Being considered a success in theater in eye of beholder

Meet Bobby Rodgers.

He’s 77 years old, an actor of unusual depth and charisma (currently playing in “Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding” at the Rio) and has never been on Broadway or starred in a movie.

If I were an actor, I’d consider myself a brilliant success if I would grow up to be Bobby Rodgers. But the Vegas resident’s personal choices prevented him (I believe) from getting the national attention he deserves. In some people’s eyes, then, I imagine he’s not a success.

I thought about this when the local press (including myself) began paying a lot of tribute to a young, local actress (Zonya Love) who had landed the staring role in the Broadway musical “The Color Purple.” Love’s a genuine talent (and a nice person to boot) and it’s a pleasure to see her getting ahead. But I was struck by how easy it might have been for her not to get her Broadway role; by how huge a part chance and drive play in getting public recognition.

I know plenty of talented actors who have given me many moments of pleasure in the theater. Some are so good they make me project myself onto them, so that I think I am watching my own story. (What a gift to be able to do that!) I think it’s too bad that we don’t celebrate these artists enough — not for getting on Broadway, but for working quietly in a nontheater town, perfecting their craft.

Love was just as talented before she landed her New York gig as she was after. Yet, only when Broadway called did the press really pay attention. Of course, that makes perfect sense, but it reminds me of how we so often misuse the word “success.”

If Rodgers had played the game, if he had not wanted to be physically close to family, he may well have been more lauded than he is now. But when I see him perform (he’s done dozens of all kinds of local productions), he’s as professional and worthy as just about any actor I know.

Acting is a tough dream on so many levels, and I just hope that the people who have chosen not to pound the pavement for jobs — who have given up that primal urge to stand out — recognize the beauty in the respect they may be showing their art by caring enough to get constantly better.

The theater is all about celebrating the spirit, and it seems to me our limited definitions of “success” can easily crush that spirit.

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.

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