Into the limelight

A native Ashlander who got her start acting in first grade at the Waldorf School, Juliana Wheeler has graduated from Portland Conservatory Theater and is emerging as a prominent presence in regional theater, with talents in acting, singing and dance.

The tall and graceful Wheeler, 23, delivered Cole Porter's romantic ballad, "Always True to You" in Oregon Cabaret Theater's "Naughty or Nice," which she calls "fun, sassy, flirty and silly."

Wheeler got the role on a week's notice and says it was easy putting it together because, "I love that style. Cole Porter's music is fun and easily accessible, very natural to fall into."

Wheeler's favorite art is acting and she'd love to break into film in Los Angeles, but notes it's "incredibly competitive there," and women her age are stereotyped as "young, stupid girls" involved in romantic situations.

"Really good roles aren't available for young women in the movies," she says.

Meanwhile, it's nice to get work in the "small pond" of Ashland, though it's not enough to live on. At her day job, you'll find her pulling espressos at Noble Coffee in Ashland.

Wheeler says she's lucky to have been in Waldorf, where students are involved in the full spectrum of the arts.

"The first time I stepped into the limelight, I realized that there's just something about performing on stage," Wheeler says. "I feel at home. It's such a cool, artistic outlet to be able to tell a story through words, body and voice."

At Ashland High School (class of '06), Wheeler sang in the choir and performed in "Anything Goes" and "Mame," moving onto roles in Camelot Theater's "I'm Getting My Act Together" and "Meet Me in St. Louis," as well as Oregon Stage Works' "The Great American Trailer Park Musical" and "Tales of Fannie Keenan Better Known As Dora Hand."

Her two years at the conservatory in Portland taught her the rich range of methods, under the tutelage of working professionals. She had the opportunity to act in a tight, intimate group of 11 people (in her graduating class) and performed for the public in "Comedy of Errors," "Passion Play" and other productions.

"I learned the technical side of acting, how to break down scripts and do the performance moment-by-moment, in detail, becoming aware of my character's objectives," she says. "It was really, really cool and I got to work so closely with the teachers."

Her role models on the silver screen are Kate Winslett, Marion Cotillard, Nicole Kidman and Meryl Streep, who "can transform to any character, with a performance that's so complete and to the heart."

Wheeler sees film as "a completely different kind of theater that I think I'm more adept at. It's more subtle and not as big as the stage."

Wheeler also likes "heightened roles," as found in Shakespeare, musicals and the works of playwright and actor Sam Shepard.

"Shepard explores the dark underbelly with such beauty of character, so much heart and heartache, getting at the root of humanity," Wheeler says.

The young actress lauds Ashland as a wonderful place to grow up.

"One of the best theaters in the country is right down the street," she says. "And the area's schools draw on directors and actors from Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Southern Oregon University."

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