Actor Therese Walth gets down as Sister Mary Patrick in the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres’ musical “Sister Act.” Walth, choral and vocal music director at Hill-Murray School, described the play’s spiritual message in an interview with The Catholic Spirit. Photo by Heidi Bohnenkamp, 2015
Q & A with Therese Walth
Editor’s Note: Therese Walth, who is the choral and vocal music director at Hill-Murray School in Maplewood, has credits with several local acting companies and often appears on stage at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres. She currently has a role as one of the nuns in the convent in “Sister Act” there. Walth, who admitted to being “between the ages of 25-35 (wink),” grew up in Onalaska, Wisconsin, and earned degrees in both music education and musical theater at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. Fellow actor Ben Ballentine, Hill-Murray’s theater director (actor name Ben Bakken), invited Walth to apply when the teaching position opened. “He’s been a huge support, and I am so happy to be at Hill-Murray working with him and the fantastic students and staff,” Walth noted. Walth answered questions from The Catholic Spirit via email about her career and her faith.
Q: Acting is job, but you look like you’re having fun on the stage in “Sister Act.” Is the play more fun than work?
A: There are many stressful parts to acting, and some shows are more challenging than others. “Sister Act,” however, is a really fun show to do, and the role of Sister Mary Patrick is a blast. She is so full of God’s grace and life that it’s hard not to have fun when playing her on stage. She gets to laugh a lot, sing and dance and hang out with some pretty awesome women on stage. I would say it is the best kind of work!
Q: Have you had any real-life experience with nuns?
A: I have a great aunt who spent 12 years in a convent as a postulant before deciding not to take orders, and my mother’s side of the family were all raised Catholic. (I’m actually named for St. Therese of Lisieux.) My mother went to Bishop Ryan Catholic School in Minot, North Dakota, so I have heard many stories about nuns as teachers, leaders and awesome human beings. Now through Hill-Murray I work with the wonderful Sister Linda Soler, and have gotten to learn from the Benedictine Sisters of the St. Paul Monastery.
Q: You sing at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church. Is there a story behind your doing that? Can you talk a bit about your spirituality and prayer life?
A: Although my mother was raised Catholic, she converted to Lutheran when she married my father. My grandfather on my dad’s side was a Lutheran pastor in North Dakota, so I was raised with a very strong Lutheran faith. I first found my love for singing and performing in at my church and was blessed to have very supportive parents. When I moved to the Cities about eight years ago, I was searching for a community that I could worship in. My dad was very good friends with the choir director at Prince of Peace Lutheran, and there I found a loving and supportive community.
I don’t believe that I could be an actor without my belief in God. The talents I have are his. I remember as a 6th grader going to a summer camp and thanking God for my gift of singing and performing and vowing that anytime I sang or performed it was for and because of him. Acting (and teaching for that matter) has lots of ups and downs. Many times you are rejected simply by how you look in theater, and you never find out why you didn’t get the job. I found that through prayer and a belief in God’s plan for me, I am able to get through the hard times knowing that God is walking with me.
Q: “Sister Act” at the Chan is campy and fun, but do you think it also passes along a spiritual uplift — maybe even a spiritual message — to the audience?
A: The spiritual message that I receive every night from the show is that a truly happy life is not about one person. Many times we feel we need to battle things alone, or we find ourselves fighting for selfish wants like fame or fortune, but when we open ourselves up to the Lord we find we have a deeper purpose, a deeper meaning in life. And that is not through selfish wishes but through community, through love, and through faith.