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Performing Art
Arts and Entertainment Wednesday, Apr. 21, 2010 7 years ago

The stage dame

by: Heidi Kurpiela Contributing Writer

If you check out the Asolo Repertory Theatre Web site and nose around the staff listings for information on Marian Wallace, you’ll find a four-sentence bio that reveals everything and nothing at once.

You’ll learn that Wallace has been married to actor Brad Wallace for 44 years; she purchased her home twice; has driven the same Dodge van for three decades; and, after 41 years with the Asolo Rep, retired Sunday night following the final performance of “Managing Maxine.”

With that kind of seniority, you might expect a longer bio, but that’s not Wallace’s style. In spite of her long theater career, she’s not dramatic.

Seated in a backstage rehearsal studio five days before her final production, Wallace, 65, is as buoyant as a high school senior the week before graduation.

“I’m looking forward to spending the spring outdoors,” she says. “This was the greatest job in the world, but everything has to end.”

A native of Toledo, Ohio, Wallace originally wanted to be an actress, but her focus quickly turned to technical theater when she realized she was better suited for backstage work. In 1968, she joined the Asolo staff — seven years after her husband joined the company as a resident actor, a job he held until 2008.

She started in the theater’s box office and was soon offered an assistant stage-management position. At the time, there was no control booth or video monitors backstage, so Wallace called shows the old-fashioned way — from stage right.

“You learn to trust your people backstage,” she says. “Once you start trusting people, things fall into place. Once you delegate authority, things get stronger.”

A Whitfield Estates resident, Wallace raised her three daughters two miles from the theater. In the beginning, she used to walk or run to work, an ambition that dwindled during 70-hour workweeks at the height of season.

Organized, congenial, self-deprecating and cool under pressure, Wallace’s personality was what gave her staying power and earned her the tagline, She Who Must Be Obeyed, a moniker started by Jan Guffey, the Asolo Rep’s lighting operator.

“You’ll never survive if you don’t have a sense of humor,” Wallace says. “You have to know when to push and when not to push.”

However, there were moments of tension even Wallace couldn’t diffuse. During the 1972 production of “War and Peace,” there was a particularly high-maintenance actor cast as Napoleon, who, after manhandling one his props — an antique spyglass — stomped up to Wallace with it in pieces and demanded it be fixed.

Wallace said she was frustrated and holding two prop guns loaded with live blanks.

“Listen, Buster,” she interrupted his rant. “I’m trying to do something here.”

Incensed, the actor skulked away. Later that night, Wallace spotted him in the corner of a room, expressing his distaste for the name Buster.

“He would have rather me called him any name in the book but ‘Buster,’” Wallace giggles. “You just never know what will set someone off.”

Contact Heidi Kurpiela at [email protected].

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