Walking away from a shot at Second City in order to start an improv troupe in Lincoln, Nebraska certainly isn't the obvious choice. Why this comedian says she's never regretted taking the road less traveled. (Part of the series Art Outside the City)
by Lauren Silverman Durban, writer
The theater has saved Beth Muehling more than once. Her story is punctuated by the times when performing has pulled her out of dark places, given her better options, and pushed her in healthier directions.
At 12 years old, she moved from a tiny town in Iowa to the “big city” of Lincoln, Nebraska. She describes it as a major shock to the system, and says she sort of shut down for awhile. When a friend suggested she get involved in drama, she agreed. And then, when she performed a monologue from The Children’s Hour that made people cry, she was totally hooked. “There’s something so awesome about affecting people in that way. There’s no replacement for that.” She had found her niche.
At 21 years old when she came out of the closet, she spent her evenings sneaking into a local gay bar to watch the drag shows. She couldn’t believe how happy, silly, and free it all was, and she longed to be a part of that world. When she was given the opportunity to start performing there as part of a group, it was the beginning of a long string of drag/comedy groups she’d be part of founding. She traveled all over the Midwest, performing in bars and clubs. Again, she says she had discovered where she fit in.
Several years later, Beth had stopped performing entirely after the suicide of one of her best friends. The AIDS epidemic was ravaging the gay community all across the country, and at one point she attended 13 funerals in 6 months. “I just couldn’t be funny anymore.” Once again, it was theater that brought her back. A friend from her drag days asked her to audition for a production of Rocky Horror that he was directing, and she ended up getting cast as Riff Raff-- in drag, of course. She discovered a new way to be on stage, and did back to back to back shows both as an actress and later as a director.