Couple's acting earns recognition

Performance: Husband and wife nominated for Helen Hayes Awards for their roles in `Ragtime.'

Theater

Howard Live

April 01, 2004|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN STAFF

Rob and Channez McQuay have a nice date planned for May 10: They will be attending the Helen Hayes Award ceremony in Washington as nominees.

The married couple, who live in Columbia, appeared in Ragtime at Toby's Dinner Theatre in September and October. In March, they found out they had earned two of the nine nominations for that show, which tells the story of members of different ethnic and social groups in the early 20th century.

Channez was nominated as best supporting actress in a resident musical (one that does not tour) for her role as activist and labor organizer Emma Goldman. Rob was nominated for lead actor for playing Tateh, a Jewish immigrant who comes to America with his daughter.

"It's unusual and unexpected but, nevertheless, it's fun," Channez said of the dual nominations. It is her first nomination, and she has been asked to perform during the awards ceremony at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Rob said he was "elated" at the news. He was nominated in 1999 for his lead role in Godspell at the Round House Theater, and he said, "I don't think you ever grow tired of somebody acknowledging your work."

He also said his nomination was a positive sign for artists with disabilities. He has been using a wheelchair since 1990, when a wave broke his neck while he was in Ocean City.

The main adjustment to acting with a disability "is finding the director who has a vision," Rob said. At first, he didn't think it would work to have the character Tateh in a wheelchair, but, he said, "It was Toby's vision to cast me in the role."

Channez and Rob, both 41, met at Toby's Dinner Theatre in 1986 while performing in Jesus Christ Superstar. But they did not find another opportunity to share the stage until Ragtime.

They didn't set out to find a show they could do together, Rob said, but "when it was evident there were characters we could do, then it was, `Wow, that would be nice.' "

Channez said their children, Dan, 15, and Maggie, 13, encouraged them to take the roles, even if the family's scheduling would be difficult.

Channez was a theater major, who earned an associate's degree from Montgomery College. She has been acting in the Washington and Baltimore areas for 20 years, including about 15 shows at Toby's.

She said she took eight years off from acting to focus on her family and returned to the stage two years ago.

Rob earned a bachelor's degree in mass communications from Western Maryland College and became a full-time actor, working at more than a dozen theaters in Baltimore, Washington and Chicago. He said it was more difficult to work consistently after his accident because it was harder to get chorus parts.

About seven years ago, Rob decided to perform less and begin a ministry career. He is an assistant pastor at Bishop Cummings Church in Catonsville.

He has remained active in the theater community, not only as an actor, but as member of the Maryland State Arts Council and as an advocate for artists with disabilities with the nonprofit VSA Arts and other groups.

Ragtime "is a very powerful piece" Channez said, and "without a doubt one of the most talented casts that I've ever worked with."

She said, "Everybody was so passionate about the piece, including Toby [Orenstein, the dinner-theater owner]. It was the best experience I've had in theater thus far."

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