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Actor trades in ownership role for chance to get back on stage
By Jack Helbig | Daily Herald Correspondent
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Published: 4/3/2009 12:07 AM

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F. Scott Fitzgerald once famously said there are no second acts in American lives. He was wrong - and Wood Dale-based actor Peter Verdico's life proves it.

Raised on Chicago's West Side, a graduate of Austin High School, Verdico began his working life as a DJ at record hops, then he went into the construction business. After more than two decades he sold his business and in 1991 opened a dinner theater, the Stage Right Dinner Theater, in a banquet hall in his home town, Wood Dale. Twelve years later he closed the theater and began a new act in his life as an actor.

He's currently appearing in Adventure Stage Chicago's production of "Katrina: The Girl who Wanted her Name Back."

"I do plays," Verdico says. "I have done some commercials, been in a small budget movie."

For many in Chicago's suburban theater world, Verdico is best known as the man behind the Stage Right Dinner Theatre.

"My daughter got me back into acting in my forties," Verdico says. "And I caught the bug. Then I decided to open my own theater."

Stage Right was a mainstream non-Equity dinner theater. It produced low-budget, high quality versions of classic American musicals. For a time, Verdico made a go of it. In fact, he was so hopeful about his theater than when the opportunity to buy the banquet hall came along, he jumped at the chance.

"That was the worst business decision of my life," he says. "I got the theater to where it was paying for itself. I worked all the time and my wife and I took no salary, but the theater was paying for itself. But the banquet hall was not."

So he sold the business and closed his theater in 2004. Did he consider moving his theater to another space?

"No," he says, "I was pretty defeated. I had put so much into that theater."

He didn't give up on theater, though. He just switched roles, from one side of the stage to the other, from producer and artistic director to actor. He threw himself into auditioning for roles - in community theater groups and in professional companies alike, with a special interest in musical theater.

"I can't tell you how many shows I have done in the past five years," Verdico says. "I've done five seasons at Light Opera Works. I've done a couple of independent films."

Does he miss the power of having his own theater? "This is what it has been like," Verdico says. "Soon after I closed Stage Right I was in a show. And we happened to have a show on the night of a snow storm. Now, when I had my own theater a snow storm meant a lot of worry. Who wouldn't be able to show up? Would all the wait staff show? How about the audience? I was backstage and started to have a major panic attack. What will we do? Then I realized, 'Hey, this is not my problem anymore. I just have to act.' I was so relieved."

The play he's currently in, "Katina: The Girl Who Wanted her Name back," is about the hurricane and flood in New Orleans, Verdico says. "The story is about a girl who goes through a lot of adventures during the horrible event. I play a 70-year-old man in a wheel chair who is part of her adventure."

To prepare for the role, Verdico had to learn how to maneuver over the stage in a chair.

"I thought it was going to be easy," Verdico says. "But you know what, pulling yourself around in a wheelchair is hard."

Still Verdico, who is working on his third second act of his life, is having a great time. He doesn't miss having his own theater as much as he used to. "But to this day I run into people after shows who saw a show at Stage Right Theater and tell me how much they liked it."

Verdico admits he gets a little twinge then.

"But you know," Verdico says, "everything has a time."

"Katrina: The Girl Who Wanted her Name Back" opens Sunday, April 5 at the Vittum Theatre, 1012 Noble St., Chicago, and runs through May 21. Call (773) 342-4141 or see adventurestage.org.