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Chi Lives: the next best thing to being a rock star 

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For Kate Buddeke, it all began with hormones. She wanted to be a rock 'n' roll singer, but in the early 70s a friend invited her to a rehearsal of the Chicago Free Theater, which put on original rock operas. She was 16. "I kind of fell in love with this guy onstage," she says. "They said they had classes on Monday nights, so I went--just to go meet this guy. And then I ended up in the Free Theater."

A Free Theater show in New York led to a part in a European touring production of Hair, which got kind of hairy in Spain. "We were with some shady people," she says. "I didn't speak a word of Spanish, mind you, so I didn't really know what was going on. I mean, the producers of the show were very--I don't know, I want to say mafioso but I didn't know. We had to flee one night in a Volkswagen to get away from this guy and ended up in London."

She stayed in Europe for ten years, acting and singing in a band. "That's why I did Free Theater and Hair--it's like rock 'n' roll. It wasn't really about acting." She only returned to the U.S. in 1986 when her mom became ill.

Back in Chicago she fronted an all-girl punk band called Katch, but she had changed. To her surprise, acting began to take precedence. Since then she's won Jeff Awards for her performances in Gypsy, David's Mother, and Dancing at Lughnasa. In 1994 she landed a featured role in a revival of Carousel, which ran on Broadway for a year and a half. She hated every minute of it. "Except for my boots." She'd decided she despised musicals: "They can be two-dimensional. They don't really reach down and grab you. Also I think the actors tend to concentrate more on songs than acting."

Buddeke recently spent a little over a year as Brian Dennehy's other woman in the Goodman Theatre's production of Death of a Salesman both here and on Broadway. Despite her success, she can be a bit starstruck. On opening night in New York there was an incident: "Gregory Peck was there," she says. "And Gregory Peck is in my all-time favorite movie, To Kill a Mockingbird. I had to meet Gregory." But a woman was standing between them. "I kind of pushed her out of the way because I was so focused on Gregory Peck. And someone told me, 'Kate! You just shoved Lauren Bacall!' I thought, 'Tough.' But she was cute, she was OK about it. I think."

Buddeke's glad to be back in Chicago, where she says the emphasis is on "the actual production and not so much like who's in the audience." For her next play she's taking on two characters in American Theater Company's production of Paula Vogel's The Mineola Twins. It's about identical twins who are far from identical in their beliefs: one is a sweet bobby-soxer who becomes a conservative talk-show host; the other is a promiscuous delinquent who grows up to be an activist for abortion rights.

Last Tuesday Buddeke spoke to a group of high school drama students at a family-style restaurant in Schaumburg. Her fellow panelists were two former television child stars: Barry Williams of The Brady Bunch and Jerry Mathers of Leave It to Beaver. "It was kinda like taking an acid trip--which I was probably doing when they were on TV," she says. "We had to talk to these students, and here were these two guys--Greg Brady and the Beav--who spent their whole entire careers being this one guy, you know. No matter what they do the rest of their lives they're gonna be Greg Brady and the Beav. So I was thinking how lucky I am that that will never happen to me."

The Mineola Twins starts previews Wednesday, April 26, at 7:30 and runs through May 27 at American Theater Company, 1909 W. Byron. Tickets are $18.50 to $24.50. For more information, see the theater listings in Section Two or call 773-929-1031. --Jerome Ludwig

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Nathan Mandell.

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