Actor/playwright Stephen Wayne said the road he has traveled over the past decade has been a good one. His dream of writing, directing, and acting has come into its own with the formation of the 34west, a theater company that has been putting on performances around the Valley.
"Doors opened up in Boardman that didn't anywhere else in the country," Wayne said. "We just kept walking through them."
Wayne is not originally from Ohio though. He grew up in Morrovay, Calif., and after high school began moving around the country doing theater. He acted in New York, Houston and wherever he could find work.
Photo special to the Town Crier
Getting ready for the 34west dinner theater production of 'Abraham and Sarah' are actor/playwright Stephen Wayne of Boardman and actress Valerie Weingart of Canfield. The performance will begin Jan. 27 at the Dutch Village Inn in Columbiana.
While traveling, he met Jeff Querin, a Boardman native who graduated from Youngstown Christian School. The two continued to look for work and picked up acting jobs that would last a short time, then leave them without a paycheck. Wayne said they ended up staying with Querin's parents one summer while continuing to search for steady work. They were out of money and between jobs. While staying in Boardman, Wayne realized he needed to further his education in theater. He enrolled at Youngstown State University and began setting roots in Boardman.
"I stayed with Jeff at his parents' home while doing shows in the area," Wayne said.
He finished college and then, along with Querin, decided to form a theater company they called 34west in 2000.
When the theater company began, the two Boardman men (by then Wayne had purchased a home) were performing all over the area. They got their first home at Old North Baptist Church in Canfield for a short time. They also began touring the Valley and ran across Das Dutch Village Inn in Columbiana.
"They asked us to do a dinner theater," Wayne said. "We started doing six plays a year and it blossomed from there."
Wayne, who was now writing most of the plays himself, continued at Das Dutch Village Inn while doing some tours in between seasons. What made Wayne's plays so out-of-the-ordinary was how he came up with the story idea.
"I would first read a Bible story and try to feel the impression it gave me," Wayne said.
From there, he took the impression and applied it to a more modern time. The play that is opening next Friday, "Abraham and Sarah" is one good example of how it all works.
"I read their story in the Bible and saw these two people as nomads with no place to live," Wayne said. "It seemed like 'Little House on the Prairie' or the Oregon Trail."
With the idea in mind, Wayne sat down and wrote a frontier-styled musical that takes place in the 1800s. He even went as far as building a full-size Conestoga wagon for the stage.
Most of Wayne's work comes from a Bible story being translated into a different time period. Another good example of this is "Overboard," scheduled to run in July and continue through fall. This play is an interesting combination, according to Wayne.
"It's the story of Jonah in a way you've never seen," he says. "Think Alfred Hitchcock meets 'Bruce Almighty' meets 'The Deadliest Catch'."
Wayne and Querin's unique ability to work from Bible stories has brought 34west to the forefront in theatrical performances. Two years ago, the men went to a theater festival in New York. Wayne said there were around 200 different theater groups attending and performing at the event. When it was 34west's turn to perform, Wayne chose "My Name Ruth" based on the Old Testament story of Ruth, but done as a 1950s romantic comedy. At the end of the festival, 34 west walked away with the award for best playwriting.
One key to the success of Wayne's plays boils down to the actors and actresses. Wayne and Querin use talented individuals that often play a part in the writing as well as the performance.
"We discovered our shows are similar to the vintage "Carol Burnette Show" in that we, too, write to the actor's strength, Wayne said.
Wayne also likes to get involved in the acting and he said that is where Querin plays a major role. He said it is too difficult to write his own part, so Querin is always there to get it right.
In next weekend's performance of "Abraham and Sarah," Wayne said the part of Sarah will be played by Valerie Weingart of Canfield.
"She has been with us since the beginning," he said.
She started with 34west as a single woman and is now married with children and teaches at Canfield Middle School. Even with all those responsibilities, Wayne said she still finds time for her passion of acting.
To continue on the road to success, Wayne had the desire to join the Screen Actor's Guild last year. When he applied, he found that he had to change his name. His full name is Stephen Wayne Baldwin and there was already a Stephen Baldwin registered with the Guild. He decided to use his middle name, which has its own ties to acting.
"My mother gave me the middle name of Wayne," he said. "She told me it was chosen because of John Wayne the actor."
After joining the Guild, he became Stephen Wayne, but said he still has a tough time getting used to it.
Wayne looks forward to the future and more years of doing what he loves and does the best. He is working on a new 1950s musical called "Doo Wops and Beauty Shops" that will hit the stage in May.
"Our goal is always to make people feel good," said Wayne. "We've wanted to create a fifties musical for a while. This show will have folks dancing all the way home."
He also wants to continue touring the country and bringing positive notice about the Youngstown area. He said he really does love it here.
"The area is great," he said. "I fell in love with it. I enjoy walking in Mill Creek Park in all its beauty. It is a culture that I didn't grow up with."