A life on the stage

By on February 29, 2024

Evan Tillett at the season reveal soirée announcing August: Osage County. (Photo credit: Kimberly Plyler)
August: Osage County, 2024, directed by Evan Tillett. (Photo credit: Daniel Ziegler)
Five Women Wearing the Same Dress in 2022, Tillett’s directorial debut. (Photo credit: Raymond Wallace)
Tillett acting in Exit, Pursued by a Bear in 2023. (Photo credit: Francesca Marie)
The Rocky Horror Show in 2022. (Photo credit: Francesca Marie)
Little Shop of Horrors in 2021. (Photo credit: Jannie Kenyon)
Mame in 2020. (Photo credit: Eden Saunders)
The Rocky Horror Show in 2018. (Photo credit: Daniel Ziegler)
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Evan Tillett at the season reveal soirée announcing August: Osage County. (Photo credit: Kimberly Plyler)
August: Osage County, 2024, directed by Evan Tillett. (Photo credit: Daniel Ziegler)
Five Women Wearing the Same Dress in 2022, Tillett’s directorial debut. (Photo credit: Raymond Wallace)
Tillett acting in Exit, Pursued by a Bear in 2023. (Photo credit: Francesca Marie)
The Rocky Horror Show in 2022. (Photo credit: Francesca Marie)
Little Shop of Horrors in 2021. (Photo credit: Jannie Kenyon)
Mame in 2020.  (Photo credit: Eden Saunders)
The Rocky Horror Show in 2018.  (Photo credit: Daniel Ziegler)
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Evan Tillett has gone from elementary school actor to Theater of Dare director

Evan Tillett remembers the moment when he knew why he was put on this earth. He was six years old and standing on stage at Manteo High School, making his debut as an orphan in Manteo High School’s production of a Christmas Carol.

“And I remember walking out on stage with the Ghost of Christmas Present and the lights just hitting me. And I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is where I’m supposed to be. This is what I’m going to do forever,’” says Tillett.

Up until then, Tillett had dabbled in sports, but he realized quickly it wasn’t his thing. His parents were looking for something else he could try. His dad, being the vice principal at Manteo High School at the time, found out that they needed a child to play the role in a Christmas Carol. Next thing Tillett knew, he was being called into the principal’s office to find the two theater directors, Connie Rose and the late Beth Kraft sitting there waiting for them.

“And so we got called in, we’re like, ‘oh, no, we’re in trouble. We’ve done something to the school, they’ve seen us going around acting crazy.’ And so they sat us down and Miss Kraft and Miss Connie were like, ‘would y’all like to be in the play?’”

He went on to play all of the child roles for Manteo High School plays throughout elementary school. He was a lost boy in Peter Pan, the Arkansas kid in Big River, and a munchkin in the Wizard of Oz, to name a few. When he got into middle school he joined the Dockside Theatre Company, an education-based performing arts company on the Outer Banks providing both instruction and performance opportunities to young actors, led by Connie Rose. It was there that she looked at him one day while he was still in middle school and told him he was going to be a director.

“And I was like, wow that was such a compliment that she could see that at such a young age,” says Tillett.

Turns out Rose was right. Tillett just got done directing his second play for Theatre of Dare earlier this month—August: Osage County, a Pulitzer Prize-winning American tragicomedy written by Tracy Letts, to rave reviews. Tillett says he saw the 2013 film starring Meryl Streep and fell in love with the characters in the film. Because of its intense subject matter, coarse language, length and multi-story set, Tillett had to fight to get it accepted to put into production in a small-town theater company.

“But I said, you know, there’s just so much good in it. It’s real, it’s deep, it’s funny, all at the same time. And it’s tragic,” says Tillett, adding that he wanted to perform the play for the actors because “it’s not often that, as a community theater actor, you get to really sink your teeth into a really juicy role.”

While his directorial debut in 2022 was for Five Women Wearing The Same Dress, was a comedy about bridesmaids, August: Osage County is a story about family. Tillett himself is part of one of the most prominent, longstanding families on the Outer Banks so it was something he related to.

His uncle is Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Jerry Tillett, his dad is Arty Tillett who was assistant superintendent of schools in Dare County. His grandpa was Willett Tillett of Willett’s Watersports. His dad’s side include the Tilletts and Daniels from Wanchese and the Midgetts from Manteo. On his mom’s side are the Perrys from Kitty Hawk and Scarboroughs from Duck.

“I mean, my family is a lot nicer to each other than the family in the play. But you know, we definitely have our dysfunction. And we’re all a different character. And we’re all over the top, and I think with this family, their lives have taken them into different directions, but they still have this familial bond,” says Tillett.

People have known who Tillett was since he was little because of his name. But given his history on stage from childhood on, he started being recognized for something other than his family name.

“I got to a place where people started recognizing me from the theater, and not from being a Tillett, and that was really cool,” he asserts.

Tillett says that the feeling of confidence and belonging that community theater gives those who are part of it is it plays an important role for those in all stages of life.

“You have people like me who’ve done theater their whole lives and have decided that they don’t want to chase a career in it, and then you also have people that just need a place to go. They just need a community,” says Tillett, adding that they have many in their theater company with no background in theater or previous interest in theater. “But they are accepted into our group too. I think it’s hard as an adult to find a place to belong.”

Tillett brings theater to life on and off the stage. If you see him around town, you know his signature style of big sunglasses, hats, bright colors, and possibly an array of sequins or feathers, depending on his mood that day.

“I feel like it, like your personal style is kind of like a costume. You know, I love playing different roles and putting on costumes because it helps me as an actor to really morph into that character, and I think in life, you’re kind of playing a character, in a sense,” says Tillett. “And so I think the character that I’ve chosen for Evan Tillett to be is this over-the-top and…extravagant person.”

But it wasn’t always that way. Growing up in a small, southern town, Tillett had many years when he went through an identity crisis, grappling with that common pressure many feel growing up to conform to societal norms and blend in with the crowd.

“And I think because I had this theatrical background, not knowing who I was yet was kind of confusing to me because I didn’t know what character to be playing. So there was a time where I went through a phase where I was like, wearing Carhartts and trying to fit into what I thought was normal,” says Tillett.

An epiphany occurred in high school when he realized that he didn’t need to fit into one box. He could pick pieces of all different kinds of characters and what felt good to him, whether it made sense to others or not.

“I was like, ‘No, I’m gonna dress in my over-the-top outfit, and I’m still gonna listen to country music.’ I just became my authentic self…But I think everyone is kind of on that journey to discover who they are,” says Tillett.

But while he was beginning to embrace his style, there was still one element of his identity he was grappling with. He was struggling to accept his sexuality, waiting to come out until college for fear of what the community and his family would think.

“I have this love for the Outer Banks, and I’m very family oriented and proud of where I’m from. And I didn’t want my community to reject me. And I think that was a lot of that caused a lot of fear for me to fully be who I was,” he recalls. “And I think I got to a place where it was almost too hard for me not to, it was just like this weight on me.”

But to his surprise, when he did come out in college, he had a great experience, and felt fully accepted by his family and the community.

“Of course I’ve gotten a comment here and there but it’s few and far between compared to the love I’ve felt from this community. Even from people that you wouldn’t expect to because they just liked me for me, even if they disagreed with my lifestyle. It hasn’t been something that I’ve been persecuted for in our community,” says Tillett.

When asked what he would say to those in the community who are feeling those same societal pressures to fit in and conform, Tillett says, “I would just tell the kids to…just be yourself and be kind to people. And generally they’re going to be kind back.”

 



Comments

  • Rocky the Rockfish

    Fabulous article!!!!!

    Thursday, Feb 29 @ 1:45 pm
  • OBX Ron

    EVAN: There is a new book in the library system that you will thoroughly enjoy. “Making it So” by Patrick Stewart will be a great thrill for you to read, I guarantee it.
    PS: There are TWO copies in the library system and one is available now………..act fast.

    Thursday, Feb 29 @ 9:37 pm
  • OBVOICE policies

    Nothing against Mr. Tillett, but is the OBVOICE going to highlight the sexuality of persons featured in your articles from now on? Such as the local politicians and business leaders, and officials.

    Saturday, Mar 2 @ 9:36 am
  • Mark Jurkowitz | Outer Banks Voice

    Kind of a silly question. We do not highlight the sexual identity of people we write about unless it’s part of their story they want to tell.

    Saturday, Mar 2 @ 6:21 pm
  • Back pew

    Let he who is without sin cast the first stone! Keep your chin up Evan!

    Monday, Mar 4 @ 1:22 pm