Since graduating from Norwich Free Academy in 1994, actress Chrystee Pharris has appeared often on TV. Just a few highlights: She played J.D.'s girlfriend Kylie for several episodes of the sitcom "Scrubs"; she starred as Simone Russell for three years on the soap opera "Passions"; and she guested on the show "Castle."
And, beyond that, Pharris has developed a one-woman show that she's bringing to southeastern Connecticut Saturday.
She will perform "In Search of O" - which is about "waiting until marriage to have sex and the fantasy versus the reality of that experience" - Saturday night at the Garde Arts Center.
Earlier in the day, she will talk about the subject in a session geared toward girls ages 12 to 16 and their mothers or caregivers. That program will be held at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital.
Pharris says "In Search of O" is about the journey of a young person "who is just naive and then is looking for this 'O,' this orgasm, and realizes it doesn't come from where she thinks it's going to come from. It comes from having a connection."
The show is inspired by Pharris' own story. In her household, she recalls, no one talked about sex. Pharris waited to have sex until she got married, at age 27. She and her husband had been friends since they were 12, and they're still best friends - but they divorced after two years.
"So I just went through that experience and, of course, the disappointment of getting a divorce and the shame and being on TV and going through a divorce, the embarrassment," she says, "and thinking it was going to be one thing, and it wasn't - it was a completely different experience."
She says that, since comedy always comes from tragedy, she decided to sit down and write a piece inspired by all that. When she was taking a class a few years ago, the teacher was impressed enough to suggest that Pharris stage the work.
Pharris remembers how, during the first workshop session, people in the audience laughed appreciatively.
"In Search of O" ended up being accepted into the L.A. Women's Theatre Festival, and it continued on from there. (The Emmy-nominated Lois Roach directed "In Search of O.")
Last year, Pharris started doing a full-fledged tour, with stops in Washington, D.C., Boston and Hollywood. She also performed it at the United Solo Theatre Festival in New York City.
Reona Dyess, executive director of The Center: A Drop In Community Learning & Resource Center Inc. in New London, went to see the show in New York. She suggested Pharris return to southeastern Connecticut to do the piece here - which is how Saturday's programs came about.
With "In Search of O," Pharris sees her job as opening up the lines of communication and keeping sex from being a taboo subject.
"There's nothing wrong with having sex. It's just that we need to make the right choices. We need to connect," she says.
Pharris is originally from Las Vegas, but spent her last two years of high school at Norwich Free Academy. Her mother moved here to train blackjack and poker room workers at Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods.
Pharris knew she wanted to be a performer from the time she was 4 years old, and she starred in several productions at NFA - among them, "Dreamgirls," "Our Country's Good" and "Black Elk Speaks."
She was in every show that then-NFA director of performing arts Brett Bernardini staged, and she says he "was a significant part of my growth as an actor, as a performer." Another important figure for her was Henry Laudone, a history teacher at NFA.
Pharris went on to Emerson College and, the day after graduating with a B.F.A. in theater, tested for "The Young and the Restless." While it often takes years for a young performer to break into the business, Pharris went to Hollywood and worked immediately. She guested on such series as "Sister, Sister," "Moesha" and "7th Heaven."
"All those different shows were very important in my life at that time," she says. "When I moved to L.A., I booked seven shows in six months, which is unheard of."
Later on, she was hired as a regular on the NBC soap "Passions." Pharris still remembers the long hours. Usually, a soap opera workday might run from 6:30 a.m. to 4 or 5 p.m. On "Passions," because of the crazy things happening on the show and the accompanying special effects, their workdays were more like 6:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. during her first month. She recalls having three scripts to memorize in two days - and then filming them all on the same day.
Working at that pace and on that amount of material eventually became easier.
"I loved every single person on that show. I still keep in touch with them. ... My experience on there couldn't have been any better," she says.
Acting on "Scrubs," she says, was a great deal of fun as well, and the people were wonderful. She remembers Zach Braff being very creative - he also directed an episode she was in - and executive producer Bill Lawrence being a very nice guy.
"They really allowed me to be me and to have fun and to improv some of the things, which was awesome," she says. "We would do a take, and then all of a sudden they'd say, 'Okay, do whatever you want now.' So we would just play around with it. You'd be surprised the stuff that they would end up taking and putting on TV."