‘Always wanted to be an entertainer’

LYNDEN — Most creatives will tell you that making art is about as important as taking their next breath.

Take Joan Prinz, for example. She’s performed on stage in theater for more than three decades. But she stops short of calling her life’s work a career.

“More of an obsession,” Prinz said recently. “I always wanted to be an entertainer. I knew I was funny all my life.”

For more than 30 years, Prinz performed at Bellingham Theatre Guild, for 15 years she was a mainstage player at The Upfront Theatre. Her first play at The Claire Theater in Lynden was Blithe Spirit, in 1999.

“I’ve done several plays at The Claire,” Prinz said. “I love The Claire. Great back stage and makeup areas, and the dressing rooms are the best.”

Most recently – 2020 to be exact – Prinz acted in The Curious Savage at The Claire. She played Mrs. Paddy, called it a “lovely role.” Fellow actor and Lynden resident Melissa Nienhuis said Prinz “took a small part and she absolutely made it come alive.”

“I had tears in my eyes at the end of the show because of that part,” Nienhuis said. “She was magnificent. She always is.”

What Prinz remembers from The Curious Savage was that she “loved our cast and director, Teri Grimes.”

Grimes “made it a fun, learning experience for all of us, and allowed us to stretch our limits and try new things,” Prinz said. “She is fabulous.”

Unfortunately for Prinz, unfortunately for a lot of people, the world essentially shut down in March 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. So the play closed. It’s the last time that Prinz has acted on stage.

A ‘legend in local theater’

In The Claire’s recent production of Beauty and the Beast, Cogsworth is the Beast’s majordomo who was turned into an enchanted pendulum clock.

Dave Bolden plays Cogsworth. The actor said recently that he’s “lost count of the number of times and shows” he has “been blessed to perform alongside Joan.”

“No matter the number, it is not enough,” Bolden said. “To say that Joan is a legend in local theater is a gross understatement. To many of us who have worked with her she is the mortal embodiment of performance arts, enjoying the rarified air we reserve for gods and greatness. Every actor who performs at her side is shadowed by her natural aplomb and presence.”

To Bolden, Prinz is an “actor’s actor, as she enhances every scene she is in, and can own the space or make anyone in it appear that much better.”

“Her ability to seamlessly transition from comedy to drama or tragedy is superlative,” Bolden said. “When there are open auditions and she enters the room, the sighs are audible as it’s generally accepted that she will be cast in whatever role she auditions for.”

‘An absolute gem’

In 2018, Nienhuis worked with Prinz at The Claire on A Murder is Announced, an Agatha Christie play. Although Nienhuis played the lead, Prinz played Miss Marple, an amateur detective perhaps better known as an elderly spinster. Marple, Prinz said, was “kind of a bucket list character” for her.

“I loved how she sniffed out the bad guy in such a genteel way,” Prinz said.

Although Prinz was happy to be cast as Miss Marple, she said she was “a little disappointed that we didn’t use accents.”

“But I soon got over it and had a blast,” Prinz said. “That is one of my favorite theatre memories. Melissa played the murderer, we had a great fight at the end when I accused her … yeah, what fun.”

For Nienhuis, Prinz is “an absolute gem.”

“When she is on stage, Joan is an absolute professional, yet she is so easy going, and she cares about the other cast members in the play,” Nienhuis said. “She’s always trying to help.”

A ‘fine sense of comedy’

Once upon a time, a director once told Prinz that she was a natural clown.

That assessment, Prinz said, “pretty much describes me.”

“I love to make them laugh,” she said.

With a master’s degree in theatre with emphasis in both acting and directing, Teri Grimes has directed plays since the early ‘80s. An actor since the late-‘70s, Grimes said Prinz is a “wonderful actress with a fine sense of comedy.”

“She is delightful to work with and is a true professional,” Grimes said.

Besides The Curious Savage, Grimes has directed Prinz in Moon Over Buffalo. Grimes explained that Prinz’s performances are “always so believable as well as hilarious.”

“She is a master, in equal measure, at the timing of a joke, or the delivery of a heartfelt moment,” Grimes said. “I always look forward to seeing Joan audition, or to attend the plays she performs in.”