Wittenberg Magazine P.O. Box 720 Springfield, Ohio 45501-0720
Phone: (937) 327-6141 Fax: (937) 327-6112
Curtain Callingsby Melanie Stevens '97, and Karen Gerboth, '93
James Rebhorn, ’70, looks rugged in his blue jeans, silver belt buckle and rose-colored brushed-cotton shirt as he saunters out on the Chakeres stage. Not at all the South Orange, N.J. native-turned-Hollywood star someone might expect.
But then Rebhorn doesn’t pretend to be a Redford or Eastwood. Comfortable and at ease, he shoots a familiar, casual glance toward his tall, lanky co-star Catherine Cox, ’72. She returns his gaze before fidgeting with her chair.
Clad in black stretch pants, a long black jacket and looking like a young Carol Burnett, Cox briefly chats with Rebhorn about the set. A stagehand then runs back in search of another chair. Props now in place, the lights soon dim.
“We’re ready for the actors,” the stage manager says. The rehearsal begins, and two of Wittenberg’s finest in the arts and entertainment industry strut their stuff before handfuls of stargazers.
The two would later bring laughter and tears to a packed Chakeres Theatre during their double performances of A.R. Gurney’s Love Letters, Feb. 1.
Although the two have traveled in similar circles since graduating from Wittenberg, the event marked only the second time in history that Rebhorn and Cox have performed together, the first being in 1969 when the duo starred in Edward Albee’s Everything in the Garden at the Blair Hall Theater.
Despite the years, performing still comes as naturally as breathing for Cox and Rebhorn, both of whom have found fame in a field known for casting aside wanna-bes like laundry lint.
While Cox has won awards for her performances in such Broadway musicals as Baby and Oh Coward and has appeared on such TV hits as “The Cosby Show” and “Guiding Light,” Rebhorn has battled aliens in Independence Day, crossed paths with Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman and sent Seinfeld to the slammer in the show’s final episode.
Motivated by the theater’s ability to affect others, Rebhorn has made a career of what he sees as contributing his “meager skills” to the acting craft.
“I like feeling relatively free to go into a McDonalds or Home Depot without being swamped,” Rebhorn says of his third-banana recognizability. Being less interrupted at dinners in public with his wife and two daughters is also a plus, he says.
“My family is generously supportive,” he notes. “I have an erratic and unpredictable work schedule, so it’s hard to nail down time to be together.”
Although Rebhorn enjoys his supporting roles both on-stage and on-screen, he would like to play characters with more substance some day — people whose lives and psyches he can dig into and explore.
I appreciate any job as I get older,” he notes, “but many characters are often one-dimensional and flat. I like crawling into the skin [of a character], and I want to play more roles with meat and substance.”
In the meantime, the man who once considered being a minister remains active in his church, serving on the council and once directing a religious drama. “My own faith in God has sustained me,” he notes, “as has the love of my family.”
Like Rebhorn, Cox also has found a balance in the roller-coaster world of entertainment.
“I feel my biggest success story is juggling my career with my family,” she says, noting that the late nights, low pay and physical demand of live theatre, particularly on the road, all but preclude a person from a personal life.
A self-professed workaholic, Cox temporarily “hung up her sneakers and funny hat” to be with her two boys.“Acting, like any job, should embellish your life, not be it,” she says.
“Young actors often get so wound up in getting jobs that they’re not interesting people, and it’s important for [them] to have life experiences.”
During her much needed respite, Cox worked on short-term theatrical projects, voice-overs and an at-home computer project.
Afforded both quality and quantity time with her children, she returned to Broadway after a five-year hiatus to play “Ethel,” a mom in the musical Footloose, this past fall.“I think of myself as fortunate,” she says.
“My kids motivate me, and I’ve never been bored. [Acting] keeps me alive, and it keeps me young.”
On-stage and off, in front of and behind the camera, more than 20 other Wittenberg graduates are also forging careers in the arts and entertainment industry while managing to keep their priorities in check.
As actors, critics, producers, directors, prop masters, composers, costume designers and gang bosses, they are shaping modern film, theatre, television and radio for generations to come.
ON-SCREEN AND ON-STAGE
Similar to Cox, Deidre Westervelt (Meehan), ’65, has used her vocal talent to establish what has become a long-term acting career in voice-overs, promotions and narrations for television, film and radio.
“I remember I didn’t even know what a voice-over was when I was 23,” says Westervelt, whose vocal talent was first recognized during a play in Boston.
By combining her theatrical training and quick sense of timing with a voice described as warm, comforting and sometimes sexy, Westervelt has done promotional spots for “Donahue” and the Discovery Channel’s “Animal Planet,” as well as numerous television and radio commercials for such products as Caltrate, Just Five for Hair Color and GTE Wireless Telephone.
Last spring, Westervelt did the first female voice-over for a Wall Street Journal commercial and has appeared in the “Cosby Mysteries.” She also starred as Andy’s mom, “Mrs. Richter,” on “The Conan O’Brien Show.”
“I really love what I do,” she says. “It affords me a great quality of life and the opportunity to meet lots of interesting people.”
Never regretting her decision to leave the theatre for her daughter, Westervelt notes that it may be “a highly competitive and age-conscious business but no day is ever the same.”
Leonard Lightfoot, ’72, whose extensive television credits include “Seinfeld,” “Pretender,” “Quantum Leap” and several recurring roles (“Murder She Wrote,” “Hill St. Blues,” “Silver Spoons” and “The Jeffersons”), also took time off to be with his son.
“I’m not my job,” he says. “It took me a while to learn that, but I’m first a husband and a father.” Surviving the suicide of his own father at age 13, Lightfoot has traveled a long and volatile road to the prosperity he appreciates today.
A gun-carrying “roughneck musician” at Wittenberg, Lightfoot thinks that his “spiritual quest, the learning to believe in God” that now sustains him personally and professionally, began at Wittenberg.
“Other schools probably would have let me slip through the cracks,” he notes, “but Wittenberg let me be who I needed to be and then I learned from it.”
In and out of “institutions” at a young age, Lightfoot yearned to be accepted. The stage seemed to fulfill that need.
As time passed, his desire to entertain grew and eventually drove him and his wife, Nancy Lynn, ’73, to “the small acting town” of Los Angeles, where he initially worked on stage with the Old Globe Theater in San Diego and later in television, playing cops and detectives.
Although he still enjoys the accolades that come with his work — as well as running into Tyra Banks or Clint Eastwood on an early morning run — Lightfoot now strives for projects with a positive message.
“I want my son to be able to get something (positive) out of what I do,” he says. “I might play a sleezeball and get killed off, but as long as the work has a redeeming value, that’s OK.”
For now Lightfoot is busy coaching Little League, collecting American Indian artifacts and writing a few screenplays. In the future, he would like to originate an on-stage role.
“There’s a rhythm and a timing to this [life],” he says, “and I’m prepared to do like Joseph Campbell says: ‘Follow thy bliss.’”
As CEO of the successful Hollywood digital recording company, GKS Entertainment, which he and two others, including Glenn Scarpelli, the child-actor star from “One Day at a Time,” founded two years ago, Kluge is financially free to be more selective in the roles he accepts.
Having appeared in numerous theatre, film and television productions, as well as in 50-plus commercials, Kluge took a “breathing moment” from his life’s calling to pursue a master’s in theology.
During his study, he reaffirmed his love for acting and found a financial way to sustain it.“I love the human condition,” he says. “Film, TV and theatre, I believe, can be a powerful form for portraying that [condition]—the psychological and spiritual sides of a person.
I love to understand a character and portray [him] faithfully and accurately.”
Encouraged by the success of Catherine Cox, whom he and Corwin Georges, professor of theatre and dance, visited backstage during Cox’s performance of Barnum, Kluge first entered the acting arena in middle school, when he performed an entire play solo for his parents at supper.
“It’s just in me. I don’t think I’d be happy pursuing anything else,” he notes. In addition to landing a sitcom role, Kluge hopes to produce a feature film or television show in the future.
Last summer he had the opportunity, as actor and CEO, to produce a bonus pack to the popular “Starfleet Academy,” an interactive CD-ROM game by Interplay Productions.
Interestingly, the cast recorded in the same studio once used by Frank Sinatra and Aretha Franklin. New York actress Tiffany Marshall (Bazewicz), ’89, followed a less conventional route into show business.
Junior high detention and boys, she kids, are what sparked her love for the stage. A self-professed goody-two-shoes while growing up, Marshall, who has originated a number of roles for New York theatre, including one in Tibet Does Not Exist, received detention for talking in social studies.
The on-duty music teacher then coerced Marshall and the other detainees into auditioning for Fiddler on the Roof. “Everyone had to audition unless they wanted more detention,” Marshall explains. “I was the only [one] who got a part.”
The leading actor, her “soon-to-be boyfriend,” taught Marshall how to sing, and her love for musical theatre continued until college, where, because of a boy, she became interested in “traditional” theatre.
“There’s always a guy wrapped into it for me somehow,” she jokes.
A resident of the old Firestine Hall during her time at Wittenberg, Marshall remembers taking an evening stroll — to avoid parties and remain true to her high-school sweetheart — when she noticed open auditions at Blair Theatre.
She auditioned and was cast, which started her unexpected professional career in acting.“My dad later gave me the best advice he’s ever given me,” she notes of another male influence. “He told me to go to New York while I was young.”
Marshall applied to a “longshot” theatre program in New York, called Circle in the Square, and was accepted.
Since then Marshall has worked in New York and regional theatre, including Lincoln Center, Theater for Human Rights, Playwrights Theatre of New Jersey and Peterborough Players.
She has also done some commercial and voice-over work, which she would like to continue so she can replace her current day job at Chile Today Hot Tomale.
“Having a life outside your ‘career’ and surrounding yourself with good family, friends and a great husband is key to remaining positive,” she says. “Bankers, lawyers, no one deals with the amount of rejection that actors do.
You really have to believe in what you’re doing.”
BEHIND THE SCENES
Other Wittenberg alumni never thought they would find themselves near a production studio. Michele Imperato-Stabile, ’80, and her brother, Thomas Imperato, ’82, actually followed their “teamster” uncle into film production.
Although both siblings enjoyed the movies and the sight of Patty Duke’s car outside their home, neither planned to work in show business after Wittenberg.
“I was the last to get in the business,” says Imperato-Stabile, who chartered marine insurance before starting as a production assistant in New York.
With her family’s affinity for “juggling a million things at once,” the coproducer/production manager now primarily works on $30- to $100-million feature films, the most recent being Primary Colors, G.I. Jane, Birdcage, I.Q., Wolf, Honeymoon in Vegas and Regarding Henry.
“I’m not really starstruck,” she says. “I like the challenge, the speed, of getting things done. You use all of your talents to cultivate [a project] into one thing, and for me I hit the jackpot.”
Younger brother “Tommy,” once a junior executive at Macy’s, entered film production from the accounting side.
Like his sister, he also has worked on a number of films, including The Silence of the Lambs, Working Girl, BIG, Moonstruck and Desperately Seeking Susan. In addition, he has worked as the production supervisor on Philadelphia, the associate producer on Devil in a Blue Dress and co-produced First Wives Club.
“I became the vice president of production for 20th Century Fox to have the best of both worlds — to be in film while having a family life with my wife and two young children,” says Thomas Imperato, whose wife, Anne Babcheck, graduated from Wittenberg in 1984.
An admitted “C” student at Wittenberg, Thomas tells surprised college-mates that he simply learned what he loved — that and the fact that he “worked his [tail] off.” He hopes to produce a romantic comedy some day.
Then there’s Andrew Wedemeyer, ’87, who also entered the movie and television business through the back door.
A propmaker gang boss on such films as Get Shorty, Species, Devil in a Blue Dress, Speed and Addam’s Family Values and a propmaker on such films as Basic Instinct, The Doors and the new release The Deep End of the Ocean, Wedemeyer started off as a carpenter. “It’s a time-intensive job, but it’s creative and has a lot of variety,” he says.
Wedemeyer first displayed his carpentry talents in Wittenberg’s theatre department while working on its sets through a work-study program. After graduating from Wittenberg, Wedemeyer landed a job on the set of Johnny Handsome.
It was his first film work as a carpenter. Although he admits being occasionally starstruck, Wedemeyer has managed to stay grounded both professionally and personally. “I’ve been fortunate,” he says.
“I’ve learned that even though it’s a big industry, it’s a pretty small business. So whatever you do, you’ve got to do it well. Word gets out.”
Despite having to juggle their time, he and his wife, Jennie Guthrie, a set decorator and college instructor who used to teach speech and theatre design at Wittenberg in the mid-1980s, are now in the business of rearing their 4-year-old daughter, Megan.
Claire Mark, ’95, also knows a thing or two about props. The propmaster for films and television shows, including the “Chris Rock Show” on HBO, Mark has worked on feature films, commercials and music videos.
Initially, the Illinois resident started as a production assistant on the film Fall but found her way into the art department, where she learned the craft of prop-making hands-on.
Two By Four, a film about a group of Irish construction workers that won the 1997 Sundance Film Festival’s award for best cinematography, was Mark’s first project as propmaster.
“The life is work-intense but full of variety and crazy people,” she says. “You have to have a lot of energy and be on 100 percent of the time.”
In addition to spending 10-to-12-hour days making the set happen, Mark also creates computer graphics through her work on the “Chris Rock Show.”
She humorously recalls one of her “text bubbles,” designed for a spoof on VH1’s “Pop Up Video,” being shown on “Entertainment Tonight.”
Involved with theatre since the age 8, Mark notes that she is drawn to the familial bonds that often form among the cast and crew members.
Although “acting is in [her] heart,” it is behind the scenes where she finds this “family sense” on film productions.
Timothy Jebsen, ’89, the executive director of the Midland Community Theater in Texas, and Lynnette Guttmann, ’79, the director of theatre education at the Beck Center for the Cultural Arts in Cleveland, Ohio, seem to agree with Mark.
Married to an actress and initially motivated by his theatre-major peers at Wittenberg, Jebsen loves being a part of a large theatre family where he can watch everyday people perform as professionally as full-time actors.
Despite the sometimes 60-to-80-hour weeks, Jebsen notes that contributing to the process and working with others toward one goal serves as his reward.
In love with the constant variety, such as paying the bills in the morning and directing a play at night, Jebsen is also encouraged by Midland’s educational program.
“There is such diversity that we’re now reaching out and using theatre as a tool,” he says with excitement, adding that “no matter if you’re three or 93, theatre can touch you in a very special way.”
Similarly, Guttman, who directs the oldest continuously run children’s theatre program in the United States, believes theatre can help “you find who you are and what you can be.”
With a background in voice and music, Guttman also notes that it can “let you live a fuller, more interesting kind of life,” to which her voice-over and acting work in comedy, TV and film attest.
Like most actors, though, Guttmann has also had her fair share of non-theatre work while pursuing her love of acting and singing. In addition to being the current senior sales director for Mary Kay Cosmetics, Guttmann once worked as a paralegal.
“You have to remain positive,” she said. “If you’re really doing your job, you’ll change other people’s ways of looking at things.”
Similar to Guttmann and countless others, Deena Rayokovich, ’95, is tenaciously pursuing her passion with self-confidence and humor.
Living in New York City, Rayokovich currently works as the assistant manager at a gift shop during the daytime, so she can hustle to auditions as often as possible. “It’s certainly helped me learn the subway system,” she jokes.
The pre-med.-turned-theatre major initially worked in musical and children’s theatre but has since moved into mainstage.
Rayokovich has found the fast-paced, star-filled streets exciting. Learning the business side of acting, she notes, has been motivational as well. “There’s a lot of competition, and it can be tough and draining, but you gotta do what you love.
If I have to eat macaroni and cheese for a month to do a show, then I’m gonna do it.” The craziness of living in New York also seems to motivate Indira Gibson, ’95. “I just acclimated to this city way too quickly,” she says.
Whether finding the street outside her apartment transformed into a movie set or working with the writer of the theatre production Hair, Gibson enjoys the unpredicatibility.
“You really have the opportunity to do anything in New York,” the former Wittenberg alma mater observes.
Since moving to New York from Cincinnati a few years ago, Gibson, who knew she wanted to act after she saw The Wiz, has worked consistently as an actress while holding down a day job at a non-profit organization for the homeless.
In addition to Hair, Gibson’s New York theatre credits include Ain’t Misbehavin’ and The Legacy. The singer in a local band (whose lead singer wrote for the Grateful Dead), she has also worked in a number of industrial films and commercials.
She hopes to break into film and television one day. Overall, Gibson and other Wittenberg alumni in the arts and entertainment industry have found their experiences to be positive.
“You meet so many interesting people, and your ‘friendscope’ just broadens and grows,” Gibson says. “It’s just so much fun.”
Wittenberg Magazine P.O. Box 720 Springfield, Ohio 45501-0720
Phone: (937) 327-6141 Fax: (937) 327-6112