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Taking similar paths to Western North Carolina, former soap opera actresses find comfort evolving from screen to stage

Jennifer Gatti (left) and Callan White co-star in "Roommate" through NC Stage.
Courtesy NC Stage
Jennifer Gatti (left) and Callan White co-star in "Roommate" through NC Stage.

Jennifer Gatti and Callan White had at least two things in common before meeting. Both had recurring roles on soap operas during the 1980s and ‘90s and, many years later, both needed to
be convinced by their partners to move to Asheville.

“I did come kicking and screaming,” White said with a laugh. “It’s like ‘I don’t want to leave L.A. My friends are here, my work’s been here.’”

Before she and her husband moved 15 years ago, White had more than two dozen screen credits to her name, including five seasons during the 1980s on the daytime soap opera “Loving.”

“We decided that we didn’t really want our children to grow up in Los Angeles,” she said. “By the time my son was 7, he was in a Hummer limo more times for a birthday party than I’ve ever been in a limo even as a soap star. So I went ‘This is not normal.’”

Gatti was still a teenager when she landed recurring roles in the 1980s, first on “Search for Tomorrow” and then on “Guiding Light.” In the mid-1990s, she had a string of appearances on “The Young and the Restless.”

“I just got very, very lucky. That kind of stuff doesn’t happen and, of course, I had this false sense of like ‘Oh, it’s really easy,’” Gatti recalled. “I was an unemployed actress at the age of 15.”

Despite the parallel tracks of their early careers and paths to Asheville, White and Gatti are only appearing together on stage for the first time now, holding the only roles in NC Stage’s production of “The Roommate.” Performances run through Oct. 30.

Gatti plays a woman running from a mysterious past who finds her way to small-town Iowa. There, she rents a room from a woman played by White. Both characters are at crossroads in their own lives and in their relationships with their adult children, who don’t appear in the play.

“We understand the life of a journeyman actor, but also we had a mutual respect for each other’s work ethic and craft,” Gatti said. “I had a feeling that we would really click. Because you never know until you start working with somebody, but we just work really, really well together.”

“We just dove in and trusted each other and I have never felt safer being on stage with somebody, especially in a two-hander,” White added. “I just know she’s there, she knows I’m there, and we just hold each other up, and it’s a lovely thing.”

Living in Asheville hasn’t hindered Gatti’s screen career. She appeared in one show or another every year throughout the 2010s, including a supporting role throughout the two seasons of the HBO series “Vice Principals.” Early in the pandemic, White joined the theater faculty at Western Carolina University. Both actresses say they now approach stage and screen work from points of passion rather than pressure.

Like most stage performers in this community, White and Gatti are working gig by gig. So despite their wealth of stage and screen credits, neither has a performance to look forward to on the near horizon. Both say they’re fine with that.

“If you don’t have to do it, you can say no when you want,” White said. “It doesn’t define you, but it is part of your heart. It is something you love to give to other people. So, I’m cool.”

“You know, there have been periods in my life in Asheville where I thought ‘Could I walk away from acting?’, and no, that’s not happening,” Gatti said. “I think I’m working more because I’m here, because it’s made me a more well-rounded human being, it’s made me a more well-rounded person. I know I’m a better actor because of it.”

Matt Peiken was BPR’s first full-time arts journalist.