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Married to the Muse: Career Couples Share A Life in the Theatre

If Shakespeare was right and "All the world's a stage," perhaps that explains the fascination people have always had with couples in the entertainment industry. Newspapers follow the rise and fall of these relationships as closely as they do the rise and fall of the stock market. Plays and movies offer audiences the bantering and battling of over the top character couples, while the tabloids feature an unending array of dish and dirt. Beyond the stereotypes and the hype, Back Stage wondered what it's really like for a relationship trying to survive and thrive in this business. We've asked six diverse couples to tell us about their lives and to offer their recipes for what it takes to successfully share a life in the theatre.

Their Number One Priority Is Each Other

Although her current role on stage involves portraying one half of a lovably dysfunctional, dueling theatrical couple in "Kiss Me, Kate," Marin Mazzie, who has also appeared in "Passion" and "Into The Woods," is passionate about being happily married for over three years to Jason Danieley (currently appearing in "The Full Monty"). They first met in the Engarde Arts production of "The Trojan Women: A Love Story" and each remembers "we happened within the first week." Mazzie explains their quick closeness with "I was drowning him every night on stage in a hot tub," and Danieley offers, with a chuckle, "So we were bonded in trust."

On a more serious note, the couple feels they were actually quickly bonded by a shared belief that any relationship had to come first over the business. "We try not to let the business dictate our life," Danieley expresses candidly. "If we plan a vacation, we try to keep it. We're choosy about the jobs we do, rather than take a job just because it's there." Mazzie concurs, "Our number one priority is each other."

Initially in their relationship, they had to deal with being away due to work. (He was on the road in the Andrew Lloyd Webber concert production "Music Of The Night," then performing the title role in "Candide" on Broadway, while she was in Toronto for "Ragtime.") Mazzie feels they weathered the year they had to spend apart because they were "already fully committed to each other. We used the time to plan our wedding, and you make a lot of plane trips." On the subject of "shop talk" at home, both agreed they liked having a separate life from the theatre. "We only focus on theatre while we're at the theatre." Danieley stresses, with Mazzie adding, "We like to talk, but it's about our friends and our lives. Sometimes that's the people at the theatre, but sometimes it's not, and we're not at all into the latest gossip."

As with many of the couples Back Stage interviewed, they feel no competition, and are always rooting for each other to do well. Mazzie hopes for a baby in their future, and to have a house—although both love the city and point out that, when you live only 20 minutes from your job, it gives you more time to spend together at home. Home life is "key" for this couple, who believe having that foundation is the constant keeping their relationship strong.

Danieley explains, "Showbiz is your home, but whether you're with someone or not, you also need to have another home, a life that is happy and fulfilled, because you never know what the ups and downs will be in this business." Mazzie also believes this is important, adding, "I think the business can never really make you happy, because with show business you'll always want more."

Though happy in their separate careers, the couple enjoys spending time together performing in readings and concerts, trying to do these as a duo whenever they can (most recently sharing the stage at Carnegie Hall). They also look for projects to do together and hope to find more in the future.

One Day At A Time

Having just returned from the Philippines, where both were performing in "Miss Saigon," Will and Lori Chase, along with baby Daisy, now look forward to Dad joining the New York company. (He's played Chris on the U.S. Tour, on Broadway, and played in "Rent" on Broadway.) Lori Chase, having played Bomb in "Cats," and done commercials and stand-up comedy, confides that their newest production is another baby, due in July: "Big production. Lots of dancing nurses."

The couple met in 1994 doing a show in Chicago and married two years later. While Chase thought he'd marry someone in the business, his wife felt differently. "Before Will, I'd always dated 'normal' job guys, so when I realized I was in love with Will, I thought 'Oh no! Not an actor!' I envisioned myself having to wake up every morning with him staring in the mirror making faces like Jim Carrey." Now, she feels instead, "We work well together. We both take our work seriously, yet we like to joke around and have fun backstage. It was one of the reasons we got along so well in the beginning." Will Chase adds, "It's fun to go to work with the person you love and be on stage with them."

Some of the problems they've experienced include trying not to get involved when one spouse is having a show-related problem, no matter how protective you might want to be. Another tricky subject is dealing with leading men/ladies. Lori Chase observes candidly, "We both try not to let it affect ourselves personally, but it can be difficult to ignore. Will was playing opposite someone, and they were rehearsing a kiss for the first time. I was in the room with the rest of the cast and, after the kiss, she had to stop rehearsal because she couldn't catch her breath. She made this big deal out of what a great kisser Will was. I had to work very hard not to let that affect me too much." She also confides, "I was dancing with a short guy in a show, and my husband thought he saw the guy doing something inappropriate and almost decked the guy in the middle of the scene. This was all when we were dating and everything is live or die."

While they had to deal with road time apart before being married, now the family doesn't take work if they'll be separated. Lori Chase offers, "When we were both on the road, we would try not to go more than three weeks. Charlotte D'Amboise told me that was her rule, and it worked for me. After three weeks, I started to not remember things like what his teeth look like, and when we would see each other, it would take a couple of days before I felt comfortable again."

They were pleasantly surprised at how easy it was for them to have the baby along during this past tour, and are thankful for the great affordable domestic care they had. They also made sure the baby had things to do outside the hotel, getting access to grounds with a kiddie pool and park. While they haven't dealt as much with baby care in the states, Will Chase observes, "Most of the time at home, we take turns while each goes to work or auditions, or sometimes we take the baby to the audition and hope the casting director won't mind." Lori Chase adds, "One of my voice-over casting directors actually is disappointed if I don't bring Daisy. Unfortunately, we have no family in the area, so it's kind of tough. We've also worked out deals with friends who need a place to stay; instead of paying us rent, they help us with the baby."

The couple talks a lot at home about auditions and helps each other prepare, but Lori Chase observes, "When we're doing a show, we try not to talk about it too much, because we both want to get away from it a little." As well as other shared interests, the couple enjoys serving at church and praying together. They deal with career ups and downs "one day at a time."

Upon consideration, Will Chase feels that it can be difficult to be in the same business. "Because you think you should be having the same thing the other person has, and going at the same rate. When something great happens to the other person, you expect it to happen to you. Or one person makes something look so easy, but it's not so easy for you. He further counsels, "Always put your spouse and family first." Lori Chase adds, "That's not an easy task, but so important. It's easy to get caught up in a show, a role, or even a person you're working with. Let's face it, there are a lot of dynamic, talented, attractive people in this business we work closely and sometimes intimately with. Know your boundaries, and stick to them."

As a woman dealing with the career changes pregnancy brings she says, "I think it is sad when women avoid having a family because of this business. I remember reading in an acting book in college that it's best as an actress to not have any family ties. Since I've been married and had a baby, I think I'm a better person and a better actress. I have a wonderful support system when I come home every night, and it makes me feel rich to have my own family. The business, no matter how successful you are, will never give you those things. I may not get to take every job because I'm pregnant, or too big because I just had a baby, but at the end of the day, there are still jobs to be had, food on the table, a roof over our heads, and most importantly, a big picture perspective that keeps the business from becoming too overwhelming. Sure, you worry more about money, and insurance, but who doesn't? My corporate job friends do too."

Same Business, Different Careers

When Eddie Korbich first began performing in college, he was advised to be "married to your career; everything else is an affair." And, indeed, he has worked non-stop ever since, with credits that include "Seussical," "Taking a Chance on Love" (for which he won a 2000 Obie Award), the Lincoln Center "Carousel," "Assassins," "Eating Raoul," the York Theatre Company's revival of "Sweeney Todd," and the Vineyard Theatre's revival of "Flora, the Red Menace," not to mention stints providing multiple cartoon voices for the animated TV series "Doug" and "PB & J Otter."

Because of that initial advice, he spent many years feeling there was little hope of any relationship that he might enter into actually surviving. His mind changed, however, in 1992, when he met Andy Leech, after seeing him in a Theatreworks/USA performance. The timing turned out to be right for both, since Leech's career interests were already making a segue from acting to being a company manager, publicist, director, and, currently, teacher of musical theatre performance at AMDA. Korbich feels blessed to experience the best of both worlds, being married to someone who understands the performance life, while still having the separation of his partner being in a different area of the business. He candidly observes, "I've still got a lot of growing up to do. I think like an actor, and have an enormous ego. Andy has an enormous amount of patience and balance. If I was with another actor, there would be a lot of envy and jealousy."

The two dealt with road separations early on. Korbich remembers, "In the beginning, we didn't see each other at all. We talked on the phone, and would visit." Leech adds, "Later, when I began teaching, I felt so sorry for Eddie. When I would go to visit him, I had the time to be a tourist wherever he was, but when he came to visit me, it was to go to a campus and my classes." Korbich, however, is glad when he has the opportunity to watch Leech teach and has a great respect for his work. They both note that their success in the beginning as a long distance couple came because of their strong commitment to each other.

Korbich feels that owning a home together gives them an even stronger foundation. Leech advises that, just as you might save money, you must also learn to save time. "We know to hoard our time whenever we can—take vacations and work together on the house." Since their schedules can be very different, with one teaching by day and the other performing at night, they also try to spend mornings together watching videos of shows they miss while working, and sometimes meeting for dinners between matinee and evening shows.

While Korbich has great trust in Leech's observations, he admires that his partner respects the relationship he has with each director and is never an armchair director. "We do have one unspoken rule about too much shop talk, because I am a bottomless pit," Korbich concedes. "I won't stop asking 'what did you think of this?' "

Leech amusedly concurs, saying that he tries to steer conversations away from hearing about show specifics. "Sometimes I like to just see the show. Eddie will often say, while he's in rehearsals, 'Can I just tell you this one thing.' We don't talk about the acting process, but I do talk about my students a lot."

Because being a performer can also involve doing benefits, Leech has developed a plan for when he finds himself alone at functions where Korbich has to be off doing photo ops, etc. "Sometimes I try to take a friend with me, or I'll get to know the other people who are there in the same situation."

These two are especially excited about the newest bond they are forging together—becoming adoptive parents. As they await the arrival of the newest member of their home, Leech welcomes the prospect of being a stay-at-home dad. Their plan is one they've seen be successful for many of their friends and neighbors. For the first three or four years, he will spend most of the time at home, while also eventually using a nanny, so he can teach two or three days a week. Leech feels he has the best of both worlds. "As a kid, my parents raised me to love the arts, but not to want to have a job in them. I just don't have that drive. I do get to have a vicarious thrill from what Eddie does, and then, as a teacher, can especially respect his talent."

It's All In The Family

Newlyweds Rebecca Luker and Danny Burstein (they tied the knot this past June) first became friends when both performed in a workshop of "Harmony" at San Diego's Old Globe Theatre in 1996. Their priorities are "each other, the kids (Burstein shares custody of his two sons from his first marriage), and our home." This dad takes his father role very seriously, and has it written into his contract (currently as standby for Lonny Price in "A Class Act") that, instead of having to be physically at the theatre, he can be available on beeper for the days he gets to spend with the kids.

"You have two families when you're in the theatre," he observes. "So when you bring your kids along backstage, theatre people are very understanding and helpful—it takes a village." Luker adds, "We're all in this together and it's worth it. It's hard when you're doing eight shows a week, but having kids in your life is an advantage. Family is everything."

They try to carve time out of their crowded schedules to enjoy being a couple, and still have "dates." They also support each other by "being each other's acting coach." And Luker stresses that her husband has helped her to change attitudes about the ups and downs of the business. "When you get rejected, it's great to have Danny there to tell me, 'It's just one step along the journey.' Five years ago, bad reviews would've upset me. Danny has a good effect on me; now they don't matter as much." Burstein also feels it's important to appreciate what you've got. "We've both been lucky and we know it. The down times have been few." While it had never occurred to him before he met Luker to have a relationship with someone in the business, it was her positive attitude—even in a sometimes less than positive business—that attracted him. "She's the happiest-in-heart person I know."

Both have busy careers. Burstein's credits include "Titanic," being a member of the National Actors Theatre, and TV commercials. Luker has played leading roles on Broadway in "The Secret Garden," "The Sound Of Music," and the current revival of "The Music Man." She is also a jingle singer and recording artist, whose releases include the "Aria" series for Profile records. But the couple has made a conscious decision to take very little road work. "We decided we don't want to be apart," Luker stresses, adding, " We don't like to go more than two weeks." They sing together for benefits and holiday concerts and wish their schedules allowed more time for performing together. They recently recorded a duet on a CD, and look forward to finding more of those opportunities.

Family Matters

Christmas season is a moving time of year for singer, dancer, and playwright Andrea Frierson-Toney (her Broadway appearances include "Marie Christine," "The Me Nobody Knows," and "Once On This Island"), and for actor and screenwriter David Toney (his credits include Pearl Theatre's "Richard The Third" and Julie Taymor's "Juan Darien"—also featuring his wife—as well as writing film scripts and the hit TV series "In Living Color"). They were married 11 years ago at Christmas, eight weeks after they first met doing the workshop of "Once On This Island."

Husband and wife believe strongly in making the commitment to evolve together, working every day on the growth of both their marriage and themselves. Toney offers, "Being in this business is about heart. Auditions can get the crap beat out of us and there are a lot of half-truths. You should be able to get the truth at home, but it's honesty with respect and love. If a person is growing, you make a decision to let them grow and to stay interested in each other's changing interests. We talk about how we're feeling; we listen even when it's tough love and hard to hear. We have a vested interest in each other, and we're on each other's side. The benefits are astronomical."

Early in his marriage, while away with "Kiss Of the Spider Woman," Toney realized away was not where he wanted to be. "I got married because I wanted to see her every day. I found myself talking to strangers, and I'd start crying because I missed her." The couple's focus is also on the shared parenting of son Adam, who was eight when they met. While Adam is Frierson-Toney's son from a first marriage, he and David Toney bonded immediately. Toney proudly shares, "Five minutes after we got married, he started calling me 'Dad.' " The couple's career choices have been strongly based on their son's well being.

This is evident in the first choice the couple had to make, involving "Once on This Island" as it moved from workshop to production. After realizing they'd have to spend as much on childcare as they'd be getting from his salary, Toney decided he would take care of Adam while his wife continued with the show. He has absolutely no regrets. "Family is the first priority; when we got married, we decided that. It motivates me to do better." Frierson-Toney explains, "Adam is an enormous source of joy for us both. We've managed to keep him in private school and he is now at an Ivy League college. [Interested in performing, Adam is taking a music and computer focus at Brown.] We worked a lot to achieve that and took jobs we weren't always artistically into." They also moved from the city to be closer to his school in Brooklyn Heights. While the couple may have had less free time by constantly working, Frierson-Toney adds that some of their most treasured moments were attending Adam's school plays together.

The two also support each other as writers—Toney feels it was his wife who gave him the confidence to write for "In Living Color." "We've taken enormous risks for each other. At a low money time, we went to California so I could be an intern on the show at $500 a week, while we had a $1,000 a month rent to pay at home." The risks appear to have paid off. Currently, he has a film script in L.A., and she has a festival-winning play-with-music called "Lady Be Good," which had a reading workshop at Lincoln Center Theatre's New Professional Writers Festival 2000.

The couple is now looking ahead to life with a college-age son. They happily anticipate having the time to date and discover each other, something they didn't have when they married quickly and had immediate family responsibilities. David Toney, in summing up the choices he and his wife have made, confides, "If life is a game, I feel I've already won."

Having The Dream Job

For actor, comedy writer/playwright, and commercial performer Robb Pruitt (he recently appeared at the Helen Hayes Theatre trading impressions with Rich Little in "The Presidents," and his diverse spots include, Cracker Barrel, and his son's favorite, playing the blue M&M), " My main career focus is to support my family versus fame. Ten years ago, my dream job was getting my own sitcom. Now, it's getting the kids ready for school and being home to cook for them." Now that wife, actress and singer Joan Crowe (she's had a reoccurring role for the past six years as a reporter on "All My Children" and has also appeared in musicals, industrials, and commercials), has returned to performing and is developing a following as a MAC-nominated cabaret performer, he is enjoying increased dad duty with eight-year-old Robbie and four-year-old Marie.

Pruitt says, "Cabaret gave me this real opportunity. It was perfect timing, just as I was craving to spend more time with the kids, and I love to hear my wife sing." The couple, who both attended Florida State grad school but at different times, met 11 years ago while producing "The Florida Project" (performance showcases for alumni done at various venues), and have been married nine years. Deciding to have a baby right away, they haven't had to deal with long separations, since commercial shoots tend not to be lengthy and the family has traveled on jobs together. Pruitt, who also has done stand-up and appeared Off Broadway in "Only Kidding," enjoys theatre (he has written and produced two plays in NYC and L.A.), but finds it rough versus his commercial work. When he had a production company, he found little time for both projects and family.

"Theatre is a lot of work for lower pay. I like being able to also have my life. I can call my commercial agents and ask them to book me out for the day when I want to be with the kids. We used to also go out and do pilot season, but we found ourselves wondering what we'd really do if I got the job."

While they don't have set household rules, Dad tends to get Robbie ready while Mom works with younger Marie. One of the reasons why Crowe decided to go back to performing was that she wanted her daughter to see that you can have both a family and a career. NYC cabaret hours for this commuting suburban mom can begin late in the afternoon and go through the evening. And when she isn't performing on the NYC cabaret circuit (she'll be at the Emelin Theatre on March 31st, and also performs at the Cinegrill and the Cabaret Convention), she is out at others' shows trying to see, support, and learn as much as possible. Dad auditions during the day while the kids are at school, and they take each day as it comes. They try to be very aware of how the kids are doing in school and how they're taking the hours Mom or Dad spend on career, cutting back when they see signs of "burnout." When dinners at home have only one parent, they try for something the kids like (pizza or a restaurant). Otherwise, Crowe shops for the groceries and cleans up, while Pruitt is the family chef.

The entire family is each other's support system and serves as Crowe's first ear for her music. Robb Pruitt also uses his wife as a sounding board for his comedy projects, including the upcoming "Billy and Bobby," now in development with NBC. This happy dad adds, "This is a lifestyle choice, and I've got my dream job."

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