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US Soap Opera Star Promotes Community Theater

Some of Hollywood's busiest actors are not the big-name stars of movie blockbusters, but performers with continuing roles on television. Mike O'Sullivan spoke to one actor who is known to millions of viewers for his role in a daytime drama, but spends much of his time working in community theater.

James Reynolds is known to his legions of fans who watch the Days of Our Lives as police commander Abe Carver.

"Commander Carver is what some people call the moral center of the show. He's a very strong, upright, courageous character," he said.

Commander Carver -- that is, James Reynolds -- has appeared for more than 20 years in the popular daytime series known as a "soap opera." When continuing dramas like this first started on radio, they were often sponsored by soap companies, which led to the description. Later, they built a huge following on television. The soap opera Days of Our Lives began in 1965 on the NBC network.

Viewers, once they start watching, usually get hooked on the series. Fans across the United States follow the intrigues and adventures, the loves and the personal losses of the show's characters. Mr. Reynolds says the work has allowed him to raise a family and pursue his first love, live stage performance.

"You know, there are a lot of wonderful things about doing a soap opera,” he said. “I'm a real soap opera advocate and love it. One of the great things about it is that you get your opportunity to go off and do theater."

In 1997, his success on the series allowed the actor and his wife, actress Lissa Layng, to open a small theater in a one-time mortuary in the Los Angeles neighborhood of South Pasadena. The Fremont Centre Theatre is one of 500 community playhouses in Los Angeles, where new works are often presented to the public. Mr. Reynolds says an upcoming production called National Pastime looks at the struggles of Jackie Robinson, an African American who broke the color barrier in major league baseball.

"Its subject matter the public needs to know more about,” he explained. “And the breaking of the color line in baseball, in my mind, was one of the most momentous moments in American history."

There is no money to be made in community theater and Mr. Reynolds explains that he stages these plays, and his fellow actors appear in them, because of the subject matter and their love of theater.

"The level of talent that we've been able to bring in here has just been extraordinary,” he said. “Both shows that I just directed, the one that just recently closed and this current show, I'd say half the cast were people that I had worked with that I knew were wonderful actors. I called them and they were very, very happy to have an opportunity to do something."

Mr. Reynolds is a former U.S. Marine who served in Vietnam, and in recent years he has taken part in morale-boosting tours for the U.S. military in Kuwait and Afghanistan, and conducted an educational program for the families of U.S. service members stationed in Germany and Iceland.

Back home, he is one of the most visible African-American actors on television. He logs 100 hours of on-air time each year, and has earned nominations for an Emmy award from the television academy and for an Image award from the NAACP, a leading U.S. civil rights organization.