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ACTOR RETURNS TO STAGE AS DIRECTOR County resident starts theater troupe GLEN BURNIE


A Glen Burnie actor-photographer is about to change roles by creating an amateur acting company that he will direct.

"Working on both sides of the camera, I have both perspectives, and I think that's an asset," Gary Wheeler said.

Mr. Wheeler held auditions this week for the Actors Company Theatre's first show, the Neil Simon comedy "Plaza Suite."

The sole commitment he has for the show is three days of dinner theater in June at Michael's Eighth Avenue, the banquet hall owned by his uncle, state Sen. Michael Wagner, and where Mr. Wheeler sometimes photographs wedding parties.

The acting group will rehearse there as well. He plans to stage a second show, the Tom Jones-Harvey Schmidt musical "The Fantasticks," at the hall in September.

The banquet hall has been featuring dinner theater by the Maryland Traveling Repertory Theatre for about a year and a half. That roving troupe does four shows a year at Michael's and will continue do so, Mr. Wagner said.

With dinner theater gaining popularity, "We wanted to have more than four," Mr. Wagner said. "He [Mr. Wheeler] approached us."

Although Actors Company Theatre is getting its start at Michael's, Mr. Wheeler said he hopes the community theater will expand, possibly to six different shows a year.

"We are open to all different types of venues -- not necessarily dinner theater in other places," he said. "I don't want to limit myself to only dinner theater."

The theater group probably will operate the way most community theaters do, with open casting.

Mr. Wheeler, 40, is a former auto repair manager who decided to try something different for fun more than a decade ago.

Since then, he has had bit parts in several movies and commercials and has modeled. Among his credits, he portrayed a crime photographer in "Exorcist III," and a caterer in a Folger's coffee commercial. In 1991, he received a master's degree in mass communications from Towson State University.

He acted in varied community theater productions in the 1980s, including with the now-defunct Arundel Theatre Company in Glen Burnie. But he hasn't been on stage in recent years.

"I have missed the theater," he said.

Auditions on Monday night brought out 44-year-old Glen Burnie machinist Joseph Brunetti, who acted with Mr. Wheeler in ZTC productions of the Arundel Theatre Company -- back when Mr. Brunetti's hair was dark and Mr. Wheeler had hair, the men reminisced.

Mr. Brunetti said he would have no problem taking direction from a man with whom he had shared the stage. But Mr. Wheeler wants newcomers to try out, too.

Ginger Hamilton, 38, a Severna Park housewife, had never considered a community stage role until Monday night.

"I just thought it would be fun," she said.

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