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Groupie

June 23, 2009

An actress friend of mine in New York who spends most of her time these days teaching voice at prestigious universities, told me a while ago that she had a fansite. She hadn't been in a stage production in some years. But a group of theatregoers were nevertheless enamoured enough with her work that they decided to dedicate a website to celebrating her career.

The idea that actors who work exclusively or at least predominantly in the theatre can have groupies used to seem a little odd to me. Theatre is such a localized medium and the people who work on stage, though admired within the performing arts community itself, don't generally make a big splash beyond its cliquish enclaves. So when my friend told me the news, my first reaction was: "I hope your so-called fans don't know your home address."

But since then, I've come to realize that you don't need to be Angelina Jolie or George Clooney to inspire groupie-like behaviour in theatre-goers as an actor. I make my living (or at least part of it) as a hard-headed theatre critic. While I probably won't be buying up the URL "BayAreaActorFansite.com" any time soon, there are certain performers within this community that I practically fall over myself to go and see in action.

I was thinking about this over the weekend when I went to see Aurora Theatre Company's production of Bob Glaudini's Jack Goes Boating. The main reason I went to see the show was because of the cast. Three of the four actors in Joy Carlin's whipcracker of a production -- Beth Wilmurt, Gabriel Marin and Danny Wolohan -- are local performers whose work I follow like a hungry dog sniffs out a bone. Amanda Duarte, the fourth actor in the production, is someone whose acting I had not seen before Jack Goes Boating. But I'm quickly becoming a fan.

It's not that I am in raptures about every single thing these actors do on stage. But there's just something about their approach to characterization and the way they throw themselves at their work that keeps me coming back for more.

This seems obvious I guess. After all, casting is something I always think about when I go to a movie -- I tend to choose films more on the basis of the actors appearing in them than on any other factor (e.g. director, theme etc.).

But somehow when it comes to theatre, I don't tend to make my decisions about what to see in terms of actors as much. I guess directors, playwrights, designers and themes play as great a role in determining my attenance of a live theatre event as the people performing in the show do. Also, when I've been to see productions on the basis of actors -- usually A-list starry types, the most recent example being Janet McTeer in Mary Stuart on Broadway (a dull effort) -- I tend to come away disappointed.

The thing about the cast members in Jack Goes Boating is that even when they appear in work that isn't great, they always manage to bring the level up a notch. And when they do perform in terrific productions (such as Carlin's slick and creative take on this tempestuous-sweet Glaudini play) the magic they manage to create on stage is palpable.

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