By Brittany Maroney / Photos by Mark Morgan / Hair and makeup by Kay Gray
Like any seasoned actress, Amanda Melby Crisalli’s life is filled with a myriad of roles, with her most recent being a leading role in Raising Buchanan, a feature-length comedy that recently wrapped filming in the Valley. The Scottsdale resident also runs her own acting studio, Verve Studios (www.vervestudio.net), in Scottsdale Airpark; is an adjunct professor at Arizona State University; and is a busy mom. She plays many characters on screen and in theater, but it’s her day-to-day life – and personal journey as a performer – that has been her most significant role.
A native Minnesotan, Crisalli landed in Phoenix after living in Southern California; Washington, D.C.; and Cleveland. From a small town, she had big dreams of acting onstage and making her name known on the silver screen – dreams that started when she was young, in a household that embraced the drama of acting and a love for music. Her parents met studying theater at St. Cloud State University and then owned and ran a music store. They lived a busy life, raising four children, running the shop, and being active in theater and community service.
“We were all very dramatic and musical,” Crisalli says. “I played the cello, violin, oboe, flute, piano and guitar throughout childhood. My sister played violin, piano and drums and my brothers played piano, guitar and drums. My parents loved to sing and act, so we all did theater, too. It was a world of music and make believe; I loved every second of it.”
It was this passion for performing that attracted Crisalli to the acting world. She was just in third grade when she tried out for the lead part in The Miracle Worker at her local theater. Her mother’s friend was directing it, so young Crisalli thought she was a shoo-in, though it would prove to be her first taste of real disappointment and a lesson that she’d carry throughout her career.
“I did not get the lead and was cast as a Perkins Girl instead,” Crisalli says. “It was an early lesson in how hard this business is and how even if you have some doors open for you, talent still wins the role. I really wanted to act, so I tried out for Wind in the Willows shortly after and was cast as Wendy Weasel. I got a talent agent around age 16 and started booking commercials and modeling work and have never looked back.”
Additionally, as an accomplished cellist, Crisalli was awarded a prestigious music scholarship to Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, where she earned second chair in the cello section of the symphony orchestra.
Though, despite her accolades and early gigs, it wasn’t an easy journey for Crisalli. Being cast in commercials and taking parts in local plays did not quite pay the bills. She took on jobs mowing lawns for the parks department, working the night shift at a printing factory, taking pictures of babies at a mall portrait studio, and was a registered group exercise instructor. She also took any part that was offered to her.
“I am not embarrassed to say that I earned my Screen Actors Guild (SAG) card on a McDonald’s commercial when I lived in Cleveland,” Crisalli says. “It was for a regional campaign, and we were asked to sing and dance to the jingle: ‘8 for 88 and I like it!’ At the audition, I was almost paralyzed by embarrassment, but right after we started, I switched my mindset and decided to have fun. From there, the confidence came and I booked a lot more work.”
During her time in Ohio, Crisalli would go on to earn her cards for the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) and Actors’ Equity Association (AEA) – and her resume only grew from there. She landed roles in feature films like Locker 13 with Ricky Schroeder and The Majestic with Martin Landau and Jim Carrey, along with a number of short film credits and appearances on Candid Camera, Boston Public and The Young And The Restless.
Her awards are numerous, including three Emmy nominations for her work as producer and host of the local TV show Screen Wars, the 2007 Phoenix Film Foundation Board Member of the Year, the 2008 Layne Award for contribution to the arts in Arizona, and the 2011 Governor’s Arts Award for her contributions to the Arizona Entertainment Community.
Beyond acting, Crisalli models, performs voiceovers, and has done nearly 30 commercials, including a national spot for Courtyard by Marriott, as well as Culver’s, Casino Arizona, Cox Communications, and the cover of a Pier 1 Imports ad circular. She also works as a producer, director and spokeswoman, and teaches acting for film and television at ASU’s School of Film, Dance and Theatre.
In fact, sharing the craft of acting is an integral part of Crisalli’s day-to-day life. In 2005, she opened Verve Studios, a Scottsdale-based acting studio where she – along with some of the Valley’s best teaching artists – provides students of all ages ongoing scene study training to prepare for careers as professional actors.
“Really good actors make it look it easy, but they have worked really hard and long to make it seem that way,” says Crisalli. “An ongoing scene study class allows actors to keep working on their craft. My goal is for actors to be able to articulate what their technique is, and in order to do this, he/she must practice it over and over with different scenes, genres and scene partners.”
Crisalli is living proof that practice and patience are the keys to landing gigs. “I used to audition for anything and everything I could. And, if I got cast, I always said yes,” Crisalli says. “I’ve become pickier about saying yes in the last 10 years. Taking on a project, whether it’s film or theater, takes a tremendous amount of time and energy and it takes me away from my family. For me to say yes now, the project has to be a challenge in some way and has to be something I haven’t done yet.”
Enter her latest project, Raising Buchanan, which was written and directed by Bruce Dellis, who penned the role of Ruth just for Crisalli. She will star alongside René Auberjonois of Star Trek and Boston Legal and M. Emmet Walsh from Blade Runner and My Best Friend’s Wedding. The cast also includes Cathy Shim (Reno 911), comedian Andy Dick (NewsRadio), and Terence Bernie Hines (Secret Life of Walter Mitty).
“The editing phase has just begun and it will take about six months before we have a completed movie,” Crisalli says. “I am the executive producer on that film, so while my role as an actor on it has wrapped, I’m still heavily involved with it until it reaches the finish line. I am extremely proud of the product and think the audience will really love it when it’s released in 2018. It’s smart, funny and very timely.”
Between takes, gigs and her days in the editing room, Crisalli spends time with her family, loves to bake, and enjoys traveling. Though free time can be limited, when she does have it, she takes time to savor the experiences that her path has brought her. It wasn’t the easiest of journeys, but it’s a role that has been a perfect fit.
“Each day is a little different and may include teaching, reading plays or screenplays, going to an audition, submitting for a project, doing studio administration, or grading for ASU,” Crisalli says. “When I am playing a part, the balance shifts quite a bit and not much else gets done, but I love that there’s never a dull moment being a working actress.”