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Ledingham’s cast of characters

Jeanne McGovernAspen Times Staff Writer

It’s a darn good thing David Ledingham is an actor because his life is a series of roles these days.In the morning, as he drops off 21-month-old son Aidan at an Aspen daycare center, Ledingham is a father. Midday, when he’s booking rooms and making improvements to his family’s Snow Queen Victorian Bed & Breakfast on East Cooper Avenue, he is a businessman.Then, come evening, Ledingham heads to the Aspen Theatre in the Park tent to assume yet another character – or two. Ledingham plays Tito Merelli in TIP’s production of Ken Ludwig’s “Lend Me a Tenor” and Orsino in the local theater company’s rendition of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.”Add to the mix the fact that Ledingham is at work on two screenplays, remains co-artistic director of the Pegasus Repertory Theatre Company, and is a self-proclaimed Renaissance man with a penchant for faux-finish painting, and it becomes all too clear how much is on his plate.”It’s nothing. It’s what I do … I’m an actor,” he states simply.From artist to actorWith striking looks, a commanding voice and an easygoing style, Ledingham was clearly born to be onstage. But he wasn’t one of those high school thespian-types. “It wasn’t cool to be an actor back then,” says the Aspen High School graduate.But it was hip to be an artist, so that is what the young Ledingham did, attending the University of Colorado at Boulder to study art.”I found out quick, though, that being an artist is a lonely existence,” said Ledingham. “I’d sit in this room and paint and paint and paint, and then come out cross-eyed.”A chance acting class led Ledingham to a career on the stage. “Acting is a collaboration; it’s about communication,” he explains. “I love the idea of communicating ideas, and in the theater there is such huge potential for doing this. That is the kind of artist I am.”After graduating with a bachelor of fine arts degree in theater, Ledingham did what aspiring actors do: He packed his bags and headed to the Big Apple.”Scary. New York City was very scary,” he recalled. “Think about it. I grew up here, in this small town in the mountains, and there I was in the big city at a cattle call with 300 other people, holding up my picture and rsum and hoping for work.”Needless to say, Ledingham wasn’t long for New York City. After just two months, he was headed in a new direction – graduate school at the University of California at San Diego.”I said to myself, `If I’m going to do this, I’m going to do this right,'” Ledingham said of his choice to pursue a master’s degree in theater. “And it was the best decision I’ve ever made.”With training in all aspects of the theater – acting, voice, movement, dialect and more – Ledingham once again hit the streets in search of work. This time, though, he stayed West in search of television and film work.”I still had this thing about New York, so I went to Los Angeles,” he said. Suede, Steppenwolf and `Snake’One of Ledingham’s first big breaks came in a most unexpected – and unwanted – role.”There were always these soap opera roles. And I just kept saying, `No. No. No.’ You know, it was soap opera,” Ledingham recalled, rolling his eyes. “There was money to be made, but I didn’t want to be stereotyped as a soap opera actor.”But when his agent implored him to read the role of Suede on ABC’s “One Life to Live,” Ledingham obliged. “He was a poet … a kind of a James Dean meets Clint Eastwood,” said Ledingham, going on to recite a few choice lines from the single-named character, a wrongly imprisoned man who moves to the fictional town of Llanview in search of a talk-show host who still holds out hope of finding true love. “And, seriously, the writing was so atypical of soap opera writing. It was the Tennessee Williams of soap opera; it was that good.”Two years later, in 1994, Suede was (as is the case with most soap opera characters) killed off the show. And Ledingham, tired of the politics of the TV and film business, moved on “I decided to go back into the theater, which is what I really loved,” he explained. “I liked L.A.; I just didn’t like the business. It was all about money and politics, not about art. In theater, you take the money out of the picture and it’s about the art.”So with a few years more education and experience than he had during his first attempt at acting in the Big Apple, he returned to New York City. This time, though, the results were markedly better.Among other things, Ledingham embarked on a cross-continent acting career that took him from the Old Globe Theater to the La Jolla Playhouse and from B.A.M. to The Mark Taper Forum. He was also part of Steppenwolf’s Tony Award-winning “The Grapes of Wrath” at London’s National Theater, where “the audience’s clapping was like wind over the stage.”Not content with just acting credits, Ledingham began to tackle other theater-related projects. As co-artistic director of the Pegasus Repertory Theatre Company, he helped bring two seasons of theater to Aspen’s Wheeler Opera House, among other ventures. He directed “The Song that Killed the Snake” with a live orchestra for the Los Angeles Philharmonic in January 2003 and is currently adapting the play to the silver screen. And a completed screenplay – he won’t divulge the title but says he’s hoping for a star-studded cast that includes Cate Blanchett, Gwyneth Paltrow and Ryan Phillippe, with whom he starred in “One Life to Live” – is on the market.Home again, home againIt would seem, with all he had going on, that Ledingham would have stayed put in New York City. But two years ago, with a pregnant wife and a family business in need of nurturing back in Aspen, Ledingham returned to the mountains.”We decided to take a break, and it’s nice to be back,” said Ledingham, who is now hard at work running the Snow Queen Victorian Bed & Breakfast along with his mother. “Still, our dream is to live here half the year and in New York City half the year … we’re in limbo right now, and we’re trying to figure out how to make it work.”In the meantime, though, Ledingham has found fair enough fodder for his creative side.Last summer, Ledingham – one of three equity actors now employed by Aspen Theatre in the Park – directed the company’s production of “Art” to rave reviews; this summer, he stars as Tito Merelli in “Lend Me a Tenor” (see accompanying review) and Orsino in TIP’s “Twelfth Night.” “It’s great theater and these are great casts,” said Ledingham, commenting on how high the bar has been raised since he first acted with TIP, then Theatre Under the Jerome, some 20 years ago. “They’ve come a long, long way.”Plus, the roles of Merelli and Orsino could haven’t been more perfectly scripted for Ledingham. “They both have a tremendous presence … they’re larger than life,” said Ledingham, adding that his favorite, of course, is Merelli – “he gets kissed by three women!”Not to mention Ledingham’s return to Aspen has reminded him of the important tie between art and nature.”The mountains inspire art … the two are so closely connected,” he said. “Being onstage gives me the same thrill as high-adrenaline sports like skiing and rock climbing. It’s the same feeling of living in the moment … of walking that tightrope.”Jeanne McGovern’s e-mail address is jmcgovern@aspentimes.com


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