Prolific Film and Stage Actor Ted Rooney Has Founded 21ten Theatre in the Former Shoebox Space

The nonprofit company has already put on several productions and now teaches students how to act.

21Ten (Courtesy 21Ten)

Everybody knows Ted Rooney—but for many different reasons.

Portland playgoers know him from roles at Artists Rep, Profile Theatre and beyond. Insomniacs know him from a sleep aid commercial, where he played Abraham Lincoln and talked to a beaver. Gilmore Girls die-hards know him as Morey Dell, the ultra-chill husband of Babette (Rooney’s fellow Portland native Sally Struthers).

Yet after spending much of his career center stage and in front of the camera, Rooney is at his most passionate when he describes his work as the artistic director of 21ten Theatre, a nonprofit company based in Southeast Portland.

“Basically, I realized everything I’d done up to this point in my life was about getting ready for this,” Rooney says. “It’s a weird thing—my voice is quavering because I get emotional when I talk about this. I’m all in, man.”

In 2021, 21ten took over the former location of the Shoebox Theater. Rooney and co-founder Brooke Totman started teaching acting classes there, and 21ten grew into a formidable company, beginning with its 2022 production of Mindy Kaling and Brenda Withers’ Matt & Ben (a satirical peek behind the scenes of Good Will Hunting).

Since then, Rooney has helmed multiple plays at 21ten, including Christopher Durang’s Laughing Wild. And this fall, a to-be-announced comedy will grace the theater’s stage, allowing Rooney to continue working within the intimate, 40-seat blackbox space at 21ten that he adores.

“On a small stage, it’s more filmic,” he says. “You can see the thoughts of the actors.”

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