FGCU theater professor Tyler Layton lived a Charmed life

Posted on December 18, 2011

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By Collin Llewellyn

collinllewellyn@gmail.com

Just moments after the last performance of her Voice and Movement class at Florida Gulf Coast University, professor Tyler Layton sniffles with wet eyes as one of her students expresses his gratitude.Only minutes after that, when diving into her southern roots, Layton turns on a thick Alabama accent, an attribute she had to lose if she was ever going to land a guest spot along side Ellen DeGeneres.

Primarily a stage actress, Layton had a successful stint in the television business before landing a teaching job at FGCU.

Serving guest roles on popular shows like Ellen and cult favorite Charmed, the 43 year-old actress finally found her calling in teaching theater.

Layton finds it hard to compare the exhilaration of the stage to the magic of the classroom, “When you get behind a student in class and you urge them to find and tap into the greatness inside of them and turn it into art, there is nothing that can touch that, nothing.”

Layton hails from Birmingham, Alabama, where she acted in her first production The Sound of Music when she was 13 years old.

Layton made her way to the University of Alabama where she took a degree in Theater. Layton admits that acting wasn’t something she felt like she had to do, “It was the 1980s in America but it was the 1950s in Alabama…women had babies, that was it. I wasn’t one of the people who needed to act.”

After a dissipated relationship with her long-term boyfriend, Layton made her way to Chicago in 1990 with a friend, and decided to focus on acting.

Unable to shake her thick Alabama accent, she appeared in small commercial roles without dialogue, including ads for McDonalds and Colgate.

Layton knew that she needed more training if she was ever going to progress and became one of eight students admitted into University of California-Irvine graduate program for theater.

Studying under Robert Cohen, a noted acting theorist and playwright, whose books Layton uses in her acting classes here at FGCU, Layton was able to hone her craft.

Forty-five days after she graduated from the program, Layton was cast in the CBS crime drama, Silk Stalkings as Detective Holly Rawlins.  Layton called the show, “a cheesy, sexist, socially irresponsible cable show.”

After a 12-episode stint on Silk Stalkings, Layton served guests spots on shows such as Ellen and Charmed, before ultimately deciding to leave television behind.

Layton returned to stage acting, “When you walk out on stage that train starts and you can’t stop it!” Layton felt that television acting didn’t fill her in the same way that the stage could.

“There is nothing harder or more exhilarating than acting on stage,” Layton said.

Layton went on to act in many productions, including, Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, King Lear, A Winter’s Tale, Much Ado About Nothing, and other popular plays like, Rabbit Hole and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

Layton admits that she has very few talents, but is candid about her talent for stage acting, “It takes a certain type of person to take the reigns of a production and drive it.”

Cohen said he knew right away the talent that Layton held. “Not only is she a very fine actress and understands the art very well but she cares about it,” Cohen said.

After six seasons working at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Layton contemplated leaving it behind. It wasn’t until the next year’s play schedule was released that she decided she would try and stay for one more year.

It was the role of Izzy in Rabbit Hole that kept Layton on Oregon for one more year, but was open to cast mates about her intent to retire at the end of her seventh season.

In 2000, Layton found herself in Alabama for the first time in nearly 20 years. Moving home to be with her family, Layton began sending out her resume to schools.

“I knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” Layton said regarding her new life change.

It wasn’t until 2009 when former graduate classmate, and fellow FGCU theater professor, Barry Cavin contacted Layton with a position for Associate Professor of Theater, and Layton’s path was illuminated.

“All those years of acting was preparation for this…I know now that this is what I’m supposed to do” Layton said.

Layton instructs many classes, including, Acting I, Acting II, Auditioning, Voice and Movement, among others.

When Layton first arrived at FGCU, the Acting II class was only offered once a semester every other year. Now, it is offered every semester with a waiting list.

For Layton, teaching was never a back-up plan. Her former teacher and mentor, Cohen said, “She’s always expressed to me the desire to teach, she could have easily maintained a career as a professional actor.”

Although teaching is now her main gig, Layton continues to act professionally as part of the Actor’s Equity Association. Most recently, Layton was in a production of Twelfth Night held in Maine this past summer.

Layton finds it hard to compare the exhilaration of the stage to the magic of the classroom, “When you get behind a student in class and you urge them to find and tap into the greatness inside of them and turn it into art, there is nothing that can touch that, nothing.”

Layton will be directing Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead opening at the FGCU Black Box Theater on Feb. 15th.

 

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Posted in: Collin Llewellyn