Carol Buescher still remembers the laughs.
Buescher, 67, had acted in plays in high school and in her early 20s, but now, after two decades was returning to theater in the East Central College production of “Whodunit?” She was, in her words, petrified.
The script called for her to go on stage and grab a large sabre off a wall. How she did it was open to interpretation.
Buescher said she grabbed the large sword and acted like it was the heaviest thing in the world. She struggled to hoist it above her head and staggered around the stage.
The audience laughed.
“That wasn’t in the script, it was just something I did,” she said. “I thought, ‘Oh my God, I made them laugh.’ I didn’t open my mouth, I didn’t have a line of dialogue. Just from that little bit of business, I made them laugh. For me, no drug of choice could give me the high that gave me. Here, almost 30 years later, I still remember the feeling of those people laughing.”
Buescher grew up in Maplewood and fell in love with performing. She said it helped with things like public speaking and gave her and her friends something to do.
“I’ve always loved movies, I’ve loved theater and watching it,” she said. “It was high school where I was like, ‘This is pretty cool.’ It’s a good way to get out of yourself and put yourself out there.”
After high school, she met her husband of 47 years, Tom, at the University of Missouri-Columbia. The two got married and relocated to Washington.
She worked at the Washington Public Library and joined up with the Washington Community Players. It was with the community players she met John Anglin, the ECC professor emeritus who at the time was working with the local theater.
“I was, I don’t know, 22 years old and he cast me as the mother in a play,” she said.
She stuck with the community players until the group eventually “disbanded.” By that point, Buescher was busy and stepped off the stage.
“I had my daughter (Kimberly) and I was very involved as a school mom — bringing the cupcakes, the track meets, the cheerleading and the whole business,” she said. “It wasn’t until after she graduated in 1990 I said, ‘Now what? What do I do?’ ”
A friend encouraged her to go to ECC and audition. The college was holding open casting for “Steel Magnolias,” and Buescher was told she’d be perfect in the cast.
After all the time away, she was unsure if she really wanted to get back on the stage.
“I can still see myself standing at the garage door thinking, ‘Do I really want to do this?’” she said. “I made myself go over and saw John (Anglin) and he said where have you been for 20 years? He remembered me and said he was glad to have me back.”
She was cast in “Steel Magnolias” and returned to the stage first for “Whodunit?” In the years since her 1991 debut, she has rarely left the ECC stage.
Since 1991, she’s appeared in more than 60 shows.
“I still go over and audition, I still get nervous, and I still cross my fingers waiting for the cast list,” she said.
The college puts on four a year and she said she’s in at least a few a year.
“Now they can’t figure out how to get rid of me,” she joked.
Over the years she’s worked with countless people. Students have come and gone, but many of the key people have been around. She said the family-like atmosphere is one of the main reasons she keeps returning.
“I’ve made so many delightful friends,” she said. “It’s just great fun.”
Buescher also enjoys having her family at the shows. She said her husband always attends at least one performance and offers the same review.
“‘You did good, kid,’” she said. “Every show, no matter how big the part is — ‘You did good, kid.’”
Most recently, Buescher’s two grandkids have been able to see her on stage.
“To have them see me doing something that I love is such a reward, such a treasure for me,” she said. “For them to come and cheer for me, that just warms my heart.”
Buescher has no plans to retire anytime soon.
“I cannot, at this point in my life, envision not doing this as long as someone will cast me,” she said. “That being said, there’s not a lot of parts for people my age. As long as they put up with me, and there’s a part, I’ll keep going over there.”