A self-described “empty-nester,” Denise Hoeflich has lived with her family in Glencoe since 1995. Her North Shore tradition continues with both of her and husband Adam’s sons currently attending Northwestern University. A former lawyer, Hoeflich now focuses her energy on her passion for theater. As an actress, she can be seen in the world premiere production of Dreams of the Penny Gods at Halcyon, running March 24 through May 1. Hoeflich’s connection to Halcyon runs deeper than just as an actress as she also heads the Albany Park-based theater company’s board, and is hard at work co-chairing the company’s fourth annual Night of Flight fundraiser at which Coya Paz and Chay Yew will be honored on January 22.
Gregg Shapiro: When you were still working as an attorney, what kind of law did you practice?
Denise Hoeflich: I practiced insurance defense. I mostly represented hospitals and doctors in Lake County when they were sued for malpractice.
GS: What did you like best about the legal profession?
DH: I loved going to court and making an argument, be it in front of a judge or a panel of jurors.
GS: What did you like the least about the legal profession?
DH: Billable hours [laughs]!
GS: Being a former lawyer, how would you describe the connection between the theater of the courtroom and that of the stage?
DH: Both theater in the courtroom and theater on stage require the actor/lawyer to convey the facts of the play/case truthfully and authentically. The key to a winning performance, in either setting, is being authentic. It is the truth of the actors’ performance that induces the audience to believe and become involved in the story. Likewise, it is the lawyers’ authenticity that allows him or her to appeal to the fact-finders on an emotional level, thereby swaying the jury to his or her side.
GS: What do you think of TV and movie courtroom dramas?
DH: All drama arises out of conflict and there is something to be said about a good legal dispute! The inherent tension of the jury, the well dressed attorneys and the often-imposing environment of a courtroom all lend themselves to great entertainment. However, the fictionalized courtroom dramas that seem so exciting don’t accurately portray what really happens in most courtrooms. In real life, most trials are often dull and frustrating. In fact, most cases never even make it to trial and settle out of court.
GS: Do you have a favorite TV or movie courtroom drama?
DH: There are a lot of great ones, but I think I will go with A Few Good Men.
GS: How did you come to be involved with the Halcyon Theatre in Chicago’s Albany Park neighborhood?
DH: In 2012, after an audition process, I was invited to be an Artist in Residence with Halcyon Theatre. The program allowed me to work with Halcyon both as an actor on stage and on the business and production side of the theater. After completing the 11-month program I was invited to join the theater as a full time company member, which I accepted. I have been a company member with Halcyon Theatre since December 2012.
GS: What can you tell me about your role at Halcyon Theatre?
DH: I am currently a company member and president of the board of directors at Halcyon Theatre. As a company member, I work together with the ensemble in creating theater and artistic programming that furthers Halcyon’s mission to make the stage as diverse as the city of Chicago. As president of the Board, I further champion Halcyon’s mission by overseeing strategic planning and future growth for the company as well as taking a leadership role in raising funds. I find being both a company member and president of the board immensely rewarding. I feel lucky to work with such smart, talented and mission driven people on making Halcyon Theatre a permanent fixture on the Chicago theater scene.
GS: What are some of your all-time favorite acting roles?
DH: Susan in War Zone Is My Bed, and Mrs. Van Dann in The Diary of Anne Frank.
GS: As someone whose theater involvement includes being both behind the scenes (heading the Board at Halcyon Theatre) and being in the spotlight (performing in Poetry Is productions’ Bernarda Alba and Her House at Redtwist Theatre), what are the challenges and rewards of both?
DH: The reward of being involved in theater both on stage and behind the scenes is that I get to work, every day, in a field that I love. As an actor I get to experience the thrill of creating art by working fearlessly and truthfully in imaginary circumstances. I experience that same thrill to create and shape a permanent theater that eradicates boarders and works towards a more just union. The challenge of being fully immersed in theater is making sure there is ample family time. My schedule can get complicated as I work a lot of nights and weekends!
GS: In addition to your theater work, you serve on the Jewish Children’s and Family Service Board of Directors and on Clearbrook’s Shining Star Ball committee. What do you get from doing that kind of work?
DH: My work in other non-theater related non-profits allows me to give back to the community and organizations that have deep personal connections for me. These organizations have provided immeasurable resources and support to my family and friends and I am grateful to be in a position to return the support.
GS: You and your family have lived in Glencoe for 20 years. Glencoe is also home to Writers Theatre. What does it mean to you as both an actress and a resident of Glencoe to live in a place with a thriving theater community?
DH: The fact that Glencoe has a thriving theater community gives added value and dimension to my life both as an actor and resident of the community. Theater brings people together, opens minds and ignites discussions. Theater makes us examine our own lives, our values and behaviors. Theater contributes to education and literacy. Theater teaches us about human behavior and expression. All of these are gifts one receives by living in a thriving arts community.
GS: What are some of your favorite things about living in Glencoe?
DH: I love the small town feel the village has. I love the wonderful friendships I have made raising my kids in this town.