At just 19, a young Gilroy woman had assembled a repertoire of characters that easily rivals those of musical theater veterans, including lead roles in the productions of The Drowsy Chaperone, Singing in the Rain, and The Wizard of Oz.
So, who is this Gilroy superstar? She is Calliope Taylor Maiwald, although up until August of last year she was Alexis Taylor Maiwald, the name her maternal grandmother chose for her.
“I felt like I was more my grandmother’s kid, than my mom’s,” Calliope says.
In 1997, Calliope’s mom, Kimberlee Koutsouleris-Maiwald, was so convinced that her only child was going to be a boy that the only names she’d chosen were boys’ names.
“Lo and behold, I came out without a penis,” Calliope says.
So the matriarch of the Koutsouleris family, Dorothy, took charge of naming her granddaughter, and for the next eight years, up until the time of her death, Dorothy played a central character in Calliope’s life.
A favorite pastime was watching television together, and Dorothy was dead set against that “purple dinosaur,” so at a very early age Calliope was introduced to movie classics, like Anchor’s Away, and Singing in the Rain.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched The King and I,” Calliope says.
Dorothy’s favorite movies instilled in her granddaughter a love of musical theater, so much so, that at five years old Calliope made her debut performance in a talent show at Rucker Elementary School.
At first the school officials felt that Calliope was too young to take part in the show, but with Kimberlee’s insistence that this was what her daughter wanted, they allowed the 5-year-old to try out.
At the end of Calliope’s audition, those same officials eagerly welcomed the kindergartner into the show.
When it was show time, Calliope belted out the song, “I’m a Believer,” from the movie Shrek, then tossed her coat off and danced across the stage, making it clear to everyone in attendance, especially her parents, that a true star was in their midst.
“People stood up, she got a standing ovation and I thought, whose kid are you?” Ron Maiwald, Calliope’s dad, says. “She brought the house down, the whole auditorium.”
“That was just the beginning,” Kimberlee says.
The rush of excitement of performing before a live audience kick started Calliope’s desire to sing and dance into overdrive, and she says that she practiced every spare minute she had.
“Even when I was at school, I would eat my lunch and I’d find an empty classroom, and I would just sing and practice,” Calliope says.
After graduating from Mount Madonna Middle School, where, in eighth grade she was cast in the starring role of Fagan in the musical Oliver, Calliope’s passion led her to enroll in a top performing arts magnet school, Abraham Lincoln High, in San Jose.
“The school is incredible and amazing, and the staff is wonderful,” Calliope says.
Acceptance into Lincoln included a mandatory audition, and Calliope’s placed her in the advanced acting class, even though she’d never received a single acting lesson.
“Just a lot of movies,” Calliope says with a smile.
Calliope’s parents always supported their daughter’s desires and talents and were front and center for each of her 16 productions at Lincoln.
Not only were they in attendance on opening night, the Maiwalds were present for all 12 of Calliope’s performances of each production.
“We’ve not missed a performance,” Ron says proudly.
Calliope’s first audition at Lincoln for Beauty and the Beast landed her a minor role, although she’d tried out for the lead. Determined not to let this disappointment get her down, she became all the more driven to excel on her next audition.
Her hard work paid off when she was chosen to play the lead role, Drowsy, in The Drowsy Chaperone.
“Every time she gets up and sings, I’m amazed, I really am, it’s incredible,” Kimberlee says.
Calliope’s biggest fans are of course, her parents, but a close second is her former mentor and the musical director at Lincoln High, Chuck Manthe.
“I knew that she had the right talents to make it if she wanted it,” says Manthe. “Her eyes sparkled when she talked about her love of theater and musicals. Calliope was always, ‘all in’ for every role she played.”
“I remember her playing Queen Elizabeth in a play where she came on for five minutes, and she owned that moment,” he says.
“I always felt comfortable casting her because I knew she would work very hard, and bring life and energy to the role, while always being humble.”
By senior year, Calliope reached a pinnacle point in her young life: being cast in the leading roles for both Singing in the Rain and The Wizard of Oz.
“That was my year, man, that was my year,” Calliope says smiling wide.
“I worked my butt off.”
All that hard work took its toll, though, and after graduating high school, Calliope decided to take a “gap year” before heading to college.
“I was burnt out, 16 shows in high school, I didn’t know who I was anymore,” Calliope says.
But her gap year was far from a vacation; she secured a full-time job, performed in local community theater, and for the first time, took voice and acting lessons, all of which she paid for herself.
Calliope admits that at the end of that year she considered remaining in Gilroy, “living the safe life in the Bay Area.”
“And I literally slapped myself and said, ‘I gotta go,’” Calliope says.
Calliope believes that to succeed in the business of musical theater requires a very strong idea of who you are, and how you’re going to make it.
This belief led her to the East Coast, to Boston Conservatory of Music at Berklee, the fourth highest ranked performing arts school in the United States.
“She deserves to be there, and we as parents need to support that, and if that means she’s 3,300 miles from home, then she’s 3,300 miles from home,” Kimberlee says.
With her first semester completed, Calliope is secure in knowing she made the right choice.
“I come from a very athletic family, and to go to a place that’s surrounded by other people that aren’t athletes, and that think like me, and have the drive that I do, and want to practice like I do, I feel like I’m at Hogwarts for theater and gay boys,” Calliope says.
Even though she’s just begun her journey on the ‘yellow brick road’ in Boston, she’s already considering her future goals. And at the top of the list is a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Musical Theater Performance.
After that, her plan is to move to New York, and “get a job doing what I love.”
In her heart Calliope knows that theater is her chosen career, but she’s realistic enough to have a backup plan.
“I want to teach yoga by day, and do theater by night, that’s a supplemental income I can take anywhere,” Calliope says.
Kimberlee doesn’t believe her daughter will have any need to utilize that back up plan.
“Anybody that will go out at 11 o’clock at night, in the freezing cold garage, and sing to the mice, or whoever it is she’s singing to, over and over again, just to get it right, I don’t worry, because she’s going to make it, I just know,” Kimberlee says.