Off the Map - Performers in it for the long haul, find that their planned paths are rarely the real roads they take.

For seven years, she made teenage boys' hearts throb as Karen Foster on Step by Step, where she survived the vicissitudes of a blended family with great humor and a good deal of sexiness. But her real family life turned out to be much more of an ordeal. Through the years of Step by Step, Angela Watson thought she was securing a future with some two million dollars in earnings-then learned to her horror that the money was gone. She was shocked and deeply hurt by the betrayal of her parents, whom she believes stole and squandered the money she worked so diligently to amass.

Many former child stars find themselves in this crisis situation, and many turn to despair, drugs, and alcohol. Watson, though humiliated and devastated, refused to allow herself to live as a victim. Instead, she dedicated herself to regaining her savings through more hard work. Moreover, she was determined to ensure that no more child actors should go through this hell. Although there were laws supposedly protecting child actors from avaricious caretakers, the laws were weak and written so long ago that they did not take into account the large sums of money earned by television actors.

So Watson has formed the not-for-profit CAST (Child Actors Supporting Themselves) Foundation. She explained, "Our goal is to provide funds for child actors when they learn that their parents have stolen all of their money, and they have no way to pay for lawyers or investigators or accountants to figure it out. I have been going to Sacramento, where I spoke before the Assembly and the Senate. We are working to improve the law and protect every child actor, especially the ones who are regulars on a series. When your earning goes higher, more money should be put aside, but that's not the way the law is."

The results of Watson's efforts are paying off. Today the income from child actors no longer goes to parents without regulated court accountings. Watson has turned her attention to Washington, D.C., to create a federal law providing for investigating and prosecuting parents and others who defraud actors.

After taking time to find herself and form the foundation, Watson is back at work. She has developed a singing career with the country/rock band American Made, with whom she tours whenever she can. She is busy with voiceovers and her own production company. But currently she is taking a big risk by putting herself in a much scarier arena: live stage. Watson had heard a great deal about the fine work taking place in the Inland Empire at Performance Riverside. Executive director and producer Steve Glaudini impressed her greatly and she was anxious to perform in a big Broadway-style musical. He invited her to join the cast of the company's How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and she leapt at the chance. The result is a remarkable debut as a singer/dancer/actor and one which is certain to change the tenor of Watson's career.

Glaudini wasn't surprised that his stage discovery did so well, but he was very gratified. He recalled, "I have been in the business a long time and haven't seen anyone so committed. She was off-book by the first rehearsal-she was so sweet, not at all a TV diva. She also grew immensely in two weeks of rehearsal. She sat around and watched everyone from ensemble to leads. She saw that theatre needed a different approach. She worked hard, then when we did our first photo shoot, she put on the wig and saw herself as Rosemary. That night in the rehearsal, she was there!"

The musical is a wild comic romp with larger-than-life characters. Watson enjoys the largeness, but is happy that her character-a young woman in love with a rising executive-is not as crazy as some in the show. She explained, "Rosemary is the least cartoony, the most down to earth. She doesn't have to be over-the-top. Still, it is definitely different than television acting, where the camera is right on you and it is all about you. What I found out about stage is that there is such a camaraderie between the actors. Everyone has been so supportive and so warm and friendly and competitive and fun, it has been such a great experience."

Currently, Watson is comparing offers for television and may soon appear in another series. Her top choice now would be a drama, but in her new life as an independent, strong young woman, she is keeping her options wide open. She also remains highly committed to her foundation and would welcome any help from the acting community: CAST Foundation, P.O. Box 444, Hollywood, CA 90078.

When a Career Ripens

Long before Angela Watson's childhood acting career took off, Jeanie Drynan was a young artist in Australia aching to become the world's greatest Shakespearean actress. After a stint at Australia's equivalent to RADA, she sailed off to England determined to put her plans to work and star on the London stage. Drynan laughs now at the career in London that never was: "I spent time in England chasing dreams that didn't actually happen. What did happen in London was that I was the best waitress there ever was. I went home to Australia in 1977, because I knew I could work there. I did several television series."

It was upon her return to Australia that she met her husband, Antony Bowman, a film director. Together they forged a solid family life with duo film careers in Australia. At that time, while the Australian film world was coming to life with the likes of Peter Weir and Mel Gibson, there was still the urge to make it in Hollywood. So off the couple went to create American careers. "We came to Hollywood so Antony could play with the big boys. I have done three films with him, which was great fun actually." Most recently the couple worked on Paperback Hero, which is searching for distribution.

When they first arrived in Hollywood, there was a bit of a struggle. "I realized it was going to be difficult for me, a woman of a certain age, a woman of a certain weight, a woman of a certain voice," said Drynan. What she needed was one good role to really bring her to the attention of power brokers. The role came, but not in the United States. Her native Australia once again proved to be her best career choice as she accepted the role of the mother in Muriel's Wedding, for which she was nominated by AFI as Best Supporting Actress. The popularity of the film did indeed bring her great attention and she began to work consistently in both America and Australia.

Now there is another role that is destined to once again bring Drynan into the spotlight: Fox Searchlight Pictures' new film Soft Fruit, a comic family drama about an aging and ill Australian mother, Patsy, played by Drynan. Drynan is extremely proud of the work. She is also a bit frightened by the fact that she allowed herself to be seen in such a vulnerable, non-glamourous way. "It's been a major thing in my life. I got wonderful reviews in Australia and New York. I have become the queen of film festivals. It's fantastic and I am so grateful. This is me in a raw stage, sans makeup, sans everything.

"It's a very powerful piece about a mother dying of cancer. The whole family comes to be with her. It's so funny. The family arrives and there is sibling rivalry; kids dealing with their own grief. One says to Mom, "You're off in Lalaland having a wonderful time on the morphine and laughing.' It's true, she's facing death in her own way. People are laughing, the next minute they realize it is sad. That's the best of comedy, when you can leave them like that."

Ultimately, Drynan is ready to be seen in such a frowzy state. "When I was young, I am sure I was cast for what I looked like as opposed to whether I was a good actress. Now I look up there and wonder, Is that really me? You have to wear it and smile and live within your skin. You meet so many people struggling for the break, so many lovely young actors who are desperate to get that scene up on the screen so people can see them. In a way, this is the same for me. In the film, I am absolutely raw to the bone. It is the best screen test I can do."

For most of the last decade Drynan has been living in Los Angeles. She has been quite impressed with the tremendous local theatre scene. "There's a lady called Joan Tewkesbury, who wrote Nashville for Bob Altman," said Drynan. "She wrote a piece for Frances Fisher, who did it as a one-woman show at the Edinburgh Festival. It is about what happens after the actress comes off stage, having played Hedda Gabler. Now Joan is writing another role in the piece for me. Hopefully, we will bring it to the stage in L.A. Something we could easily bring to the Taper or Geffen."

Meanwhile, Drynan continues to help push Soft Fruit and prepare for her next film with her husband, My Garden of Eden, which will take her back to London-this time with no tables to wait on. BSW