Traditional wisdom says that after we reach a certain age and marry, we eventually settle down to a predictable path: mortgage, kids, yard work and the daily routine. Holding down jobs and raising families often requires all our energies, leaving little time for creativity and art.
And then there are the couples whose creative endeavors aren’t left for last. They commit themselves to their artistic callings, allowing them to shape every area of their lives.
Take, for example, Bill Jenkins and Linda Leonard. You may not know them by name, but if you’ve seen much theater in the Dallas area, you probably know their faces.
Leonard pretty much does it all in show business, whether it’s singing, dancing, acting, directing or choreographing. She got her start young, touring the and singing backup for Isaac Hayes when she was 18. She has lived and worked in New York, Chicago and Hamburg, , and has traveled the country with the touring productions of both Showboat and Cats. For the past three years, she has starred most every weekend in the popular musical I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change at Theater Three.
Jenkins also has performed in a long list of area productions, with his roles including everything from a Baptist preacher to a lizard to a homeless man. The latter part was especially interesting, he says, because it called for an on-stage Full Monty.
“It’s not easy to give up your clothes in a room full of people,” he says. “But it wasn’t meant to be sexy, so that helped.”
Jenkins biggest exposure, however, came off-stage.
Remember those crazy Texas Lottery Scratchman ads several years back? That was Jenkins, in a skin-tight red costume, complete with cape and mask.
“I’ve worked in the theater for years,” he says, “but I got my 15 minutes of fame doing Scratchman.”
So what is life like for a couple that has spent their lives portraying others on stage? A strange mix of the frightening, trying and wonderful, it seems.
The frightening parts have involved life-threatening experiences for both. Leonard’s came when she was diagnosed with cervical cancer several years ago. A hysterectomy removed the cancer, but also left her with nerve damage.
“It was very difficult coming back after surgery,” she says. “I had to have six months of physical therapy before I could dance again.”
The surgery also meant she has unable to have children, a fact of her life she has learned to accept.
“Bill and I would have liked to have had children, but I believe things work out the way they were supposed to,” she says.
Jenkins’ accident came in 1998. During the last scene of a show, he was to be lowered down to the stage in a climbing harness. Some equipment malfunctioned, and he fell two-and-a-half stories, breaking his back.
Leonard, on stage at the time, saw him fall.
“It was terrifying,” she says. “It’s a miracle he’s alive. He had the presence of mind to relax in the fall, and he was lucky in where he fell. His head and neck were protected.”
Jenkins underwent nine hours of reconstructive surgery and was in the hospital for more than two months. But it wasn’t long before he was rehearsing for his next play — in a back brace.
“I was immediately called upon to do a physical play, where I had to swing in on a rope and have a sword fight,” he says. “Everybody else was fearful, but I was quite joyous to be able to do it. I could’ve been Christopher Reeves.”
His accident didn’t affect his performance, which earned him a Dallas Critics’ Forum award for Best Actor that year.
The trying times in the couple’s lives center mostly from two things: finding work, and then finding time to do anything but work.
No matter how successful an actor is, the jobs are always temporary, the auditions endless, the rejections repeated.
“If you’re going to be in this business, you have to understand that there is no security,” Leonard says.
“I’ve learned to think of auditioning as my job,” Jenkins adds. “If I happen to get hired, that’s icing on the cake.”
He’s frequently hired for plays, training films and other acting jobs. But he also has to keep a day job — two, actually — waiting tables at the Dixie House in Lakewood and Good Eats in Oak Lawn.
“It’s always a struggle financially,” he says. “It’s always a little embarrassing when it comes time to apply for credit.”
Leonard also works more than one job when she’s not performing, as a casting director, an acting teacher and an assistant at a local talent agency.
It all leaves the couple with precious time to spend with each other.
“Our quality time is from about midnight to 2 a.m. It’s tough, because even though we are night people, we’re also old people,” Jenkins says (both are in their 40s). “We wish we had more time together when we’re awake and energized.”
Not surprisingly, the couple says their best times are when they work together, which they did earlier this summer, starring in a full-length independent film, The Deadbeat Club.
Still, the struggles are worth it, they insist.
“You live for that moment, when you’re in the zone on stage,” Jenkins says. “When the magic is there, and you can feel audience going with you, it’s like a piece of art that lasts two hours.”
Leonard adds: “I want to always use the creativity that God gave me. I wouldn’t be happy if I didn’t. Yes, we have to scramble a lot more than with a nine-to-five job. But on the other hand, we get to spend our lives doing what we absolutely love to do. And not too many people can say that.”
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