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Originally published Saturday, August 21, 2010 at 7:04 PM

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Love and talent bloom onstage for Seattle actors

Considering their highly specialized profession with crazy schedules, and artistic passions, it's no wonder actors often marry each other. Theater-rich Seattle has quite a few actor-couples; here's a look at two: a veteran pair, complete with kids, and thespians recently out of school, ready for their new roles as actors and newlyweds.

Seattle Times theater critic

PERFORMANCE PREVIEWS

See actor couples at work

• "God of Carnage," co-starring Hans Altwies and Amy Thone, Seattle Repertory Theatre, Oct. 1-24 (206-443-2222 or www.seattlerep.org)

• "A Doctor in Spite of Himself" with Ashley Marshall, Intiman Theatre, Sept. 3-Oct. 10 (206-269-1900 or www.intiman.org)

• "The Glass Menagerie" with Zach Adair, Theater Schmeater, Sept. 17-Oct. 16. (800-838-3006 or www.schmeater.org)

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Actors are members of a distinct tribe. They work erratic schedules, often take home paltry paychecks for highly skilled labor, and devote a lot of time and talent to morphing into other people — and waiting for the phone to ring.

So it's no surprise that actors often marry their own kind. And in Seattle's lively, well-populated theater scene, scores of such unions exist — from the veteran, inspiring octogenarian spouses, actors Susan and Clayton Corzatte, to aspiring thesps fresh from drama school.

We turn to two acting couples, at different stages of their careers and partnerships, to get a sense of the day-to-day challenges and rewards of sharing an exciting, precarious and crowd-pleasing calling:

Hans Altwies and Amy Thone

If there is a power acting couple in Seattle theater currently, it is this 40-ish duo.

Tall, blond, strapping, Hans Altwies has the physique and charisma for such heroic roles as Shakespeare's King Henry V and the narrator in Seattle Rep's "An Iliad."

His slender, animated wife, Amy Thone, is more of a stage chameleon. She can limn a trampy, clueless single mom (in Stephanie Timm's "On the Nature of Dust") as handily as the witty, wary bachelorette Beatrice (opposite Altwies' jivey Benedick) in an outdoor "Much Ado About Nothing" (seen this summer).

The two are beloved by their peers for their dedication, unpretentious Bohemianism, generous talents. And for their commitment to making Seattle a family-friendly place for theater folk.

Altwies and Thone met cute in 1995, aptly, while in a gender-bending staging of "Romeo and Juliet" — she was Tybalt, he was Lady Capulet. Recalls Altwies, "We had an incredibly tiny backstage area, so we were sitting in each other's laps for two months."

A Detroit native who studied ballet in Hawaii, and earned a drama degree at Cornish College, Altwies initially viewed Thone as "a force in town. She had this aura of being a superfun, tough theater player."

Proximity and artistic respect blossomed into romance.

Thone was smitten, too. Daughter of a former Nebraska governor and congressman, Charles Thone, she migrated to this "really hot theater town" after grad school in Denver to be an acting intern at Seattle Repertory Theatre.

Since pairing up, the two have done shows together, and many more separately, working their way from gas-money gigs to a joint co-starring turn in Seattle Rep's season opener, "God of Carnage."

But having a family was always a priority, too. "I remember a conversation early on," Thone says. "When do we have a baby? When we have some money. When will we have money? Never. So we just went for it." Adds Altwies wryly, "There was a certain heedlessness there."

First came daughter Charlotte, now 10; Stella is 4. "While pregnant with Stella we were in 'Othello' together," Thone describes. "I was showing, so we 'played' the pregnancy. Every time Hans 'stabbed' me in the stomach, the whole audience went, 'Ewwwwww ... ' "

Ovations and good reviews, alas, do not buy diapers or school supplies. Even at the top of the theatrical food chain, work is not constant for the couple, who say their union wages can vary from about $225 to $950 per week, depending on the venue. (Seattle Rep pays them the most, and Thone calls Seattle Children's Theatre a "godsend," thanks to its long runs.)

But acting gigs rarely last beyond a month or two, so like most of their peers, Altwies and Thone moonlight at various trades. Thone is a massage therapist who has kneaded the muscles of visiting celebs like Sylvester Stallone. She's taught acting classes at Cornish and run education programs at Seattle Shakespeare.

Altwies is a carpenter, who estimates "only about a half to two-thirds of our income is from acting." The family owns a modest home, with chickens in the yard, on a Seward Park street Thone terms an "actor ghetto" (several thespian couples are neighbors).

To cut child-care costs, they give a friend free rent in exchange for baby-sitting. And like many hard-pressed parents, they can only afford catastrophic medical coverage for their kids.

Though mutually supportive ("Sometimes I see Hans onstage and say, 'Wow! That's my husband!' ") it can be tough when roles are plentiful for one partner and not the other. Thone speaks of enduring "a hard, dry spell for about two years."

When both are in demand at theaters, as they are now, the logistics can be complex. Thone: "It's feast or famine." Altwies: "We work as a unit. We roll with it, try to talk it through."

During one show, Thone had no one to watch Charlotte, "so she slept in the dressing room night after night. Everyone at the theater helped out."

In 2008, the couple joined other local artists to form the New Century Theatre Company, a theater collective that's mounted three successful productions — all featuring either Altwies or Thone.

"It was a little like marrying Seattle," according to Altwies. "We want to be here, to do work that really matters to us. Now we're trying to find money to make it a sustainable venture, not just a volunteer one."

Though both might score more lucrative acting work in the larger entertainment markets of New York, Los Angeles or Chicago, they're committed to Seattle — at least until their kids grow up.

The main attractions here? The bustling theater scene they're a central part of and a family-friendly quality of life. "We do feel so blessed with what we have here," Altwies says. "I'm down with that!" adds Thone. "It's been a blast."

Zach Adair

and Ashley Marshall

This pair of recent Cornish grads in their early 20s are not yet worrying about balancing child care with art.

They just got engaged two weeks ago.

But such concerns may lie ahead as these gifted young players embark on a joint life on the boards.

Both embraced acting as teens — Zach Adair at Shorecrest High School in Shoreline; Ashley Marshall in Sandy, Ore. And they are already juggling juicy roles, day jobs and quality time together.

It helps that the couple, who share a Lower Queen Anne apartment, have supportive parents. "My folks haven't missed a single play I've been in," reports the bubbly, fresh-faced Marshall. "After I told Mom I got the callback audition at Intiman, she began planning her opening-night outfit."

The Intiman Theatre role Marshall snagged in Molière's "A Doctor In Spite of Himself" is her biggest break thus far. Adair, meanwhile, will be seen as the Gentleman Caller in Tennessee Williams' "The Glass Menagerie" at the fringe playhouse Theater Schmeater.

Later this season, they'll work together in the play "Distracted" at ArtsWest. And it won't be their first time sharing a stage.

At Cornish the two bonded while in student shows — including one in which Adair played Bluebeard while Marshall's character was confined to a burlap sack. "That was hard," she recalls, with a groan.

"I got to romance these girls, and she was stuck in the dark listening to it," says the good-natured, attentive Adair.

With other strong credits between them (with Book-It Repertory Theatre, Greenstage, Intiman's Living History Program), the two are gaining experience and attention. And their schedules are getting complicated.

As nonunion actors they earn from minimum wage to about $400 per week, so both clock many hours (for helpfully flexible bosses) at "civilian" jobs. Marshall is a receptionist at the Meydenbauer Center in Bellevue, and Adair is a house manager at ArtsWest and also toils at a Starbucks.

"We're very busy, and have this giant calendar to keep track of everything" explains Marshall. "Vacations are difficult," says Adair. "We've had to cancel three vacation plans, due to work complications."

When one has a show, the other cooks and cleans. When both are acting, they're "like crossing ships" — which is why they now have a weekly date night.

One of the joys of having an actor partner, they say, is being able to talk about their craft without boring each other to tears. They also team up on learning lines.

"We spent an anniversary [as a couple] at an inn in Langley, going over a script for an audition," Adair reveals.

As they plan ahead for a fall 2011 wedding, the two are not ready to plot out having kids. The days and nights are so full, they can't imagine squeezing in anything more at this point. And between paying off student loans and living expenses, Marshall cracks, "We can barely feed our cat."

Still, the openly affectionate couple exudes optimism about their aspirations, for both their work and marriage. And like Thone and Altwies, they want to root themselves in Seattle, and flourish here — and, despite the odds, support themselves largely by treading the boards.

"I'd love to be able to act in Seattle forever," Adair declares. "This place has always felt like home to me."

Misha Berson: mberson@seattletimes.com

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