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Trading spotlights

While Paige Davis' theater training has now earned her a coveted spot in a Broadway play, it is her Trading Spaces celebrity that draws the awe of USF students Monday.

By DONG-PHUONG NGUYEN, Times Staff Writer
Published July 27, 2004

TAMPA - On television, Paige Davis is perky, animated and fun.

In person, well, she's perky, animated and fun. She's herself. And that has been the key, she says, to her success - both as host of the hit cable home improvement show, Trading Spaces, and in her role as Roxie in Chicago, now playing on Broadway.

With Broadway closed on Monday, Davis quietly left New York on a flight to Tampa on Monday afternoon. She wore a sporty turquoise shirt and loose-fitting white pants. She accented her wardrobe with Home Depot-orange accessories - orange Puma shoes, a custom-made Maria Lyons jam bag with a big "P" monogrammed in orange, and a fuzzy orange bracelet.

With her trademark dazzling smile, Davis burst into a theater studio at the University of South Florida where a group of 150 students waited.

They were part of the competitive Broadway Theatre Project, an intense summer camp aimed at guiding young people interested in studying musical theater. It was founded by Tony Award winner Ann Reinking and Debra McWaters; Reinking opened Chicago in 1996 as Roxie.

With the camp in its last week, Davis' appearance was their chance to draw inspiration from a star.

Davis, 34, sat in a chair in the middle of the dimly lit studio. The students, notebooks in hand, sat in stadium-style seating. They threw questions at her in a Q & A that lasted more than an hour.

While Davis' background and training is in theater, and her hard work has earned her a coveted spot in a Broadway play, it was her celebrity as the host of Trading Spaces that drew their awe.

They wanted to know everything, like why do the designers on Trading Spaces wear the same clothes over the two days? For continuity, she said.

"It's disgusting," she said, laughing. "They're doing away with it next season."

How crazy was the lady who hated brown? She wrestled her neighbor to the ground, Davis said. "It was Jerry Springer!"

And who's your favorite designer? Doug's style is more her taste, she said. Frank's country look . . . not so much.

But the tone shifted when they began asking about her acting career and how she landed the spot as host of the show.

Davis said when she couldn't get an audition after sending in her resume, she called the Learning Channel's general manager. The day before auditions, he told her they would squeeze her in if they had time.

She was the last to audition and got the part.

She urged the students to work hard and learn from their opportunities, no matter how small the role.

"Inspiration, motivation, passion, dedication and focus," she said. "Just do it."

One student requested that she perform a small part for them.

Laughing, the TV host commanded the floor, acting out a scene from Chicago.

She got a standing ovation.

Broadway 2004, the Broadway Theater Project's public performances, will be Saturday, 3 and 8 p.m. Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, 1010 N MacInnes Place, Tampa. $35. 813 229-7827 or toll-free 1-800-955-1045; or www.tbpac.org

[Last modified July 27, 2004, 01:00:27]

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