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Hi-Line Living: Havre star shines in Fort Peck as well


August 9, 2019

Courtesy of the Fort Peck Summer Theatre

"My motto is, when I am reviewing my lines, learning what my character is doing, is saying, 'If I don't believe myself, if I don't believe what I'm saying, if I don't believe what I am doing and if I'm not authentic, then how can I expect an audience person to believe me?' That is what I work for is authenticity and making it real," local thespian Pam Veis said.

An acclaimed local actress and director and a major player in Fort Peck Summer Theatre, Veis, originally from Sunburst, is a Montana girl through and through.

Veis began what she said is her significant acting career when she was 10 years old as her father, Gordon Puckett, and family friend Jim Caron pulled her out of her shell.

Gordon Puckett was principal of Sunburst Elementary, which Veis attended. Veis said her father was a strong advocate of the arts and theater. Puckett was one of the first administrators in the state to participate in Missoula Children's Theatre, which Caron founded in the early 1970s. Caron created a troupe that would travel to locations and cast local children to act in productions.

Missoula Children's Theatre is now an international organization that travels throughout the world.

Veis said the idea back then started with two men putting equipment in the back of a pickup truck to bring theater to schools for young people.

As a young girl, Veis said, she was very shy and had a stutter, but Caron saw something in her and began casting her in some lead roles in the Missoula Children's Theatre productions. She said Caron and her father influenced her life in a positive way when it came to theater and also taught her a tremendous amount.

Throughout her adolescence, she continued to perform in theater and performed in shows in college. Veis attended Northern Montana College, now Montana State University-Northern, where she pursued a career in nursing which was followed by her working 29 years in community mental health.

In between nursing and theater, Veis had a 13-year break when she got married in 1984 to Gerry Veis, and then had two children, a son, Tanner Veis, and her daughter, Mikyla Veis, but she had felt like something was missing.

"I thought I had said goodbye to theater in a way and thought that was a wonderful part of my childhood," Veis said.

In her early 30s, she said, knew she needed to find a creative outlet as a human being. After a month of soul searching, she said, she came across an ad in the Havre Daily News that a director, Scott Seiffert, was coming to town. This was prior to the creation Montana Actors' Theatre and when Northern Montana College had a theater department. Seiffert had directed in Los Angeles and New York.

"When I read the article my heart started pounding so much that I could almost see it. I guess this was telling me something, I suppose I should go audition and I was terrified," Veis said.

Veis said she went to the library, printed out the script and auditioned. The play was one of two one-act plays by dramatist James McLure, "Laundry & Bourbon" with three female roles, produced along with his "Lone Star" with three male roles. She added that this was her reintroduction to theater and she loved it.

The following year, after "Laundry & Bourbon," Veis said she received a call from the director of the theater program on Northern's campus who said the program wanted her to audition based on her performance the year prior. The director wanted her to audition for the lead role in the production of "Sylvia," which is about a woman playing a dog.

By the end of that production, Havre High School drama teacher Jay Pyette approached Veis and had told her he wanted to get a community theater going and asked if she wanted to be a part of it, she said.

Montana Actors' Theatre took off with founders Pyette and Grant Olson. Veis became heavily involved and still works with the company, acting in and directing its production of Tennessee Williams' "The Glass Menagerie" in January.

"Pam played a critical role in the success and growth of MAT," Pyette said. "Over the years, she's been an actor, director, board member and tireless advocate. From Gertrude in 'Hamlet' to Claire in 'The Visit' to Evy in the company's tour of "The Dead of Winter' in London, Pam always brings grace and professionalism to our stage. MAT wouldn't be the company it is today without her many contributions."

Her involvement with MAT led to her introduction to Fort Peck Summer Theatre.

In 2007, MAT did a show called "Proof" directed by Carly (Booth) Opie, who also worked at Fort Peck.

When an actress couldn't make the last performance of a show at Fort Peck Suumer Theatre, Opie gave the company Veis's name and number. Veis received a call to do a read-through of lines, as they were interested in casting her. She auditioned for the role, got in, and has been asked back every year since.

Veis is in her 13th season with Fort Peck.

Fort Peck Theatre, the building where the troupe performs, is not only a regional theater, but also a historical building at Fort Peck registered with the historical society in the state of Montana. Veis said it was built to entertain the many dam workers who were brought to the area, creating a little boomtown.

Fort Peck Summer Theatre is, as well, a professional company with paid professionals that brings in people from all over.

Veis said she loves performing there and in Havre.

"I get to be paid to do what I love, which is act," Veis said. "I love both theaters. Without Montana Actors' Theatre, I would not have had the opportunity to work professionally over in Fort Peck and be a part of that company."

"Pam is an audience favorite and gem here at Fort Peck Summer Theatre," Fort Peck Summer Theatre Artistic Director Andy Meyers said. "When we announce the season, the first thing most people ask is, 'Which one will Pam be in?"

Veis said Meyers has taught her so much and pushes her to get out of her comfort zone.

"More than anyone, he sees abilities in me that I don't see in myself," she said.

Veis is in the current Fort Peck production of "On Golden Pond" that will run through Labor Day weekend.

"The cool thing about that is, every summer I get to see old friends that I love, like Andy, many people come back, like myself, but then he also hires new people that I get to work with and we become friends. So now I have these contacts from all over the country in theater," she said.

Veis said it was almost like the door opened because she was looking for a door to open. Then she read a book that said "the door has always opened you just didn't see it."

Veis said that in 2013, at 51, Myers encouraged her to perform in "The Music Man" musical, which she said was her most challenging role. She said when it comes to musical theater, she is not at all confident, but when it came to deciding to do it she said, "The fear of failure was not as great as the fear of regret."

She added that for people in their middle age, maybe it's good to take chances and that risk of failure, it's okay to do that.

"The scary thing for me was that if you try something new in mid-life you don't always do it in front of hundreds of people," Veis said, laughing. "Last year, what I found myself doing was saying, 'Hey, that was super brave,' trying to encourage myself."

"She is seemingly fearless on stage.  As artistic director, I am floored that I can cast her in so many varied roles," Meyers said. "It is so nice to have that trust for each other."

Veis said performing is also a sacrifice and the downside to it is that, since it takes up a lot of her summer, she misses out on weddings and things that she really wishes she wouldn't be missing, but when one signs that contract and makes that commitment, it is just the way it is.

"I would like to give a special thanks to my hubby, Gerry Veis, for all his support through the years," she said.

She added that theater taught her many things.

"When I approach a role, it is to try and understand what it's like to be in that person's shoes. I find it really fascinating to kind of put myself on a shelf for a while and to draw in other parts of myself, whether they be good or bad," Veis said. "Theater always brings me back to empathy in trying to understand where this person is at in their life, what drives them, what motivates them, and I find that to be a really fascinating and engaging process and really that is what brings me the most joy."

She went on to add that the other thing theater has taught her is that it takes a tremendous amount of discipline

"Keeping the story in your head - you have to constantly refresh it, you have to be so familiar with the story that if someone misses a beat on stage, which happens, that you are able, because you are so familiar with that story, you can keep that moving and keep it going," Veis said. "We all rely on each other, but you have to be very disciplined to know that story inside and out. It takes a lot of time and preparation to do a role."

Courtesy of the Fort Peck Summer Theatre

"It takes teamwork; it is definitely a team effort," she added. The backstage people are just as important as anyone on stage. The creative process is an awesome thing to be a part of. It's really rejuvenating for me."

When Veis is not performing, she is a retired nurse and is a substitute teacher, primarily teaching at Lincoln-McKinley Intermediate School in the special education classroom.

She said she has been blessed with playing many wonderful roles and that it has been an adventure, but a really fun one.

"If anything, I feel really grateful and really blessed that we have the theater we do here in Havre, and I am also grateful for my theater family over in Fort Peck. I feel like I have two families and I feel very lucky," Veis said. "A person can't get to where they are at in life unless they have that encouragement and support, and that is what makes it magical,"


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