunity to get an equity card and she wasn’t about to pass it up. Her journey took her to Illinois, the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park and then to Albuquerque for an internship.

In May of 1986, Bostnar drove back to Cincinnati and made a decision that changed the course of her career forever.

“I said I’m going to New York,” she said. So she packed up her car and arrived in the Big Apple on June 1, 1986 to live with a friend from high school. “And I’ve been there ever since doing my thing.”

But adjusting to life in New York City wasn’t easy. The crowds, the noise, the busyness just wasn’t what she expected.

“Every homeless person I saw broke my heart,” Bostnar said. “The first six months were pretty horrendous.”

Then the fog lifted and she realized she could do it, she could live in the big city. And more importantly, she could carve out a niche in the world of acting. A friend from high school introduced her to someone who was directing a play at the Westport Country Playhouse in Connecticut. It was an off, off Broadway production, but as Bostnar put it “you do a lot of off, off Broadway in the beginning.”

The goal was to work, but Bostnar didn’t want to take on any role just because it was available.

“I’ll say yes to anything that’s good with good people,” she said.

Bostnar considers herself quite fortunate to have found her way in the ultra-competitive world of acting.

“The city is full of so many talented people,” she said.

While Bostnar didn’t pursue a career that would use her Russian skills, she still loves learning languages and accents. It’s even helped her land a few roles.

Throughout her career, it hasn’t just been about the roles and the paychecks, but working with so many great actors that have influenced her craft – including Carmen Decker.

“Carmen Decker is in the top five actors I’ve worked with and no one knows her name,” Bostnar said.

Being on stage isn’t the only thing that COVID has taken away in the past year. The summer of 2020 was when Bostnar was supposed to head back to Ohio to spend an extended amount of time with her mom. Emily Bostnar is 95 years old and Bostnar thought it would be the perfect opportunity to take a break, embrace just being with her mom. But unfortunately it didn’t happen and now its been almost a year and a half since she’s seen her mom, the last time being for her birthday in 2019. They still talk every night, but she can’t wait for the day when they can be together in person.

While Bostnar’s passion is acting, her true love is animals. She and Jackson have three cats and there’s tons of wildlife – fox, bobcats, bears – around their Jaffrey home.

“If I had to do anything for the rest of my life, I’d work on a farm somewhere or have a farm somewhere,” she said.

In recent years, Bostnar has gotten into heirloom gardening and “it excites me so much to put a seed in the ground and watch it grow,” she said. As a kid, her father had her in charge of checking the roses and peonies for Japanese beetles.

She loves to travel, visiting London, Italy and Eastern Europe.

For Bostnar, the last year has not been easy. But she marvels at the creativity to transition to online productions that have allowed her to do readings, including a few at The Park Theatre and is currently working on a web series with famed playwright and Academy Award-winning screenwriter Ernest Thompson.

And when it is safe to put on a live performance once again, Bostnar will be ready to take the stage and feel those butterflies once again.

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

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