Tony Award nominee Peter Gallagher, who starred in Fox's "The O.C.," will debut at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts with "How'd All You People Get In My Room?" between Feb. 13 and 15. (James Gallagher / July 23, 2009)

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Planning to graduate early, he spent a summer at UC Berkeley, where he elected to study non-Western economic thought and statistics. Then it hit him. There is power in a room filled with people, lights, music and a story — and the mere thought of living without that power was excruciating.

Gallagher gave himself seven years to make a living onstage. Soon thereafter, an open call landed him a role in "Hair" in New York City. To this day, Gallagher remembers — and questions his audacity for — approaching director Tim O'Horgan and asking to leave to play Danny Zuko in the touring company of "Grease."

"I didn't know any better and it seemed to make sense at the time," he said about his quest to travel. "If I'd had an agent, it would not have been possible. I didn't read signed contracts. I just signed on the dotted line."

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The book of Lemmon

Gallagher, who is poised to return to "Covert Affairs" for its fifth season on the USA Network and, in the fall, to Broadway with Kristin Chenoweth for "On the Twentieth Century," looks back on his contribution to "The O.C." with pride.

Post-9/11 America was a different place, he said, with its spasms of xenophobia, climate of fear and people mistrusting their neighbors. So he decided to play a liberal Jew from Brooklyn, living in conservative Newport Beach, who not only retains his values and sense of humor but also warmly welcomes an outsider, which he labels a "genuinely American thing" to do.

"Even today, people on Twitter, Facebook and on the street want to talk about 'The O.C.' and Sandy Cohen," Gallagher remarked. "I'm so lucky to have been part of a story that found a place in the world we live in and resonated with people."

It served the Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award recipient well, he reflected, to take a page from Lemmon's book and always be ready for "one more take, one more role and one more chance." It's about getting up to bat, he believes.

Nowadays, it's harder than ever to make a living as a performer, Gallagher noted. Having always worked with an acting and voice coach, he reminded aspiring actors to find dedicated teachers, to continue learning and showing up and to arm themselves with a "strong capacity for self-delusion."

"You have to keep the love for what you're doing alive," he said. "Money and recognition come and go, and hopefully come again. But if they don't, if you get another crack to do what you love, that's good, and if you can support your family, that's a miracle."

If You Go

What: Peter Gallagher: "How'd All You People Get In My Room?"

Where: Samueli Theater, Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 615 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday till Saturday

Cost: Tickets start at $79

Information: http://www.scfta.org or (714) 556-2787