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O.C. Theater : Shakespeare O.C. Loses a Key Player

October 07, 1994|JAN HERMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In the wake of Shakespeare Orange County's most successful season, which artistic director Thomas F. Bradac characterized as "a turning point for us," the troupe has lost a key founding member.

"I've left the company, both as a producer and as an actor," Kamella Tate said Thursday. "I'm burned out."

Tate, 33, said her departure was also prompted by a desire to be "more of a maverick," that she wants to break out of the middle-of-the-road orthodoxy that tends to dominate regional theaters here and elsewhere. "My own interests are getting less and less conventional," she said.

Bradac and Tate both said the parting was amicable.

"She did great work for us," he noted. "She's an extremely talented actress, plus she's moving into producing and directing. She brings enormous tenacity, energy and lots of ideas to everything she does."

Tate's versatility on stage and off made her a mainstay of SOC, the county's only professional classical troupe. During the past three seasons she played Regan in "King Lear," Viola in "Twelfth Night," Hermione in "The Winter's Tale" and Casca in "Julius Caesar." Perhaps her most memorable SOC role, however, was Boracchio in "Much Ado About Nothing," portrayed with deft comic skill as a gender-crossed villain.

The slim, red-haired actress also has played on the Mainstage at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa where she was Bridget, the crazy stage manager in Alan Ayckbourn's "A Chorus of Disapproval," and Karen, the powerful Hollywood secretary in David Mamet's "Speed-the-Plow."

"You can see from looking at my resume that I've done a lot of good, conventional regional theater," said Tate, who trained at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco and made her professional debut at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. "But there are a lot of people doing that out there."

While not dismissing her stage work, she said she wants to "craft a life in the theater" that goes beyond performance. One of her "immense satisfactions" at SOC, she said, came from organizing and implementing two educational programs with student interns from Chapman University. (SOC productions run at the Waltmar Theatre on the Chapman campus in Orange.)

One program was designed to give the interns practical experience in the theater, largely in technical capacities but also as performers. "Tom (Bradac) has always used interns," Tate said. "But this summer they were actually paid. They really dug in and amazed me."

The other program, conducted last spring, reached out to the surrounding community as a teaching tool in local high schools. "I created an SOC touring program with 10 advanced Chapman students. We hoped to get to 400 kids in the schools and we ended up getting 1,000."

The touring program involved an hourlong presentation using short stories and plays (Thornton Wilder's "Our Town," Elmer Rice's "Street Scene"). Excerpts were arranged "around themes high-schoolers could relate to," Tate said, "like falling in love or falling out of love."

Her departure from SOC marks the second time a founding member has left the 3-year-old company. Elizabeth Norment left quietly after the inaugural season. The other founding artists--Carl Reggiardo, Daniel Bryan Cartmell, Michael Nehring and Bradac--have worked consistently as actors and/or directors in SOC productions.

Bradac said he would hire a production coordinator this winter to fill the large vacuum left by Tate.

He takes her departure philosophically.

"These things usually go in cycles, often in three-year cycles," he said. "It's not just burnout. The thinking is, 'I've done this. Now I have to get on with my life.' When I worked with Lee Shallat and Kristoffer Tabori at the Grove (Shakespeare Festival in Garden Grove), it was about three years for each. It was the same thing with Wayne Alexander."

Shallat and Tabori both went on to lucrative careers in television. Alexander since has resumed working for Bradac at SOC where he has been an active leading player.

Tate, who also starred at the Grove as Roxanne in "Cyrano de Bergerac" and Isabella in "Measure for Measure," said she hopes to continue developing educational programs under other sponsors, and that she recently began a pilot presentation, called "Teaching Theater," for the Garden Grove Unified School District.

Ironically, despite her maverick intentions, she still has to make a living as an actor in middle-of-the-road productions. At the end of the month she leaves for Colorado to begin rehearsals for her latest role: Mrs. Cratchit, Tiny Tim's mother, in an adaptation of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" at the Denver Center Theatre.

But she'll be back in January, she said, to teach an "unconventional conservatory-style course" at Chapman University in speech and text analysis.

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