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New members add talent to Gamut troupe

David N. Dunkle of Patriot-News

Even in a magic castle, the changing of the guard is inevitable.

At Gamut Theatre Group, which specializes in the fantasy worlds of Shakespeare and children's fairy tales, that time has arrived.

Gone are three core company members: Kate Magill, Mark Robinson and Doug Durlacher, who among them logged more than two decades onstage and behind the scenes with Gamut's Popcorn Hat Players and the Shakespeare Festival.

"Their promise is boundless, and their dedication to this work can't be questioned," artistic director J. Clark Nicholson wrote in announcing the departures in a recent edition of the troupe's newsletter, "Running the Gamut."

Replacing the trio are Melissa Dunphy, Robert Campbell and intern Sean Adams. Look for them in upcoming children's theater productions in the Gamut Theatre on the third floor of Strawberry Square.

Dunphy, 25, is an Australian who landed in Harrisburg via her boyfriend, Matt, who is now her husband of two years.

"I fell in love with Pennsylvania," she said of her first visit to the midstate in 2002.

In her home nation of 20 million people, Dunphy said, jobs in the performing arts and mass media are tough to come by. Oddly enough, she had better luck finding work in the small American city of Harrisburg than she did in her native Sydney.

She was cast as a fairy in Gamut's production of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" last summer and also played in "The Tempest" last winter and "Henry V" this year. She made a favorable impression that led to an offer of full-time employment.

"I jumped at the chance," Dunphy said.

"Melissa is really talented, and she brings a lot of new talents to the company we've not had before," said Melissa Nicholson, who co-founded Gamut in 1993 with her husband, Clark, and serves as the company's managing director.

Among those talents is Web page design, and Dunphy already is in the process of remaking the Gamut site. Melissa Nicholson said Gamut got a little lucky with the new members, who all had experience with the company before they were hired. That meant the Nicholsons did not have to resort to attending national auditions in New York, as they have done in the past.

"You only get 15 minutes to audition each actor," she said. "It's difficult to get a feel for how they are going to fit into the ensemble. It's not like you are hiring an actor for one show. You are stuck with them."

A few years ago, during one of those so-called "cattle call" auditions, the Nicholsons plucked Robinson but also chose an actress who, while talented, did not fit in.

"We thought maybe we needed to start looking a different way," Melissa Nicholson said. An obvious choice was the Shakespearean side of the business, which employs 20 or more actors in two annual productions.

Among them was Adams. The Paxtang resident, 20, remembers a dreadful audition he and some schoolmates did for the Nicholsons two years ago.

"They were very nice about how bad we were," Adams said, laughing.

"I went to HACC [Harrisburg Area Community College] and studied two years of theater, then I got cast in 'Midsummer.'"

Melissa Nicholson said she and her husband were impressed with Adams' rapport with children.

"He will run through fire for you," she added. "He doesn't complain and always has a smile on his face."

Versatility and a strong work ethic are thematic at Gamut.

The onstage work includes children's theater with the Popcorn Hat Players, work with youngsters in ongoing theater classes and the Bard's plays twice a year, including the popular Free Shakespeare in the Park each summer in Harrisburg's Reservoir Park. In addition to acting versatility, members also work on the business side of theater.

Adams will be working on producing sets backstage, while Dunphy will serve as public relations director in addition to her Web site work. Campbell will serve as director of development, seeking grants and other funds.

Rounding out Gamut's core company are resident theater manager Amber Wagner and business manager Maria Dever. Wagner and the Nicholsons do little acting, leaving the bulk of the stage work to the other four.

To learn more about Gamut, check out their (soon to be improved) Web site at

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