When Downers Grove native Anne Gunn was in eighth grade she asked her sister, a sophomore, to let her know when tryouts were scheduled for North High School’s spring play.
“She conveniently forgot,” Gunn said. “I was so mad at her.”
Gunn, who grew up a middle child in a large Irish Catholic family of six kids, mused, “When you’re in the middle, you’re not the oldest, you’re not the baby, so you want that attention.”
She finally got the chance to try her acting chops her freshman year in high school.
She was 14 and auditioned for “Our Town” for the part of 12-year-old Rebecca.
“It was my first time on stage,” she said.
Gunn acted in plays throughout high school. After graduation her parents encouraged her to major in communications at the University of Illinois “to have something to fall back on.”
“I didn’t like it much,” Gunn said.
She auditioned for the studio program, got in and earned her BFA in theater. Shortly after graduation in 1982, she auditioned for a new musical at the Apollo Theatre in Chicago. Unfortunately, the show closed just three months later.
“I started waiting tables as most actors do,” she said. “A year and a half later I got work at Candlelight [Dinner Playhouse] and the rest is history.”
After 35 years in show business, Gunn is still going strong.
The two-time Jeff Award nominee has a long repertoire, including “Sister Act,” “La Cage aux Folles,” “Anything Goes,” “For The Boys,” “The Drowsy Chaperone,” “Guys and Dolls,” “All Shook Up,” “Footloose,” “Bye Bye Birdie,” “Damn Yankees” and “The Taffetas” at the Marriott Theatre. She also was in “Roadshow” (Chicago Shakespeare Theater) and James Joyce’s “The Dead” (The Court Theater).
Her work also includes “Married Alive!” (Pheasant Run Resort); “Side by Side by Sondheim” (Light Opera Works); “Pirates of Penzance,” “Sophisticated Ladies” and “Guys and Dolls” (Drury Lane Oakbrook); and “Closer Than Ever,” “Merrily We Roll Along” and “Assassins” (Apple Tree Theater).
She’s even done Eva Peron in “Evita” (Candlelight Theater), “Hot Mikado” (The Drury Lane Evergreen Park), “Baby” (The Marriott Theatre) and “Beehive” (Briar Street Theatre).
Gunn considered moving to New York, but Chicago offered a plethora of acting opportunities and the opportunity to raise a family at the same time.
“The good thing about acting in the late 1980s and 1990s was that there were so many theaters,” Gunn said. “You could do so much in Chicago then. You could do commercial work. That’s one of the reasons I stayed.”
Gunn said she’s happy she did.
“I met my husband. We had some kids,” she said of her husband, Walter Michka, and four children, Emily, Max, Jack and Charlie.
“I think it was a really good combo for my brain,” she said. “Being an actor is a selfish thing and having kids is all about them. It slaps you in the face. Now that they’re older they think it’s cool. They were always with a parent most of the time, and somebody’s got to go to the choir and band concerts. I think it makes for a good balance.”
Gunn said it’s difficult to name her favorite roles, but top contenders are “Bye Bye Birdie,” “Pirates of Penzance” and “Evita” (she’s on her fourth Evita).
Gunn notes that sometimes getting a part has nothing to do with talent, as was the case when someone she knew beat out three other finalists for a part simply because she fit in a particular pair of shoes.
“Sometimes they need somebody shorter than you,” she added. “Sometimes it’s just not meant to be.”
A member of the Screen Actors Guild, Gunn also does television commercials and voice-over work for Pillsbury, Kellogg’s, Glade, Old El Paso, Tiger Electronics and, lately, for Ensure.
Gunn currently is doing double duty. She just opened as a nun in “Sister Act” at the Marriott and has started rehearsals for the world-premiere musical tale “Cinderella … After the Ball” at The Marriott Theatre for Young Audiences in Lincolnshire. The preview is March 3, and the show runs through May 8. Gunn stars as Fairy Godmother.
“It’s about girl power and making good choices,” Gunn said. “It has Pinocchio, Rapunzel and Sleeping Beauty. They’re funny and crazy. I think it’s going to be really cute.”
Gunn’s advice for aspiring actors?
“Have other interests,” she said. “It makes you a well-rounded person. The more well-rounded you are the better actor you are. Also, it’s never a good time to get married or have a baby, so plan your life. Your career will work around it.”