While she grew up in town as Wendy Palmer, breaking sports records at La Jolla High, the daughter of Paul and Marge Palmer, is now playwright, dancer and actress Palmer Davis, who has spent most of her adult life developing a showbiz career and breaking down walls.
The story of her life, “Suburban Showgirl,” takes the stage 7:30 p.m. Aug. 15-17, during North Coast Repertory Theatre’s Variety Nights. It’s a one-woman show, in which she stars.
Semi-autobiographical with some artistic license, “the show is about a dancer and all of the stages of a dancer’s life: early training, professional failures and successes, complications with having a family, getting older, and giving back,” Davis said. “I hope in watching the show, people experience her journey — joy, pain, conflict, and mostly the self-discoveries. It’s about the beauty in ourselves and celebration of who we are. I hope people will be inspired to pursue their passion and not be afraid of the hard work.”
Of the production, North Coast Rep’s artistic director David Ellenstein said, “It was originally brought to my attention by a friend who directed it (in another city, Cate Caplin), and I thought it might be something our audiences might enjoy. Finding out that Palmer is from here and connected to the community with history in the area, cinched the deal.”
Commenting on the relatability of the piece, he added, “It’s about a person’s struggles to deal with the realities of life … how you balance being a real person and having a career. But it’s funny. It’s something any theater-goer would enjoy.”
In total, Davis plays some 18 characters, representing influential figures in her life. And she has plenty from which to pull. “I’ve been doing theater and dancing since I was 7 … taking Deirdre Andrews’ acting classes ... and I had a lot of training during my three years at The Bishops School, which has great opportunities in performing arts,” she said.
But in high school (La Jolla High School, Class of 1986), she divided her time between sports and performing arts, and chose sports. Participating in volleyball and track, she set a high jump record as a Viking. She credits her varsity volleyball coach Vicki Evelyth with teaching her “a work ethic made of true grit.”
While attending college at UCLA, she freelanced dancing gigs in her free time. Her effort earned her a scholarship to the Dupree Dancing Academy. After graduation, she found herself taking acting roles in shows such as “CSI: Las Vegas,” “90210” and “Castle,” and performing in a touring company of The Rockettes. “Dancers didn’t have a voice back then, and no one thought I could act. It took a lot to break down those walls and become both an actress and a dancer,” she said.
When Davis started having children, things got even more complicated. Often told it would mark the end of her career, she continued performing and ultimately turned to teaching as a way of giving back.
“There is a lot about a dancer’s life people don’t see, because most of the time, they see you on TV and in pretty costumes and it looks cool, but there is so much more than that. It’s a great joy to bring a work that shows the difficult parts and pays homage to my teachers, parents and mentors, and those who have been part of my personal journey,” she said.
Joking that she thought she had to be convinced her story was interesting enough for a one-woman show, she said, “I thought you had to have some extraordinary experience and I didn’t think my life was that interesting. But I realized everyone has a story, and over the years, mine had becoming more interesting.”
The script, she said, was in development for eight years. “It was a lot of trial and error, emphasis on the error,” Davis said. “The more truthful and vulnerable the writing became, the more compelling the script was.”
IF YOU GO: “Suburban Showgirl,” starts at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 15-17 at North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach. Tickets $30. (858) 481-1055. northcoastrep.org