Best of Scene

Star Gazing - Six Lutes pursue their dreams in showbiz

Michael Peterson ’80
By Andrea Calcagno ’08

Michael Peterson ’80, a standout on PLU’s 1980 NAIA Division II championship football team, went on to achieve even greater success after college, hitting it big in the competitive world of country music.

In 1997, Peterson broke through with a self-titled album that yielded five hit singles including, “Drink, Swear, Steal and Lie.” Billboard magazine dubbed Peterson the top new artist that year in country music.

Peterson released three more albums before taking a break from recording to spend time at home.

“I’m glad I put my family first, because you can always have another career,” says Peterson, who played a November 2006 date at the Puyallup Fairgrounds as part of a comeback tour.

On the topic of career changes, Peterson speaks from experience. He came to PLU from Richland, Wash., on scholarships in football and music. At six feet, four inches, Peterson’s success as a left offensive tackle forced him to put music on the shelf for a while.

After more than a decade of motivational work with teenagers across the United States and Canada, Peterson began exercising his music muscles by delving into singing, songwriting and recording.

Although his PLU sports career is long behind him, Peterson still lives by the advice he and teammates received from former head football coach Frosty Westering, who encouraged student athletes to “make the big time where you are.”

Westering’s words of wisdom have stuck with Peterson, who says he tries to evaluate his success in an unconventional way.

“It’s so easy to get sidetracked with the notion that ‘making it’ is having your name on the marquee and your songs on the chart,” said Peterson, who contends it’s more important to “measure your significance by something internal.”

Danforth Comins ’97
By Ingrid Stegemoeller ’07

When Danforth Comins ’97 injured himself at the beginning of his PLU soccer career, his dreams to play intercollegiate soccer came to an abrupt end. His plans to become an electrical engineer didn’t pan out either — he found his engineering classes boring.

So when a friend convinced him to take an acting class to fulfill a general university requirement, he opted in — especially when his friend mentioned that acting classes were a good place to meet girls.

There, Comins discovered his passion for acting, and is now entering his fifth season with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, in Ashland, Ore.

“There is something to me that is very rewarding about going out each night and trying to get it right,” Comins said of his love for acting.

Comins, who graduated from PLU with his bachelor’s degree in art, went to graduate school at the University of Illinois and taught at PLU for a year and a half after getting his master’s in 2000. Comins said he enjoyed teaching, but found it difficult because he wasn’t much older than his students.

“I think I got the reputation (for being tough) because I wanted to make sure they accepted my authority,” Comins said.

Though he got into the acting business later than most of his peers, Comins said, he has acted all over the country at a variety of theaters and companies, including the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts in California and the Utah Shakespeare Festival.

While in Utah, Comins served as an understudy to the actor playing Brutus in Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar.” The actor ruptured his appendix just before the show, giving Comins less than 48 hours to ready himself for the stage.

A producer from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival happened to be in the audience one of the nights Comins performed Brutus, and recruited him to work in Ashland, at the nationally renowned Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

As an actor with the festival, Comins works on a year-to-year contract basis. During the season, he works six days a week, each day possibly involving an afternoon performance and an evening rehearsal, or vice versa.

The week is long, but Comins said he feels fortunate to have such a consistent job. “I feel very lucky to be a full-time working actor. I belong to a union with a 95 percent unemployment rate,” Comins said.

The actor breaks up his long days with trips to his home to visit his wife, PLU alumna Shannon Park ’96, and their two cats.

“Coming home, kissing my wife and rubbing my cat is a highlight,” Comins said.

During the off-season, Comins and Park, a child and family therapist, like to travel.

“We’ll take a trip to Hawaii or something like that,” Comins said. “We try to spend as much time together as we can when it permits.”

Marnee Hollis ’77
By Shannon Schrecengost ’09

As a freshman at PLU, Marnee Hollis ’77 sang the lead role in the theater department’s production of “Oklahoma.” Now, 30 years later, Hollis is on Broadway.

A Puyallup, Wash., native, Hollis grew up with dreams of teaching music. She immediately began taking music education courses upon entering PLU. At that time, she discovered theater.

“I learned that at PLU, anyone could audition for the theater productions,” Hollis said. “I got the lead and that was pretty exciting, so I took some drama classes.”

Hollis continued to study music education but began an additional major in theater. She graduated four years later.

Hollis spent a year in Sweden after graduation. It was during that time she decided to move to New York and try her hand in the entertainment industry. She did so in 1979 and has been there ever since.

“Acting hadn’t been a lifelong dream for me, but something in me said that I needed to try,” Hollis said. “I had to struggle and find a job, but I did.”

Hollis has since performed on Broadway in “My Fair Lady” and in national tours including “The Phantom of the Opera,” “My Fair Lady” and “Evita.” She has also performed off-Broadway and in touring productions of shows like “Menopause, the Musical” and “The Sound of Music.”

Hollis found success in the difficult world of entertainment. To current PLU students pursuing a career in entertainment, Hollis offers this advice: “Entertainment is hard to break into,” she said. “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket and know yourself. If you feel the need to go after it, give it a try, and give it all you have got.”

Craig Kvinsland ’92
By laura zaichkin ’07

Many theater majors only dream of working with film legends such as Steven Spielberg, William H. Macy and Sam Raimi.

Craig Kvinsland ’92 had those dreams, too. And he’s lived them.

However, Kvinsland had to modify his plans since packing up a year after graduation to head for Los Angeles. Since moving, Kvinsland has acted in film, television and commercials.

But rather than acting, Kvinsland has supported himself largely as a lighting technician.

“They say here that overnight success happens in 15 years,” Kvinsland said. “I’m actually over the hump.”

A native of Gig Harbor, Wash., Kvinsland broke into the entertainment business in 1993 by acting in a small movie directed by a University of Southern California student.

“On the days I wasn’t acting, I was learning about the equipment,” Kvinsland said. By the time that project ended, he had established contacts that began helping him land film roles.

To date, Kvinsland’s most significant role – and what he calls the highlight of his career – was as “Brad the bartender,” the obsession of William H. Macy’s character in the 1999 Oscar-nominated film, “Magnolia.”

As a lighting tech, Kvinsland has worked on high-profile movies such as “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” and “Gone in Sixty Seconds.”

On one occasion, Kvinsland’s careers as an actor and technician collided.

Kvinsland was working in 2002 as a lighting tech on the film, “The Sweetest Thing,” when he was recognized by the director from his role in “Magnolia.” Kvinsland soon landed a part in the movie as a waiter.

Kvinsland still auditions for acting jobs. But right now, he’s focused on his family life with his wife of six years, Stacy, and their 4-year-old daughter, Annika, and his work as a technician on this summer’s sure-fire blockbuster, “Spider Man 3.”

“If I was an actor in the movie that would be much better,” Kvinsland said. “It’s a fantasy land, and it’s fun to be a part of.”

Todd Perry ’92

Todd Perry and his partner at Max Ink Cafe, Jennifer Champagne, celebrate his 2006 Emmy Award for his work on the Sci-Fi Channel miniseries "The Triangle."

Todd Sheridan Perry ’92, first became fascinated with digital effects when he saw “Star Wars” in 1977, and was hooked on art from an early age.

“I worked on stop-motion movies and little drawings and cartoons in the sides of your textbooks and stuff like that,” Perry said.

As a PLU student, Perry knew he wanted a career in digital effects. He just had to figure out how to get there. Although there were only a few art classes that used computers at the time, Perry was able to prepare himself for a successful career by teaching himself how to edit while working at PLU’s student-run television station, KCNS, and tailoring his course work to allow him to complete two internships.

Perry received his bachelor’s degree in art with an emphasis in two-dimensional media and has since started his own company, the computer-generated imagery, animation and special effects house Max Ink Cafe. His most high-profile project is his work as a 3D technical director for “Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.” A recent career highlight includes a 2006 Emmy award for his work on the Sci Fi Channel miniseries “The Triangle.”

Perry now floats from company to company as a hired gun, doing everything from video games to television to film, and working in both live action and digital. For Perry, with his wide skill range, there is no one preferred medium.

“The main focus is just telling a story,” Perry said. “The actual venue that the story is told in is less important than the story itself.”

Heidi Vanderford ’98

Unlike many others in the entertainment business, opera singer Heidi Vanderford ’98 says her goal is not to be famous, but rather to feel satisfied with her life.

“It’s about me being happy with myself,” Vanderford said.

Of course, when you can have both, all the better.

Such is the case for Vanderford, who left her side job as a private music instructor in New York this February to participate in her third performance with Plácido Domingo at the Washington National Opera. She will perform the role of Schwertleite in Richard Wagner’s notoriously difficult “Die Walküre.”

Since her early years of grade school, Vanderford enjoyed singing. It was not until her senior year in high school that a voice teacher led her into the world of classical music.

Love of music and performing started this mezzo-soprano’s career that requires traveling from state to state and sometimes country to country. Vanderford admits this type of lifestyle, which requires her to live out of a suitcase and only stay in the same location for a short time, is stressful.

“I had no idea what I was bargaining for as far as the lifestyle,” Vanderford said. “It’s very lonely sometimes. It makes you value family and friends.

“A professional singer relies on (her) laptop computer and phone,” added Vanderford, of how she keeps in contact with the people she cares about.

While on stage, Vanderford applies the lessons learned as a PLU vocal performance major and member of Choir of the West, as well as those from Indiana University, where she earned a master’s degree in vocal performance. She also uses her PLU communication minor to help her in marketing her product: herself.

While Vanderford admits being on stage is like nothing else, she still contemplates how much longer she will continue down her current path. Vanderford has many future options available — from maintaining her constant travel schedule to finding a permanent job in a European opera company. She may try to start a second career using her communication degree.

However, Vanderford said she is in no rush to plan out her entire life and says she currently cannot pass up the enticing projects her opera career allows her to undertake.

“It’s really artistically stimulating,” she said of her more prominent projects, like working with the legendary Domingo. “You realize, wow, this is an amazing work life.”

Ingrid Stegemoeller '07, Breanne Coats '08, Shannon Schrecengost '09, EricThompson '07 and Laura Zaichkin '07 are student journalists with PLU's MediaLab. Read about the work of these student journalists at