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HITTING THE SMALL TIME : County's Community Theater Regulars Just Do It for Show Biz

September 01, 1988|PATRICK MOTT | Patrick Mott is a regular contributor to Orange County Life.

Reasons why actors ought to like big-time show biz better than community theater:

-- In big-time show biz, if your production calls for a spiffy hot rod to zoom on-stage, you get a cherry '57 Bel Air or a juiced-up Eldorado. In community theater, you get a beat-to-a-pulp MG with cardboard fins. And you have to push it yourself.

-- In big-time show biz, if you are cast as a pirate, you get to dress like Errol Flynn in "Captain Blood." In community theater, you wear a Pittsburgh ball cap that says "Pirates."

-- In big-time show biz, you get a pit orchestra. In community theater, you get a tape recorder. And no pit.

-- In big-time show biz, you get fruit baskets and chintz couches in your dressing room. In community theater, you get fleas.

-- In big-time show biz, you get paid lots of money. In community theater, you pay lots of money.

Reasons why actors like community theater anyway:

-- There's no business like show business.

And that's that. Forget the fancy explanations. Sure, community theater actors will say they do it because they like the idea of becoming someone else for a few hours, or they like dressing up like Cleopatra or Cardinal Richelieu or a London hooker, or they like the camaraderie after rehearsal, or they just plain like to get laughs.

One thing they won't say, however, is that they are in it for the fame or the money. Because there is precious little of the former and absolutely none of the latter.

But in community theater, that's show biz. And that's why, in Orange County, dozens of dentists and construction workers and secretaries and computer programmers and teachers disappear from home and family and friends for several weeks each year to act or dance or sing or build sets or operate the sound or the lighting--or do all those jobs--for not one cent.

Show biz.

"Some people bowl; I do shows," said Bill Bodner, a veteran of about 10 community theater productions in the county, mostly at the Cabrillo Playhouse in San Clemente. "Sometimes it's all-consuming. A few years ago, I did seven shows in 13 months."

Bodner, 52, who is directing Cabrillo Playhouse's production of the comedy, "No Sex Please, We're British" (opening Sept. 8), said he is typical of many community theater players in Orange County: he works at a day job (as a typography salesman), he has previous theater experience, and he doesn't particularly care if his face ever appears in TV Guide. It is just that, every now and then, he gets this itch. . . .

"Every so often," he said, "you say to yourself, 'It's time to do a show.' There's just the need to get back and communicate with an audience again."

So it is back to the little stucco house on the corner at 202 Avenida Cabrillo, where Bodner is presiding over the English play about the antics of a woman and her family and friends whose lives are thrown into disarray when she sends off a mail order for Scandinavian glassware and receives Scandinavian pornography instead.

Ibsen it is not. But in community theater, that's show biz.

"Places like South Coast Rep can come in with message plays or something heavy, but in community theater, you have to suit your audience," Bodner said. "If people are going out to a community theater production, they usually expect to see something light."

Often that means light opera, which is what the Buena Park Civic Theatre was up to throughout August. The theater group, which is sponsored by the city's Recreation Department and stages its productions outdoors at the city recreation center on Knott Avenue, recently ended a run of Gilbert and Sullivan's "Pirates of Penzance."

It was a free-wheeling, enthusiastic production, and most of the cast members--like most community theater actors--were young and had never performed professionally. Others, like Becky Held, a 25-year-old teacher from Orange, had some experience in related disciplines before their work in the operetta.

"I was looking at a stretch of time in front of me where I could make myself available for something like this. I've always loved singing, but the only opportunity for that in the last couple of years has been in classical music," said Held, who sings throughout most of the year with the Pacific Chorale. "I love the musical theater, but I'd never had time to do it. My girlfriend was constantly inviting me to do these productions, and she kept throwing audition sheets in front of me."

As it turned out, Held needed the time.

"It's really demanding," she said. "There's a five-night-a-week requirement for at least a month and a half, you're going from 7 to 10 at night and sometimes later, and you're putting out a lot of energy. The rest of your life just stands still. Your family and friends have to be really understanding."

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