Actress, Voice-Over Artist Kate Fleming, 41; Drowned in Studio During Seattle Flooding

Flowers and photos of Fleming form a makeshift memorial on the porch of her house. She was a 1983 graduate of Alexandria's T.C. Williams High.
Flowers and photos of Fleming form a makeshift memorial on the porch of her house. She was a 1983 graduate of Alexandria's T.C. Williams High. (By Blaine Harden -- The Washington Post)
By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Kate Fleming, 41, an award-winning voice-over artist and Alexandria native who drowned Dec. 14 when a torrent of rainwater trapped her in the basement studio of her Seattle home, was a born entertainer.

An actress and singer, she started putting on shows at age 2, an older sister recalled.

She was Dolly in a T.C. Williams High School production of "Hello Dolly" and appeared in numerous productions in the Washington area and in Seattle. But she had found her niche away from the spotlight in recent years, carving out a successful career as a narrator of audiobooks.

Reveling in the quiet and the intimacy of recorded storytelling, she was the voice in the listener's ear for more than 250 audiobooks, including novels about Native Americans by Louise Erdrich and the Ruth Ozeki novel "All Over Creation," for which Ms. Fleming won a 2004 Audie Award for Unabridged Fiction. Co-founder in 2004 of Seattle-based Cedar House Audio, a book recording company, she also produced walking tours with travel guide author Rick Steves, narrated parts of the 9-11 Report and was the narrator for a PBS documentary about the Stealth bomber.

"She loved the anonymity of the [recording] booth," said Charlene Strong, her partner. "She used to tell me, 'In the booth, I can just let my talent fly.' "

Kathryn Ann "Kate" Fleming graduated from T.C. Williams in 1983 and received a bachelor's degree in religious studies from the College of William and Mary in 1987. She studied at the Actors Theatre of Louisville and spent time in New York but didn't particularly like the big city. Moving back to the Washington area, she acted in Woolly Mammoth Theatre productions and in various other venues.

Chris Henley of the Washington Shakespeare Company recalled her Banquo in a 1991-92 production of "Macbeth." "It was just one of those really memorable performances . . . and interesting," he said, "because you're not expecting a woman to play Banquo. It was period costumes, and there she was, swinging the ax along with T.J. Edwards and Jason Adams and all the dudes."

In a 1993 production of "The Tempest," she played the jester Trinculo. As The Washington Post noted, "Kate Fleming does some inspired comic acting."

It wasn't just role-playing, recalled Clare Fleming, her sister. "She always had everybody laughing. She was a remarkably animated person with a lot of quirky and interesting thoughts in her head."

Ms. Fleming was a mesmerizing teller of tales. "Storytelling is such a basic human experience," she told a William and Mary alumni publication recently. "From the ancient campfire to the modern mom reading her kids a book at bedtime, we all love to tell and be told stories."

She moved to Seattle in 1994, drawn by the beauty and sophistication of the city. "She loved the green," Strong said, "and the rain didn't bother her."

In addition to her voice-over work, she continued to take acting roles and to appear in radio and TV ads. In a 1998 review of a collection of short pieces by playwright Carlos Murillo, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer credited Ms. Fleming with being "the undisputed record holder for diverse acting," noting that she played six men in the production.

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