Friday, May 30, 2008

Turn on a whim

Hailey man discovers his inner DeNiro

Express Staff Writer

Doug Neff readies himself for an opening night. Photo by Dana DuGan

Hailey resident Doug Neff, 59, made his stage debut last summer in the Company of Fools' outstanding production of "The Spitfire Grill." He played the mysterious visitor, a character who while mute is nonetheless a pivotal part.

After years of negating thespians, he has become one. He can be seen at 7 p.m. Friday through Sunday in the Laughing Stock Theatre Company's production of "Light Up the Sky" at the nexStage Theatre.

Neff first moved to the Wood River Valley in 1979. Then he moved to Salt Lake City for 10 years, returning to the valley in 1997. His son, Riley, now a college senior, graduated from Wood River High School in 2004. While he was in school, Neff, a single father, was a constant presence at his basketball games. He says he only missed two games (home or away) in three years.

But when Riley left for college in Washington state, Neff was suddenly an empty nester with time on his hands.

Two years ago while sitting in the wine bar diVine, he was goaded into saying he might just take an acting class with Company of Fools.

"It was a whim," he said. "It's not for everybody." But Neff amazingly was hooked.

What followed is every aspiring actor's dream—to be able to take class after class with different teachers. He took improvisation with Andrew Alburger, characterization with Denise Simone, scene study, a class with Jim Jarrett who teaches the Meisner Technique and a comedy workshop with Second City. Earlier this year he took a master acting class with Broadway veterans Lynn and Ron Cohen when they were here from New York for a production of "Rabbit Hole" with Company of Fools. More recently he's studied with Keith Moore and Patsy Wygle at nexStage Theatre. Their class has become so tight that participants have convinced them to extend the six-week class. If more people sign up, they will offer another class this summer.

"I'm enjoying participating," Neff said. "I work at it and have a lot of fun with it. At this point I'll do anything to be a part of theater."

Though he played high school and college football in front of huge crowds, Neff was admittedly shy. Acting has given him confidence and an "aliveness" that comes from participation.

He finds sports and acting oddly similar.

"There's the preparation," he said. "You know what you want to do. It's about intention, and there are people watching.

"I could never have imagined myself being a part of theater. But things happen the way they're supposed to. We have to find new things to do or your life narrows."

One of the bonuses of his budding hobby is the camaraderie that actors know well.

"I've met so many people in the valley I never knew, and I've developed a willingness to screw up in front of people," he said with a small smile. "In acting classes you learn, you work and you laugh your ass off. This a very supportive, incredible group of people."

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