By day, Dan Wayne may appear to be a mild-mannered defense attorney, fighting for the rights of Southeast citizens everywhere. But by night, Wayne trades his suits for pantaloons, legal briefs for librettos, and courtroom banter for the classical lilting-boom of opera.
Since 1991, Wayne has been part of the ensemble of performers at the Juneau Lyric Opera as well as Opera 2 Go! In that time he has worked his way up from a basement baritone to a tenured tenor through study and practice in his off-hours.
While it may not seem unusual for limelight to come naturally to some attorneys, Wayne said he sees the stage as a respite from the everyday courtroom drama.
"Contrary to what you see in lawyer shows on TV," said Wayne, "a courtroom is not a stage. If you handed TV lawyers a real-life case file of a real person, they'd pee their pants.
"As a lawyer you're driven by something different that comes from believing in your client's cause and having empathy for your client's situation. There's very little in an actor's tool kit that can prepare you for a courtroom," he said.
The 41-year-old, originally from Wrangell, started his career in Juneau as an organizer for a state employees union. By 1991, he said, he was ready for a change and wanted to practice law. Wayne had studied law a few years earlier at the
recommendation of a producer at a California ABC affiliate where he worked in production.
When Wayne left the union, he started his own practice. And he accepted a role in the musical "Quilters" at the Juneau-Douglas Little Theatre.
"I was a guy and they desperately needed guys," he said. "Most of the parts in the play are done by women, and the men's roles were traditionally played by women. But the director decided he wanted a man to play the men's parts so I got in."
It was during the run of the show that a friend, Lyric Opera singer Sandra Strandtmann, was in the audience and thought he just might fit with the opera company, he said.
"I thought I was going to be in over my head," Wayne said. "I knew nothing about opera. But again, they needed men who were willing to sing and could carry a tune."
Though overwhelmed, Wayne said he drew on his musical-theater training in college as well as voice lessons he took while abroad in Italy. But Wayne still faced overcoming 10 years without serious vocal study.
"It's a different kind of singing," he said. "I had sung jazz, pop and rock, and I was a karaoke host. ... Opera requires a fuller sound. You have to make your voice more versatile, and there are a broader range of notes you have to get to in different ways that, with an untrained voice, is harder to do."
So Wayne said he began practicing with small ensembles within the opera as well as taking regular voice lessons a few times a month with teachers such as John d'Armand and Joyce Parry Moore.
"Dan is one of those Alaska success stories," said Moore. "He does not have a formal degree in opera or music ... but he is a good example of someone who has chosen music as an avocation to enhance their lives and has ended up also enhancing the community."
Though he was earning parts in major productions such as "Pirates of Penzance," Wayne said he wanted to make a shift from singing baritone, in the lower vocal register, to tenor, in the higher vocal register.
"It's more of a challenge. It's kind of like being a tightrope walker or a juggler," Wayne said. "You have to know how to use the techniques of using your breath, the muscles in your head and the muscles in your shoulders at the same time.
"Plus the tenor always gets the girl," he added.
One "girl" this tenor got was his wife, Kathleen, a music teacher and fellow opera singer, whom he met seven years ago while in the chorus in "Pirates of Penzance."
However the theater has affected Wayne, he said he's not packing for the Met anytime soon.
"I would never choose opera as a career," he said. "It's what I do for fun and what I do to relax. It has a certain purpose. Once it becomes a job it would change everything and I probably wouldn't want to do it anymore. Now, if I had the voice of Pavarotti that might be another story."
Melanie Plenda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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