If actor Bob Sorenson were ever to have his own TV series, it would surely be titled, "Everybody Loves Bob."
And well it should be.
Dishing on fellow actors and directors is part of the territory in show business. And with 30 years on Valley stages under Sorenson's 34-inch belt, one would think someone somewhere would have some little itsy-bitsy gossip on the 54-year-old actor of stage, TV and film.
But there's no dirt to be found on one of the Valley's most popular entertainers of the past half century. Everybody, it seems, truly loves Bob.
In a cut-throat industry where few A-list performers enjoy even a decade of success, Sorenson is celebrating his 30th year entertaining local, regional and national audiences, mostly on stage. From his 1980 debut as a leading man in Tempe Little Theatre's "Play it Again, Sam" to his current starring role in Arizona Theatre Company's "God of Carnage," Sorenson has built a solid reputation as a local box-office draw and an actors' actor.
The latter accolade, he says, is due to bevy of encouraging and tough teachers.
"I was lucky to have two very special drama teachers back in Tomah, Wis. In junior high, it was Carol Bursinger, and in high school, it was Jym Clark. Both of them instilled in me early on that performing is a team sport. I've never forgotten that."
Although not quite the class clown as a kid, Sorenson says he was aware he had a "pretty decent" sense of humor. That self confidence, buoyed with a dream of being a performer, prompted Sorenson to leave small-town life behind in the mid-'70s and head west to Arizona State University to study communications and theater.
At ASU, Sorenson says he was lucky enough to find not one but five professors who not only nurtured his innate talents but shaped his healthy attitude toward acting.
From drama professor David Vining, Sorenson learned to "open up and be creative." From theater professors Bill Dobkin and Dan Witt, he honed his now well-known work ethic and professionalism. From communications professors Janet Elsea and Kristen Valentine, Sorenson gained a profound appreciation for the "whole story" and "a great respect for the word."
As with all aspiring actors, Sorenson worked odd day jobs while waiting for his career to take off. In the early 1980s, Sorenson was a much-in-demand food server at Phoenix's Pasta Sergio's, where you'd think he would have added some girth to his string-bean frame. That didn't happen. Talk about discipline.
"I had a serious talk with my lovely ex-wife Linda DeArmond (also an actress), and we agreed it was time to go for broke. I waited my last table in 1985, and I've been working professionally ever since," says Sorenson.
Actors Lab Arizona and Actors Theatre of Phoenix (ATOP) were Sorenson's first professional home bases.
Judy Rollings, an ATOP founder, remembers Sorenson's first audition: "He was wearing khaki pants and a white shirt. He looked kind of preppy. But he blew us all away. He became one of our first resident actors. The thing I most remember about Bob is that he's always consistent. You can count on him."
Rollings directed Sorenson in "Orphans," a heavy drama requiring him to play an emotionally challenged young man.
"That was quite a stretch for Bob, but he got it just right," she says.
Versatility is another of Sorenson's strong suits. He does comedy. He does drama. He's conquered musical comedy, even while not being the world's best song-and-dance man.
He's even succeeded at being a romantic lead - this from a lithe guy with a character actor's face.
Proof of Sorenson's flexibility and damn-the-torpedoes approach to theater was his willingness to play Arizona TV icon Pat McMahon in "The Wallace and Ladmo Show."
Ben Tyler wrote the 1999 stage homage to Arizona's much-loved, legendary kids TV show.
"Can you imagine how hard it would be to play someone who is still alive and who would be sitting on the third row watching you every night? That's tough, yet Bob took on that challenge," says Tyler.
Sorenson's fans are not limited to the Valley. He performs around the country in regional theater. In fact, he will reprise his "God of Carnage" role next spring at the San Jose Repertory Theatre in California.
"Bob is greatly in demand," says David Ira Goldstein, Arizona Theatre Company's artistic director. He's seen Sorenson's work in a "dozen or so shows" and continues to be amazed at the actor's ability to go from comedy to drama with the flip of some internal on-off switch.
"He's a chameleon who can do serious stuff and then turn around and do a wild comedy like ‘The Mystery of Irma Vep.' Those kinds of actors are rare," says Goldstein.
"God of Carnage" requires Sorenson to be on all burners comically and dramatically.
In the Rick Lombardo-directed production of Yasmina Reza's Tony-winning play now at the Herberger, Sorenson is a supposedly button-down husband. But when he loses his cool, he loses it big.
"Reza is very good at using humor to unmask what people say they are and what they really are not too far beneath the surface," says Sorenson.
"Some people have the misperception that this is a heavy drama. True, it tackles relational and social issues. But it's loaded with laughs. It shows how, when our buttons are pushed, we quickly turn from civilized folk to cave men."
Speaking of civility, when Sorenson isn't on stage, he's golfing, a life-long passion that's a genuine stress reducer for him. For the past four summers, he's been a golf instructor at the Junior Golf Institute in Brooklyn, near his New York home.
He also has a home in Phoenix - not just to be close to work and friends and fun, but also to be smack-dab in the middle of golf country.
While Sorenson takes his show business career seriously, one gets the feeling he'd be perfectly content to spend the rest of his life on the links. Having a life outside of theater helps Sorenson keep a practical perspective on the ups and downs of life in show business.
"The secret to my success? First, it's perseverance. Secondly, it's a complete lack of cynicism. When you start being cynical because you can't get work, you're digging yourself into a hole. I refuse to do that."