Tracy Michelle Arnold's APT Story

Posted August 19, 2020

Tracy Collage

We can't get enough of Core Company Actor Tracy Michelle Arnold, and from what we've heard over the years, neither can you. You may have seen her play Cleopatra and Kate; Blanche DuBois and Linda Loman. 

But what you may not know is that in the summer of 2005 - a season that saw her cast as the titular character in Shaw's Candida and opposite Jim DeVita as Lady Macbeth - she was in a very real fight for her life. 

In the fall of 2004, I did something I’d never done before. I asked an Artistic Director if they’d consider producing a play with a particular role for me. I’m not sure what prompted me to make such a bold move. Perhaps it was the confidence that newfound love had instilled in me. I had recently begun dating the young actor who would eventually become my husband, Marcus Truschinski, after he sweetly asked me out before a matinee performance of Twelfth Night, (he played Antonio and I Olivia). As an actor, I had always felt, (indeed, STILL feel), privileged to have ANY acting work at all, and I knew how very fortunate I was to be spending my 5th season at APT. To ask for more felt downright selfish. In spite of this, I knew that the role I longed to play would soon pass me by, so I gathered my meager courage and nervously asked David Frank if he’d ever consider producing George Bernard Shaw’s CANDIDA. Just imagine how over-the-moon I was when, shortly thereafter, he asked me to join the Core Company AND offered me the role of Candida in the following season! Astonished and deeply grateful, I accepted both.

I was also cast to play Elmire in Tartuffe and Lady M in Macbeth. Candida and Tartuffe would play on the Hill (the Touchstone Theatre didn’t exist then) in the first half of the season, and Macbeth in the second half. May 2005 rolled around and we began rehearsals. About a week in, I began feeling under the weather. I thought it was a stomach bug. I tried all of the usual remedies, to no avail. Indeed, I got worse, and ten days into my sixth season, my first as a Core Company Actor and rehearsing the cherished role of Candida, I landed in the Intensive Care Unit at UW Madison Hospital with kidney failure and a mysterious illness that would later be diagnosed and treated over the next few years with the insertion of a port in my chest and countless infusions of donor plasma.

That summer was hard. It was frightening to lose control of my health so suddenly and heartbreaking to lose a role I’d loved. But especially challenging was adapting to my new role as “patient.” Rather than memorize lines and blocking, I learned how to talk to doctors, nurses, insurance companies, and pharmacists, developed new routines of self care, relinquished my stranglehold on self-sufficiency and allowed myself to accept help--especially from dear Marcus, bless him. I also became deeply and forever indebted to my second family--my dear friends at APT. After I had been hospitalized for a full month, the company not only kept me on payroll (making it possible for me to have health insurance to cover a mountain of newly acquired medical bills), but also, (having replaced me in Candida and Tartuffe with the lovely and talented Susan Angelo), supported my desire to return to work to play Lady M opposite my pal, Jimmy DeVita. They knew there was a chance I’d relapse and need to return to the hospital or leave the show altogether, yet they kept me on. Having that safety net of love and support allowed me to focus on something other than my illness. It literally gave me a reason to live, to get out of bed and move forward each and every day. I recall feeling like a kid in a candy store in those rehearsals. To be out of the hospital! To be out of pain! To have some semblance of energy again! It was all an overwhelming blessing.

I would, in fact, miss a few performances of Macbeth, and would be replaced entirely (by my guardian angel, Susan Angelo), when APT took the show out on tour that October. I stayed behind to remain near my doctors in Madison. The port would remain in my chest for two more years of plasma infusions, during which I worked at APT and theatres in Milwaukee and Chicago, In 2006, Marcus and I married on the APT grounds, officiated by Bill Brown, who’d directed us in Twelfth Night. In 2007, the port came out. In March 2008, while playing Rosalind opposite Marcus as Orlando in As You Like It--once again directed by our friend, Bill Brown, I miraculously got pregnant, and carried our son through the APT season. In 2019, our son played alongside me in The Book of Will, and I played a Weird Sister alongside my husband as Macbeth. Tonight, I sit in our screened porch with a sleeping dog, the sound of crickets and locusts swimming around us. The world spins, and I’m still here to enjoy it. This summer, I spend a lot more time planting flowers, baking sweets and reading than I normally do. I’m able to take leisurely family hikes that the summer’s busy schedule generally doesn’t afford us. I count these blessings in this strange time away from our beloved theatre, as I have always counted the blessing of nights under the stars with you, our cherished audience members, and the incalculable blessing of my having stumbled into the most incredible job in the world 21 years ago.

I shall always be beholden to APT for letting me explore the craft of acting with some of the most astonishing poetry ever written alongside the country’s most exceptional theatremakers in a breathtakingly beautiful space. But more than that, I am beholden to them for carrying me when I was weak, for nurturing my marriage and family, and for challenging me to strive to improve as an artist, as a community member, as a citizen and as an APT family member each and every day. Even, or perhaps especially when I stumble, I know that someone will always hold out a hand to help me back up and onward. That’s the spirit of APT. The spirit of giving, of encouraging, of striving against all odds. I hope you’ll be one of those helping hands today. If an APT experience has ever lifted your spirits, as it surely has mine, I hope you’ll consider making a donation today. I would be so grateful.