To borrow from a motif in the hit HBO series “True Blood,” Chris Bauer is a passionate person. He has an abundance of positive energy—and that’s apparent on more than just the boob tube.
The actor is a champion of Bay Street Theatre, a devoted Sag Harbor village resident and a doting dad, and he was recently named the Chairman for Bay Street’s Annual Appeal.
“Is that what they’re calling me?” he asks, questioning the title’s apparent formality. He’d much prefer the label “Guy Who Cares.”
Bauer’s interest in Bay Street was ignited in 2010, when he appeared in David Mamet’s production of Romance. The show ran for three weeks, but it was enough to have Bauer hooked on the local theater and on the vibe of the East End. He joined their Board of Trustees later that year.
“Theatre can just have such a big impact on an audience,” says Bauer. “It’s like a mini community, and investing in Bay Street is investing in Sag Harbor.”
Bauer, who currently plays detective Andy Bellefleur on “True Blood,” got his start on the stage. The California native came to the East Coast to attend the Yale School of Drama, graduating in 1992. But he then moved to Chicago to “start over” and rebuild a reputation that had become too, in his words, “overblown.” In taking the step back, Bauer started performing in plays, and he was quickly hooked on the stage.
Since then, Bauer has become most popular for his appearances onscreen—his first regular role was on NBC’s “Third Watch,” which ran from 1999 to 2005. He began to make movies, and he was later tapped to be in HBO’s “The Wire,” which received much critical praise for its portrayal of social and political themes. “Since then, things have quickly taken off,” he says.
But Bauer continually feeds his attachment to the stage, and he will return to New York later this month to begin rehearsal for the Off-Broadway show What Rhymes with America which will run from mid–November through the end of the year.
“The theater world is where I feel most at home,” says Bauer. “I’m a theater nerd.”
Bauer hopes to share that nerdiness through his new position, and was pleased and excited to express his devotion to Bay Street in the Annual Appeal letter, as he was able to rewrite and personalize it after accepting the role of chairman. Encouraging people to patronize the theater—its shows, its benefits and special events—comes almost like second nature. And it’s not hard to rally a crowd that Bauer simultaneously sees as an integral part of what makes Bay Street such a special place.
“The audience is so supportive, intelligent and present,” says Bauer. He raves that a regional theater like Bay Street provides ready access to culture, particularly in the public schools.
Bauer cites a recent example: “Myles (Stokowski), a local kid, played the youngest son in (Bay Street’s production of) Men’s Lives over the summer. His enthusiasm and the joy emanating from his performance—I so identified with it.”
The once-fulltime resident of Sag Harbor returns to the area frequently, at minimum spending the holidays and the summer season on the East End. Last July, he made an appearance on Long Wharf for Bay Street’s Annual Rock the Dock fundraiser. Favorite village haunts include indulging in coffee at Espresso and, despite his status as a “yoga rookie,” Yoga Shanti.
“You can blindfold me, let me walk down the street, and I’m sure to run into my favorite place,” he says, emphasizing how easy it is to find an establishment he’ll enjoy frequenting.
Bauer’s role on “True Blood” and the resulting commute from the East End to L.A. (where the majority of the show is filmed) prompted him to relocate his family of four back to his native West Coast, though he regularly made the cross- country trek for the first two seasons. The move hasn’t caused his love of the area to wane. And his children, who attended Ross, still refer to Sag Harbor as “home.”
Speaking of his kids, are they allowed to watch dad on “True Blood?” “Hell no,” says Bauer, no doubt considering the show’s adult themes. Like Bauer in his early years, his children have more exposure to theater than to screen acting.
Bauer happily admits that it is his character that is well known. Outside of the movie world, he gets to live a more anonymous existence than the typical East End celeb.
Perhaps that departure from the typical association with fame will be even more apparent to East End locals, as Bauer intends to come to Sag Harbor frequently during his Off-Broadway stint. Many bold-faced names are yet to discover the beauty of eastern Long Island during the cooler months.
Bauer will be out here on Halloween, but being the star of a vampire series does not beg any plans for the evening beyond the normal trick-or-treating routine. He’ll be missing his kids back in L.A., but will help fill the void with a trip through East Hampton neighborhoods with friends and their kids.
After the New Year, it’s back to California to resume filming of “True Blood.” The show will air its sixth season beginning in June 2013.
And if that seems like crunch time, Bauer clarifies that, all in all, if a show can get a month of rehearsal, that’s considered good. He quickly mentions that Bay Street gets about three weeks of rehearsal, and the short turnaround is “a real tribute to the theater and the quality of shows they’re able to produce.”
Despite the work schedule, Bauer is looking forward to quiet time with his favorite people. “We’re a family who likes to be together,” says Bauer, who is married to costume designer Laura Cunningham Bauer. As the holiday season approaches, Sag Harbor is the perfect backdrop to enjoy that. “It’s my personal favorite place to be at any given time.”