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The crossover class

Noises Off

NEW YORK — The year ended with numerous TV and movie names making headlines — usually negative — for forays into theater.

Jenna Elfman never made it into “Nine,” Farrah Fawcett never made it to opening night in “Bobbi Boland.” Ditto Mary Tyler Moore in “Rose’s Dilemma.” Ashley Judd and Jason Patric got dissed by critics — and co-star Ned Beatty — in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”

Meanwhile, some experienced theater performers — Patrick Wilson, Ben Shenkman and Justin Kirk — made a happier transition to the world of TV and film in “Angels in America.”

And the new year brings several more TV and film debuts for seasoned legit talents.

Kathleen Marshall (“Wonderful Town”) goes into production on ABC’s “Once Upon a Mattress,” which she directs.

The movie version of Off Broadway hit “Proof” wrapped in November, and David Auburn follows that screenplay with another, “The Lake House,” based on Korean pic “Il Mare.” Warners has the time-travel love story out to major directors. (On stage, the playwright’s next play, “The War Journals of Mihail Sebastian,” goes up in March at Off Broadway’s Keen Co.)

Jeffrey Hatcher, book writer of “Never Gonna Dance,” readies his new play, “A Picasso,” while he awaits the imminent release of his play-turned-screenplay, “Compleat Female Stage Beauty.” The movie stars Billy Crudup and Claire Danes.

Three legit directors spent Christmas vacation editing, scoring and otherwise honing their first films.

In 2004, Michael Mayer brings Michael Cunningham‘s novel “A Home at the End of the World” to the screen. Craig Lucas adapts his own play “The Dying Gaul” to film. And Charles Randolph-Wright helms an original screenplay, “On the One,” about two brothers in Harlem, one a gangsta rapper, the other a minister.

All three stage directors mention their experience of working with actors as their big advantage over, say, your average video helmer-turned-filmmaker.

“A lot of film actors are looking for a conversation about acting with a stage director,” Mayer says.

The film medium, in at least one respect, is more demanding than the stage. “There is more you have to do,” says Randolph-Wright. “In the theater, you’re in a rehearsal room and then a stage. It’s only two locations. In film, every day you’re changing locations.”

For Lucas, making a film dispelled one huge myth about the process. “In the theater, one is always begging people to take one seriously as a director, but everyone rallied around me at once on this film,” he recalls. “It was the exact opposite of what you hear. In New York, one can barely get artistic directors to return one’s calls half the time, and in Los Angeles on this movie I was welcomed and treated like a valuable colleague. It was refreshing and it paid a living wage.”

Regardless of where these first films take their respective helmers, it’s good news that each of them remains involved with the theater.

Lucas directs and wrote the book for the Adam Guettel musical “The Light in the Piazza,” which opens Jan. 20 at Chi’s Goodman Theater. Randolph-Wright goes into rehearsals in March for the world preem of Culture Clash‘s redo of Frank Loesser’s unperformed tuner “Senor Discretion Himself” at D.C.’s Arena Stage. And Mayer brings a revised version of Arthur Miller‘s “After the Fall” to Broadway this summer.

After directing “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” Mayer had to put his theater career “on hold for two years” until the Cunningham project finally materialized. Patience paid off, and hopefully it will again with the musical “Spring Awakening.”

Mayer had planned to be working on Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater‘s new musical this winter, with openings at Long Wharf and the Roundabout.

But both companies ran into financial problems.

“We’re looking for other venues right now,” Mayer says.

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