CARBONDALE -- Sometimes it’s nice to step away from the bright lights and busy streets of the city.
For actress Reiko Aylesworth and her husband, Rob Clare, Southern Illinois has become a place of escape.
“We love it,” said Aylesworth, best known for her role as Michelle Dessler on Fox’s “24.” “We love coming out there; it’s such a treat. For us, it’s kind of our getaway place.”
Aylesworth and Clare will return to the region for another visit this week. Her stepfather, Kevin Purcell, lives in Cobden and introduced the couple to the Southern Illinois landscape and its theater scene.
Purcell, who retired to the region with his wife a few years ago, has become ingrained in the local arts community. He arranged for Aylesworth and Clare, a world-renowned Shakespeare expert, to present workshops for Carbondale-based theater group The Stage Co. on Wednesday, May 21.
Clare will lead a seminar working with local actors on making Shakespeare’s works and characters their own at 8:15 p.m. at the Varsity Center for the Arts. The event is free and open to the public.
Before Clare’s presentation, Aylesworth will host a closed session focused on actor improvisation for Stage Co. members. Last year, the couple both participated in a closed event during their visit, but this year, they wanted to open the curtain.
“Everyone was so enthusiastic and welcoming,” she said. “I’m so happy my parents found a place they both love. That means the world to me.”
Aylesworth said she enjoys the region’s natural scenic beauty, as well as its history and the culture added by the university. Southern Illinois is a different world than places like Chicago, where she was born, and Seattle and New York, where she has lived in more recent years.
Before meeting Purcell at the age of 13, Aylesworth didn’t have much exposure to the performing arts. The man she’d grow to call dad took her to her first play and supported her as she pursued theater in high school. Those influences helped her launch a career that has spanned the stage and the small screen.
Through the years, she’s achieved many personal goals and experienced several highlights -- including her tenure on “24” and meeting, marrying and working alongside Clare. But, even in college, she didn’t know what the future would hold.
“It’s never something you can expect,” she said. “I had science in my back pocket; that’s what I studied in school.”
While she believes in following good writing wherever it takes you, Aylesworth said she’ll always have a passion for the theater and a preference for live performance arts.
“It’s really the actor’s medium,” she said. “We have the most fun and the best rehearsals.”
But given her tenure on “24” and the friendships she made through those experiences, the show will always have a place not only on her resume but also in her heart.
“I loved doing ’24,’” she said. “It was the longest job I ever had as an actor. It was nice to be on something for so long.”