The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

July 6, 2013

'Spirit' actors have achieved dreams

View From Backstage column

By Cindy Worley
guest columnist

— In Billy Edd Wheeler’s classic drama “Hatfields & McCoys,” we are conducted through the story by “spirits” representing the two families. These spirits tell of their feuding clans, occasionally even arguing themselves.

This year the men playing Spirit Hatfield and Spirit McCoy are very talented performers, who took very different paths to the stage — paths as different as, well, as the Hatfields and McCoys.

Terry Chasteen, Spirit McCoy, hails from Lochgelly. He is no stranger to local audiences, as he began with TWV in the mid-1980s. Teaching positions took him away for 23 years, before 2011’s 50th anniversary lured him back.

Terry says he always wanted to be a teacher — not necessarily of music, but as he developed his vocal talents, music seemed the natural choice. One attraction of returning to TWV was working with students in the summer Intern Program, a natural fit, as he is the vocal area coordinator and associate professor of Music in Voice at the Western Illinois University School of Music.

Terry sings in opera houses both nationally and internationally, but the only musical theater he now participates in is with TWV. If he had to choose between teaching or performing, he says the classroom would probably win out.

His career path has been a steady one, from West Virginia Tech to Indiana University to stages around the world. He is as at home with the young cast at Cliffside Amphitheatre as he is on a concert stage in Germany or in the classroom.

It took a little longer for Rocky Cooper to achieve his dream. A Virginia native, “Spirit Hatfield” says the acting bug bit him in high school, and he began college as a music major. But marriage and family interrupted his goals, and for 18 years he worked in security and as both a police and corrections officer.

He never forgot his dream of a career far removed from law enforcement, finally taking the plunge and earning that long-desired music degree in 2011.

He began getting regional theater roles, before landing his first professional job at Wohlfahrt Haus Dinner Theatre in Wytheville, Va. In 2012 he joined TWV, where he performed in all three summer productions and stayed as part of the Educational Touring Program.

Rocky says he is thrilled to finally be able to do what he always dreamed of doing, “… being an actor, having fun and getting paid for it.”

Although a few years older than many of his castmates, Rocky says despite being given a hard time about his age, he enjoys the instant connections — instant family — he makes in theater. It’s easy for him to relate to the younger people he meets. Most remind him of his teenage sons.

This fall, Rocky will achieve another dream, playing in a production of “Les Miserables.”

Two spirits who step out of dreams to tell a story from the past. Two men who achieved their dreams on different paths. Except for a shared love of the arts, they are as different as night and day. But then what do you expect from a Hatfield and a McCoy!

— Cindy Worley is secretary of the Board of Directors and marketing representative for Theatre West Virginia.