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For Compass Players, dedication name of the game

Carole Coppinger studied drama in college, but the stage never became a career. It does remains her calling, however, one she heeds via a Tampa community theater group called Compass Players.

"It gets pretty hectic sometimes, but both of my "jobs' help keep me sane," said Coppinger, an insurance underwriter. "They are so different. I go from the realities of the day to the creativity of acting."

Coppinger and her husband, Richard, are among the founders of the 12-year-old Compass Players, which has about eight core members. Like the Coppingers, most work non-theater jobs for a living, and reserve their nights for rehearsing, building sets and promoting their plays.

"This is something we do because we love it," said Ed Mason, 43, an original member of Compass Players. "It doesn't have the drudgery of the usual job."

During the past few weeks, members have spent up to 12 hours a day preparing two plays that continue their run this weekend.

One is Tennessee Williams' 27 Wagons Full of Cotton, about Mississippi cotton gin owners, and God's Spies, a comedy about televangelists by Don Nigro. Carole Coppinger is directing God's Spies and Richard, 41, is directing the Tennessee Williams play, which the group plans to take to a local competition later this month.

Last spring, Compass Players won awards for best director and best actor for their performance of Zoo Story at the American Association of Community Theaters festival competition. The play also won second place at the national competition. By a strange twist of fate, the group was then asked to compete in an international festival, but received the message too late because of a broken answering machine.

The group has been rehearsing for the shows since the last season ended.

"If you're dedicated, you will find a way to make time for acting," said Kelly Harkcom, 16, a junior at King High School who is playing Wendy Trumpey in God's Spies.

"When you step on the stage and know that is where you belong, then that's what you should put all your energies into. Nothing comes close to live theater," she said.

"I plan to be on Broadway someday and everything else can wait."

Marcia Deming, 45, has acted much of her life, including four years in New York City. In Tampa, she has performed with several professional companies, but had been out of acting 10 years when she joined Compass Players this fall.

She will play the part of Flora, the abused wife of a cotton gin owner in 27 Wagons Full of Cotton.

"I was very burned-out for awhile, but now I want to get back on stage," said Deming, who works in the data entry department at a local hospital. "This part is so intense, I'll probably take some time off after the show closes."

27 Wagons Full of Cotton and God's Spies will be performed at the Center for Creative Thought, at 718 S Howard Ave. in Tampa. Performance times are 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $8 for adults and $6 for students and senior citizens. For more information, call 623-6251.

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