Leslie Collins as the Cascade Kitchen Counselor

Leslie Collins as the Cascade Kitchen Counselor

Think that Cascade Kitchen Counselor on the television commercials looks familiar?

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That’s 1993 Lake Highlands High School grad Leslie Collins, who sweeps in to save two couples from household disaster. Though she filmed two versions each of the two ads (one 15-second spot and one 30-second) last October and they began running in November, all four have been getting lots of play on several national networks lately. You can view “Bargain Brand” here and “Stalling” here.

Leslie, now living and working in New York City, says she has great memories of her Lake Highlands days. As a member of the LHHS theater program, she played the lead in “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” and competed at UIL, and she performed as a member of the show choir, Espree.

“Nancy Poynter (theater) and Mollie McCullough (music) gave me a foundation of learning that I use every single day of my creative life,” Leslie told me. “Mrs. Poynter taught me discipline in learning and dedication to the craft. Although I had no idea at the time she was doing that, if I showed up unprepared for class, I’d run the risk of someone else getting cast in the part I wanted. I learned real fast, you had to do the work to get the results. I also learned with Mrs. Poynter that to be an artist you didn’t just dye your hair black, wear lots of Goth make up, get tattoos and smoke cigarettes after school. You had to be a theater nerd and study plays and text, use your brain, be responsible and show up to rehearsals prepared. She didn’t really care for people who ‘acted’ theatrical. Those kids were just wanting attention, and that’s not what she did.”

“Mrs. McCullough taught me to sing and to love singing with other people. I was tone deaf as a child, so somewhere along the way through reading music, patient teachers, singing with others in class and performing in concerts, I learned to match pitch and sing well. I performed for 20 years professionally (I still do) in musical theater, so I’d have to say without her teaching me how to sing and how to have an appreciation for all kinds of music, I wouldn’t have gotten too far in my career.”

These days, Leslie stays busy filming commercials, performing improv comedy and musical improv, teaching, auditioning and producing an improvised radio play podcast for children. I asked which was her favorite.

“They are all different beasts,” said Leslie, “so it’s hard to say, but right now my true love is long-form improvisation. I basically, with a group of 6 or so other people, make up a play or musical inspired from a suggestion given by an audience member. We make up the songs or scenes on the spot. It’s like a roller coaster -sometimes bumpy, sometimes thrilling – but always fun. I love taking an audience away from life to an imaginary place, and hopefully making them laugh a little.

“Teaching is wonderful because I learn to be a better performer myself. I like to teach others the joy of comedic improvising, but it gets mentally exhausting to do all of the time. So I shake it up, and do a little bit of everything all the time to keep life exciting.

“Commercials are fun to do and I’m very thankful for the success I’ve had. There are many things happening on a commercial shoot, though, and the actor is just one of the many puzzle pieces. People are watching you, your hair, your clothes, the lighting, the sound, your arm, the background actors, your other arm holding the product, how fast or slowly you speak, etc., and dissecting every little thing you do. So I think of commercial shoots more like an awesome acting obstacle course challenge. It feels great when the production team is happy and you made it through with all of those things happening at the same time. The best part is seeing the result on TV and having people you haven’t seen or talked to in 25 years find you on Facebook and tell you, ‘they can see you on their TV right now!’”

Leslie said she recently filmed another commercial and did prep work for more but admits, “the actor is always the last person to know” if and/or when the ads will actually run and where they will be seen.

Hoping to reconnect with Leslie in person? She says she comes to the Dallas area frequently, but usually heads to Southlake, where parents Margaret and Bill now live.

Leslie’s favorite LH memory?

“I recall going to GSL Barn Dance with a very shy Phil Dawson, who was a kid on the football team. From what I hear,” joked Leslie of the NFL veteran, “he still plays football pretty well. I don’t think he was as good a dancer, though, as he was a kicker, but then again, I could be totally wrong.”

Leslie Collins II