Like countless thousands before her, Mt. Airy native Sonja Field has discovered, despite her talent and determination, how difficult it is to pursue an acting career while also being able to pay the bills.

by Lou Mancinelli

One way budding dramatists build their portfolio is remaining connected to local roots while working to fortify their stems and bloom in the thriving New York City scene. It gives them the chance to refine their craft on a smaller but still respected stage. Such is the case this season with two players in the Mt. Airy-based troupe Quintessence Theatre Group.

Sonja Field and John Williams are both New York City residents working to establish themselves in the theater world. They are also both graduates of Germantown Friends School (GFS) who will both perform in this season’s performances of George Bernard Shaw’s “Arms and The Man,” and Moliere’s “The Misanthrope,” adapted by Martin Crimp.

“It’s just kind of a formalized way of playing pretend games,” said Field, 25, a 2005 GFS graduate. Field had lived in Mt. Airy since the second grade before leaving to study drama at Carnegie Melon University (CMU) in Pittsburgh. She has appeared in various productions including as Phoebe in “Catcher in the Rye,” Queen Elizabeth in “Don Carlos” (both CMU productions) and Alizon Eliot in “The Lady’s Not For Burning.”

Quintessence’s shows will be performed in repertory, meaning they will run in rotation, beginning with “Arms and The Man,” which opens Saturday, April 20 at 8 p.m., and runs through May 25 at The Sedgwick Theater, 7137 Germantown Ave. (Previews begin April 17.) “Arms” will rotate with Moliere’s “The Misanthrope,” which will run May 4 to 26, with previews starting April 24.

One way Field will play pretend this season is as Raina Petkoff, Shaw’s heroine in the comedy first produced in 1894 and set during the 1885 Serbo-Bulgarian War. While her fiancé, a war hero, is away at war, a Swiss mercenary sneaks into Raina’s room. He carries chocolates instead of swords and entreats Raina to hide him and save him from his peril.

For Field the art of the stage starts with the art of the word. Through the course of the drama her character seems to be awakened by a series of epiphanies. Field’s challenge is transforming a body of language into a physical body of action. Her challenge is “how to make it really clear and really vivid and engaging for the audience.”

Another challenge is balancing the need to support oneself financially with the need to refine one’s craft while having the time to audition for roles. After graduating from CMU in 2009, Field played Portia and was in the ensemble during a Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival production of “Julius Caesar.”

In January, 2010, she moved to Chicago to work as an executive assistant at Nurturing Wisdom Tutoring. There she performed in local theater, but a year later her boss asked her to move to San Francisco to launch a west coast branch of the company. Field obliged.

“I couldn’t do any acting at all,” Field said about her time out west. “I found that was really difficult.”

She had been acting since she was a kid, and had her interest in the medium roused in high school. In her sophomore year she and a friend performed one of their own plays in the school’s yearly show designed to display kids’ self-made theater.

Field was unhappy in San Francisco because she was unable to pursue acting roles, so she moved back east (to Brooklyn) and now works as a nanny. There she and her friends walk the tightrope between art and the reality of paying for things like food and rent. They need a job where they can earn enough to pay bills but also have time to try to make it in the theatre world in one of the world’s most competitive cities.

There’s a romanticism to it as much as there is a fallacy. And that fallacy is that the glitter of the stage is always glitter. There’s more work to be done offstage than on. Quintessence is a professional troupe, so Field and the cast are paid. They also rehearse five days a week. Still, Field is able to keep her tiny place in Brooklyn without having to sublet.

For more information visit www.quintessencetheatre.org.