Actor Steve DeNaut dies at 68

Elia Powers

Steve DeNaut had acting parts in at least 15 South Coast Repertory

productions over a 20-year span.

But as producing artistic director David Emmes looked back on the

career of his friend and contemporary, he said DeNaut’s most

important roles were those of conservatory instructor and theater


“When he came to us we were an underfunded, nonunion company,”

Emmes said. “He was there throughout the years and took an active

role in helping [the Repertory] grow.”

DeNaut died Wednesday of cancer at Irvine Regional Hospital and

Medical Center. He was 68.

Emmes first encountered DeNaut at a social club event held at

Newport Harbor High School. DeNaut was attending Orange Coast College

at the time and befriended the younger Emmes, then a high school


Having developed a passion for theater, DeNaut moved to New York

in 1956 to try his hand at acting. He studied theater and performed

in a variety of small shows.

After Emmes’ senior year at Newport Harbor High, he called DeNaut

in New York to inquire about a lengthy visit. DeNaut encouraged him

to come.

Emmes spent the first few nights of his stay on the floor of

DeNaut’s Lower East Side studio apartment. He remembers having to use

a public bathhouse because DeNaut’s apartment had no warm water.

Still, he looks back at that time with fond memories.

“Going to New York was the turning point in my life,” Emmes said.

“I was introduced to some very creative people and became aware of

how much I needed to learn.

“Steve was the magnet that took me there.”

Emmes said that experience motivated him to break into the arts.

He eventually founded South Coast Repertory with Martin Benson in


DeNaut spent more than 10 years in New York before returning to

Southern California, where he joined the touring company at South

Coast Repertory.

Emmes said DeNaut was at his best in comedy roles.

“He was the funniest person I’ve ever known,” said Madeline

Porter, South Coast Repertory’s assistant public relations director.

“He had a very dry sense of humor that he loved to share with


DeNaut’s credits include “Anything Goes,” “Time of Your Life” and

“Taming of the Shrew.” He also performed in the 1971 run of “Tommy,”

a rock musical with songs by The Who. That show was Emme’s

directorial debut at South Coast Repertory.

Although friends said DeNaut loved to act, he decided to focus the

majority of his time on teaching.

He was director of the Theater Conservatory program that served

area youth.

He wrote and directed several children’s shows, including a short

play called “The Fellini Film,” which was performed by students in

the Professional Program. DeNaut was lead instructor of the

Repertory’s Neighborhood Conservatory Program and specialized in

teaching children ages 8 to 10.

“He would go out to schools and teach kids who had never seen

theater about acting,” Porter said. “He made them love the theater.”

Added Emmes: “He was the one person we could always trust, no

matter how challenging the crowd.”

Emmes called on DeNaut to guide selected theater tours, especially

where school-aged children or important guests were involved.

DeNaut is survived by his wife, Joanne DeNaut; his brother, Dennis

DeNaut; his sister, Stacy Kredel; his daughter, Jessi DeNaut; and his

stepson, Dennis Palmieri.

A memorial service is pending.

Donations in DeNaut’s memory can be sent to: Attn. Janine Limas,

The Interval House, P.O. Box 3356, Seal Beach, CA 90740.