Broadway actress nurtured in Chautauqua


Lee Heinz

Suzi Starheim | Staff Writer

Lee Heinz never had a doubt in her mind about what she wanted to spend her life doing.

“I knew from a very early age that I wanted to be an actor,” she said.

Heinz, a fifth-generation Chautauquan who has been coming to the Institution since she was 2 months old, originally is from Warren, Ohio. She now lives in New York City working as an actress. Chautauqua was a place that nurtured Heinz’s love of acting.

“My parents are not theatrical, and my brother isn’t,” Heinz said. “It was my interest, but because it was so available to me here, it was great.”

Each summer since she was a child, Heinz has made the trip to Chautauqua. She spends her summers here because of her passion for acting and because of the history her family has made here.

“The first person who really did a lot in Chautauqua was my maternal grandmother,” Heinz said. “She was a very forceful woman. It’s amazing to me that my grandmother had the insight.”

Heinz said her grandmother, Freda Milligan, was “the one who really got the family buying things here.”

Among these purchases was the Ashland Guesthouse — an old-fashioned rooming house — the Arlington and a house on Bliss, which is the first place Heinz lived as a child each summer.

“(My grandmother) ran all those properties,” Heinz said. “When my mother was growing up, she had a dining room on the first floor of the rooming house, so my grandmother would cook for everyone staying at the rooming house, and my mother had to be a waitress, which she hated.”

In addition, Heinz’s great-aunt Grace bought the Vera Guesthouse and ran it for approximately 60 years. Her great-aunt Anna also owned the old Beechover.

Heinz’s mother also played an active role in the Institution. She worked for former Institution President Samuel M. Hazlett and worked as one of the first female Chautauquan Daily sellers.

Heinz followed in the footsteps of her family members by taking active roles in Chautauqua. She attended the Children’s School and was a Club counselor. More recently, she has taught Special Studies classes on topics ranging from auditioning for musicals to Shakespeare to acting and film.

Heinz’s acting career began when she was 8 years old in Warren. She began with the Kenley Players, and she then would come to Chautauqua and act in musicals in the Amphitheater each season. Two of these were “The Music Man” and “The King and I.”

Currently, Heinz works with U.S. Performing Arts Camps, an organization dedicated to providing training in the arts through summer programs. She said her ultimate hope for all performing arts is to encourage creativity and “create an informed audience.”

“I think the way our educational system is now is that people are losing their creativity, because there’s so much focus on testing and results that the joy of creating something is not something that you get in school anymore,” she said. “Kids don’t have the imagination now that they used to.”

Throughout her acting career, Heinz has been in several Broadway musicals, including “Dancin’,” “Peter Pan,” “West Side Story” and “Chorus Line.” She also acts in productions in Chautauqua whenever she gets the opportunity. In 2008, she was in the Chautauqua Opera Company’s Cunning Little Vixen and La Traviata.

She also has acted in off-Broadway productions, including “Dead Man’s Cell Phone,” “City Of,” “Twelfth Night” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

While her love of acting and her family’s history in Chautauqua is part of what keeps Heinz coming back each season, another aspect she loves are the friends she’s made over the years.

“I have so many good friends here,” she said. “Friends of my parents, friends of my grandparents. Kids that I went to Children’s School with, I’m still friends with.”

Heinz said all of these factors will keep her coming back to Chautauqua as long as she can.