Sheep Saved Me
Guilford Man Goes From World Tour to Hometown Farm
Written By Allie Rivera
“This. This is what sold me,” Schuyler Beeman says, stopping his long, uphill strides and turning around to survey his north Guilford property. The trees sway in a slight breeze and the bright sun shines down as Beeman puts his hands on his hips. Just as a happy smile begins to spread across his face, Big Boy the rooster lets out a long, loud crow.
“Yup. That, too,” he says with a laugh.
A native of Guilford, Beeman now owns and runs his own small farm with sheep, chickens, and his dog, Marti, running around. Though his journey started in Guilford, Beeman had no idea that his life would take him back to the very same small town he once tried to leave.
“I never was like, ‘I’m going to be the person who comes back to Guilford.’ I was like, ‘Get me out of here,’” Beeman recalls. “I did not want to be a townie. That, to me, was failure. And now I couldn’t be more against that concept.”
Now a full-time gardener and farmer, his passion being raising sheep, Beeman says he never expected his life to turn out this way when he was a child.
After graduating from Guilford High School, Beeman enrolled at Middlebury College in Vermont with the plan to become a zoo habitat designer.
“I loved biology in high school, I loved art, I loved working with animals, it just seemed to put it all together,” he says of the decision. “And then I took my first biology course my first semester of my freshman year at Middlebury, and bombed it. I was like, ‘This is really hard.’ Who knew?”
With encouragement from a friend in his a capella group, Beeman attended a show produced by the school’s theater department, and immediately felt pulled in a new direction.
“I grew up going to Goodspeed and to Ivoryton and seeing these beautiful musicals. This was like, Beirut, the two-person play in a black box [style theater], and I’d never seen theater like that,” he says. “I was blown away by it. I said, ‘If a student can do that, then I want to do that.’ So, I immediately switched.”
Though he expanded his theatrical experience to what he described as more “heady” plays, his heart still loved musicals. After graduation, he followed that love on his next adventure to New York City. With plans to act on Broadway, he began “beating the pavement,” looking for work.
Shortly thereafter, Beeman earned his Equity card for the Actors’ Equity Association by playing Carmen Ghia in the Ivoryton Playhouse production of The Producers.
“After I got my card I was like, ‘Great! I’m in the union now, I’m going to get all this work,’ and I literally didn’t work after that. I literally didn’t get a job at all, which you hear all the time [about] people getting their cards too soon and then they never work again,” he says.
Unsure what his next steps would be professionally, Beeman began taking any opportunity he could find, including choreographing a community theater production of Annie with Artful Living Productions in Killingworth. It was there that Beeman met Bill Berloni, a theatrical animal trainer who was providing the dog for the show. Berloni’s experience dates back to training the dog in the original Annie in the 1970s.
As choreographer for the production, Beeman was tasked with coordinating and teaching a massive cast.
“I had to choreograph ‘Hard Knock Life,’ and I had two casts of 40 orphans each, plus the main eight orphans. I was given all 88 children for an hour and a half, once a week, by myself, to choreograph ‘Hard Knock Life,’” he recalls, his eyes wide remembering the ordeal. “The Berlonis came back to me after and they were like, ‘Well we figure if you could do that, you could probably take care of one of our dogs.’”
Though Beeman had always had a fondness for animals, he never anticipated working with them in a theatrical capacity. Not wanting to turn down any opportunities, however, he accepted the new position, hoping that staying in the theater realm would get him other acting work. In addition to dog handling, he would often be cast in the ensemble of shows.
“[It was] a great way for me to meet the directors of the shows and be like, ‘I have talent! Cast me in other things!’” he says with a laugh. “Which never happened, by the way. Never. But that’s what I really got into it for.”
As he began working with the animals, including dogs for such shows as Legally Blonde and The Wizard of Oz and even a lamb for Long Wharf Theatre’s production of Curse of the Starving Class, Beeman began to find that he was good at the job.
“Come to find out, I actually had a knack for it, and it actually was something that I really enjoyed, and it taught me so much, not only about dogs and animals, but also about theater in so many different ways,” he says.
Although he enjoyed the work, which took him throughout the country, he found that the job was not always fun.
“It was a really stressful job for me, though. I mean, you’re basically saying, ‘Hey dog, I need you to do the exact same thing, eight times a week, perfectly.’ And it’s a dog,” he says. “Yes, it’s a trained dog, but it’s a dog. Like, sometimes a moth flies by on the stage and they get distracted. Things happen.”
A “big break,” and an epiphany
Despite the stress, Beeman accepted a position to go on a world tour with actress and former model Isabella Rossellini, serving as both the dog handler and onstage puppeteer.
“It was just her, the dog, and myself, on stage talking about animal minds and consciousness and how evolution plays a role in it, which I was like, these are all the things that I love,” Beeman says. The tour took him throughout the United States and Europe where he performed on stages in Paris, London, and beyond.
“It was great! I mean, I got to see the world with a superstar and stay in incredible hotels and eat amazing food and drink incredible wine, and it was like a dream,” he says. “And I was miserable. I was absolutely miserable.”
It seemed that Beeman was living the exact life he’d always wanted, the life he’d dreamed about as a teen wanting to leave Guilford, but it was not what he’d imagined.
“I hated being on the road. I never had a sense of place. It was stressful. Getting a dog to do the same thing over and over and over again, for me, was very stressful,” he says.
What was supposed to be a dream turned into a dark time for Beeman.
“I started using drugs and alcohol a lot when I was on the road because I was so depressed,” he says. “Not many people knew that about me. I was a very high-functioning addict where people had no idea.”
In between shows during the tour, Beeman found respite visiting a friend from college at their sheep farm in Maryland, and the experience soon proved to be life-changing.
“Sheep saved me. There is no doubt about it,” he says. “I remember when I first started trying to work with sheep, and I came in with my big New York City, type-A energy, and they would run the other way. They were like, ‘We don’t want to deal with you. Bye.’”
Beeman says that helping to care for sheep forced him to calm down, relax, and move with a more assured sense of purpose.
“I just had this sense of peace when I work with sheep. There’s something incredibly calming about it,” he says.
While still on the road with Rossellini, Beeman began dreaming of his days spent with the sheep, and his own vision of his future began to change.
“Every show that I did out on the road with Isabella, I was like, ‘Okay, this is another check for my sheep farm.’ I just knew that that’s where it was going,” he says.
The tour ended in the spring of 2019, and immediately after Beeman did one more off-Broadway production of Curse of the Starving Class, but after that he decided to leave the business for good.
A new direction
Through his experiences, his dreams had shifted, and his new goal was to own his own sheep farm. To Beeman, there was no question as to where that would be.
“What I realized, mainly when I was on the road with Isabella and I’m seeing all these beautiful places – I played Paris, I played London, I played all these huge cities across Europe – and I realized there were very few places in the world, if any, like Guilford. And that’s where I needed to be,” he says.
After purchasing his first two sheep from his friend’s farm in Maryland, Beeman’s flock began to grow as opportunities for free sheep kept coming to him. Soon he had seven.
“Slowly but surely, I was just piling on all these sheep, and then I was like, ‘Where am I going to keep these?’” he says.
Just off the green in Guilford, near the home where he grew up and where his parents still live, Beeman saw a pasture that was not being used. After reaching out to the land owner, he learned that there was an agricultural easement on the property and the owners were having a hard time finding someone to use it. They offered the space for Beeman’s sheep for free.
“So I had this stunning pasture in downtown Guilford, right off the green,” he says. “People just loved driving by there and seeing the sheep out on the pasture.”
Beeman kept the sheep in that pasture for more than a year as he worked to purchase his own house and land in north Guilford, close to the Durham town line. As he was shifting his career, he was also working to change his personal life by getting sober.
“I was a loose cannon,” he recalls. “I could have done it a lot better, there’s no doubt about it, but I did it, and now I’m taking better steps in sobriety.”
Now sober since December 2019, Beeman says it was not only the sheep that helped lead him to a healthier lifestyle.
“I just feel so incredibly grateful that I’ve been able to do this. My parents have helped a lot and the community has helped a lot,” he says. “I knew even amidst that haze that I was going to be healthier in this lifestyle, and it is just proving that more times than not in so many ways for me.”
After purchasing his home in October 2019 and moving his full flock to the property mid-2020, Beeman is now living a fully agrarian lifestyle in his hometown. He opened his own gardening business, Lodestar Gardening, where he works with clients to create beautiful outdoor spaces. He describes his style as “new cottage,” whimsical, flowy, and packed with flowers.
“I consider myself a regenerative agriculturalist,” he says. “Sustainable, we can sustain a lot of things for a long time. Sustainable just means you’re holding on. That doesn’t really do anything. What I want to do is be regenerating, and helping to rebuild and then build from there, so I like to do that in my gardens, as well.”
In addition to the gardening business, Beeman started a growing flock of chickens which he uses to sell eggs. At present, he has roughly 25 chickens in his coop, 14 chicks he is raising, and 35 more arriving in the coming months.
While the egg sales help financially, Beeman says that the sheep remain his passion. He now provides nearly all of their care except for sheering, for which he brings in a professional.
“The amount of equipment that you need, it’s actually cheaper to bring a professional in who is trained to do it, and they do a really good job. Plus, I’m 6’3”, I don’t need to be bending that much,” he says with a laugh.
Looking forward, Beeman says that his dream is to expand the farm and someday open an artists’ residency.
“I want to have a place where artists can come and do their craft, have a little respite from the city, get a little country air, and be able to create,” he says. “So that is the ultimate dream. In the meantime, my gardening pays the bills, which I feel incredibly fortunate about because it’s something that I love to do.”
Living His Best Life
To those who know Beeman best, watching his shift from world-touring performer to hometown farmer has been inspirational.
“There is a certain resonance to when you witness people doing what they’re supposed to be doing,” says Carly Callahan, who worked with Beeman on a series of summer concerts at the Ivoryton Playhouse. “I think Schuyler getting into this piece of his life is allowing us to also reimagine where we’re from and where we are and where we can go. I think it’s brave and I think it’s wonderful.”
Bethany Taylor, Beeman’s aunt and first reader at the church where Beeman still regularly sings, similarly finds joy and inspiration in Beeman’s story.
“He’s willing to do what is right for him to be doing. It doesn’t matter what direction that takes, in his relationships, in his work, in his community, whatever he feels he needs to be doing, he stays true to that,” she says. “He’s fiercely devoted to whatever he puts his mind to, and I really admire those qualities in him.”
As an openly gay man in the farming community, Beeman said that he has never felt the need to hide who he is among fellow shepherds.
“What I love about it is that sheep bring everybody from all different walks of life together. When you’re with those people, everything else goes away and you just get to connect with somebody,” he says. “I’ve never not been myself. I’ve never felt the need to stifle myself with those people, and I’ve never run into any issue.”
Through both his social media accounts and on Patreon, a site which allows “patrons” to sponsor artists and creatives in their work, Beeman has been able to bring all of his passions together, often posting videos of himself singing to his sheep in the pasture. He hopes that by continuing to be his most authentic self, he can shed new light on what it means to be a young, gay farmer.
“This is who I am. I’m very open about every part of myself, my sobriety, my personal life,” he says. “That’s how I connect with people. I show them that this is me, here I am.”