Theater People: the woman behind Dolphinback | Calendar | Chicago Reader

Theater People: the woman behind Dolphinback 

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By the time Dolphinback Theatre's KellyAnn Corcoran arrived in Chicago, she'd already acted in a few shows and did a little directing. A graduate of Webster University in Saint Louis, she moved here in 1992 after her marriage to her high school sweetheart broke up. She was hoping to act in a few commercials before moving on to New York to break into soap operas.

"I don't know what I was doing," Corcoran says. "I dressed like a bleached blond housewife with a lot of glamour. Tight clothes, coordinated everything, fully accessorized."

Corcoran says now she was hoping fame might bring stability and self-esteem. When she was a child, her family led an unsettled life. Her mother committed suicide when Corcoran was 12, and her father was absent much of the time, working overseas as an industrial psychologist for an oil company. Her family was living in Libya in 1984, even after the U.S. had closed its embassy there. Once back in the states, her father took to the road to pursue his dream of becoming a boxing promoter, and Corcoran came to rely on her brother Steven for support.

"Steven was really a father to me," she says. "He was the one who found my mother's body after she shot herself in the backyard. He was the one who against all odds kept the family together."

Steven may have been the family's pillar of strength, but he still had his wild side. He loved motorcycles. Though he had a wife and two small children, he insisted on recklessly speeding on his Harley to and from work, through the twisty, treacherous roads between Bakersfield and Lake Isabella in the Sierra Nevadas. One day he slipped off the highway and into a canyon. He tried to guide the cycle down a 60-degree grade, but ended up plowing into a boulder. "His last words were 'Goddamn this hurts.' I don't think he knew he was dying."

Corcoran says she was just starting to get commercial work, and had even auditioned for a few soaps, when she got word that her brother had died. The loss changed her world completely. She began to reexamine her life and decided to start treating theater as a serious calling. She didn't like much of what she saw in Chicago's non-Equity theater scene. "A lot of off-Loop theater was just a lot of goofing around." Like many young actors, she wanted to start her own theater company of "committed artists." She says, "I wanted to work with people who were continually honing and training and searching for excellence and truth."

She gathered together an ensemble of actors, directors, and tech people--many of whom were friends from Webster University--and created Dolphinback. Corcoran says she named the company in honor of her brother, whose disposition reminded her of a dolphin's--"wise and sweet . . . but also very wild and unpredictable."

In the nearly three years that the group has been together, Dolphinback has produced four shows and won critical accolades, most recently for its excellent version of American Divine, a three-part collection of short plays by Joe Pintauro directed by Corcoran, Matt Tauber, and Jemal Diamond. This Monday the group restages Jeff Goode's The Eight: Reindeer Monologues, a darkly comic expose on Santa Claus and sexual harassment. The Eight: Reindeer Monologues will be at the Organic Theater Company Greenhouse, 3319 N. Clark, through January 7; call 327-5588 for tickets. American Divine continues at the Theatre Building, 1225 W. Belmont, through January 6; call 327-5252. For more information on either play, see the theater listings in Section Two.

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

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