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Eight years ago, actor Caroline Neff made a big decision. She moved from Corpus Christi, Texas to Chicago because of her dream to make acting more than a “hobby.” After graduating with a theater degree from Columbia College, Caroline is making her mainstage debut with Steppenwolf Theatre Company this season, as Irina in Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters.
Cheeky got a chance to sit down with this Cheeky chick, who is already becoming one of Chicago’s favorite starlets.
Cheeky: So, what has it been like working on Three Sisters at Steppenwolf?
CN: It’s incredibly exhilarating and it’s also wildly, widly daunting. First of all, you get to Chicago and everybody’s like ‘Steppenwolf, that’s as good as it gets.’ There’s a lot to live up to with that expectation. As an actor, am I on par with all these other people that I get to share the stage with? Then you add to it Chekhov. So many people have such a particular relationship with Chekhov. When I got cast in this show, within the first two weeks I literally had 10 people tell me ‘Oh, that’s my favorite show.’ I was like, ‘I hope I don’t mess it up for you!’
Cheeky: In Three Sisters you play Irina, a young girl filled with big dreams of moving to Moscow one day. How would you compare yourself to her as far as your goals and aspirations?
CN: One of the things that I really identify with with Irina is how unabashedly optimistic she is. When the play opens, she’s 20 and the family left Moscow when she was 9. She didn’t really have the same relationship with Moscow as she does with the town that they live in now. But she sort of knows that there’s something else that she wants. Now that she is finally of age, she hasn’t had the opportunity to marry, she hasn’t had the opportunity to get a job like her other two sisters. But then she realizes, ‘Okay, I can do this. I can make an adult decision and I can leave and I can go and find all these things.’
Cheeky: Was there ever a time when you were struggling to achieve your dreams in the theatre realm?
CN: Wanting to be an actor in South Texas is really hard and it was to feel sort of frivolous. I knew was not the case. For every one reason to leave South Texas (because I wanted to be an actor), there were 50 reasons to stay: this is what I know, this is where my friends and family are, these are the jobs I know that I can get. There is something very comforting in knowing what your potential future is. To go from that culture…then to come here. There are so, so many good actors in Chicago. That knowledge is incredibly scary. You can work as hard as you can and you can be a tremendous actor, and you can potentially never make a living at it.
Cheeky: What are your favorite spots to hit in Chicago?
CN: I live in Lincoln Square. There are a couple of shops on Lincoln Avenue; they are some of my favorite places to shop. There’s this one store on Lincoln, north of Leland, called Savvy Seconds and 1sts. Her aesthetic is super cool. It’s sort of like walking into Anthropologie. It’s sort of funky and she has a cute little dog. That’s where I do most of my very minimal shopping. There’s a restaurant downtown that I really like to go to called GT Fish & Oyster. It’s a small place, it’s so good and their bar is fantastic. They have a great oyster bar. That’s where I go when I want to treat myself.
Cheeky: So you’re a native Texan, but do you consider yourself a Chicagoan now?
CN: I hope I don’t make anybody mad if I say yes. I’ve only been here eight years, and I know there are people who live their entire lives here. They are true Chicagoans. But Chicago is definitely home, I couldn’t call myself a native, but I would like to think people see me as a Chicagoan because I certainly do.