The brothers Brewster: JSU faculty find a new home in community theater

 

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Dr. Michael Boynton (Mortimer Brewster) rehearses a scene at the CAST headquarters in Anniston (Katie Cline/The Chanticleer).

Katie Cline, Editor-in-Chief

 

What do a drama professor, an IT worker and the manager of student media have in common? They’re playing the Brewster brothers in CAST’s production of “Arsenic and Old Lace” March 8-11.

Dr. Michael Boynton, an assistant professor of drama; Mr. Glenn Davenport, an IT support analyst and Mr. Mike Stedham, the manager of the JSU student newspaper and radio station are starring in the Joseph Kesselring comedy as the trio of untamable brothers Mortimer, Jonathan and Teddy Brewster.

A love of theatre runs deep for these men. Boynton has worked as an actor, director and playwright and is now a teacher, but during his undergraduate career at St. Mary’s College of Maryland he studied chemistry, English and film in addition to theatre.

“Usually, you get roped into theatre by a friend,” Boynton said. “I got my start in community theatre. I was in high school. I didn’t know what I was doing. I was a chemistry nerd, and my friends roped me into doing theatre.”

Davenport, too, was “roped into” the theatre world by his friend Dani Ratliff, who plays Officer Brophy in CAST’s production, while they were both students at JSU in the early 2000s.

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Dani Ratliff (Officer Brophy, standing) and JSU IT analyst Glenn Davenport (Jonathan Brewster, floor) rehearse a scene from “Arsenic and Old Lace” (Katie Cline/The Chanticleer).

“She wanted me to audition for ‘Into the Woods,’” Davenport said, “and I was kind of like, ‘I don’t know,’ so I told her, ‘If you guys ever do ‘Hamlet,’ I’ll come do ‘Hamlet.’ And so the next fall, JSU did ‘Hamlet,’ and I got one of the smallest parts in one of the biggest, longest plays in existence, and I’ve been doing theater ever since.”

Stedham found his acting chops in high school when he was cast as Dr. Frederick Chasuble in Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” his senior year. He carried that passion for performing arts into his career as a journalist for the Anniston Star and news director at WDNG radio.

“My drama teacher told me that there were no small roles, just small actors, and I’ve spent the past 50 years trying to prove her wrong,” Stedham joked.

In 1999, Stedham was approached by a colleague to help start a new community theatre group in Anniston. Shortly after, CAST—Community Actors Studio Theater—was born.

“We needed a community theater,” Stedham said. “If we didn’t put it together, nobody else would.”

CAST performed its first show in January 2000 in the Donoho School’s auditorium.

Boynton, Davenport and Stedham each stressed the importance of community theatre.

“I think some people, especially in our culture today, think that art is something that ‘those people over there’ do,” Boynton said. “No, we all need to write poetry. We all need paint. We all need to find what we enjoy, whether or not we get paid for it.”

And theatre is not just for theatre majors.

“I was in six or seven plays, and I was never a drama major or minor,” Davenport said. “It’s always fun. It doesn’t matter what part you’re doing. Despite the many hours you put into it, once you get on stage, it’s worth it.”

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Michael Boyton (Mortimer Brewster) and Mike Stedham (Teddy Brewster) rehearse together (Katie Cline/The Chanticleer).

Behind the scenes of “Arsenic and Old Lace” is JSU freshman theatre major Tara Kittrell. Kittrell serves as the assistant stage manager for the production, but has acted onstage before.

“I enjoy both working backstage and performing,” Kittrell said, “but I prefer backstage work, because I think it’s important to recognize all aspects of putting on a production and not just what’s happening on stage.”

Boynton sees community theatre as a gateway for people who want to break into theatre, either professionally or as a hobby.

“Everyone gets their start somewhere,” Boynton said. “A lot of people are like, ‘I’m a lawyer, but I do this on the side,’ and I think that’s lovely. We need community theatres. It’s an outlet for artists—even if they’re artists-in-training—or just a cool place where people get together and make theatre and have a good time.”

Kittrell agrees.

“Everyone should consider community theater because it’s a great way to meet people—not only where you’re working or going to school but throughout the community,” Kittrell said. “It’s a great way to make friends and different connections you wouldn’t have made before.”

“Arsenic and Old Lace” is directed by 21-year-old Dylan Hurst of Anniston and also stars Debby Mathews as Abby Brewster, Sylvia Pancake as Martha Brewster, Hannah Culpepper as Elaine Harper, Cory VanEkris as Dr. Einstein, Stuart Henderson as Officer Klein, Chris Colvard as the Rev. Dr. Harper, Darrell Farmer as Lt. Rooney, Howard Johnson as Dr. Witherspoon, Brian Jones as Officer O’Hara and Gene Black as Mr. Gibbs.

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Brian Jones (Officer Klein) rehearses a scene with Glenn Davenport (standing) and Michael Boynton (seated) (Katie Cline/The Chanticleer).

 

The play will run March 8-11 at the JSU McClellan Theater (100 Gamecock Circle Anniston, AL 36207). The curtain rises at 7:30 p.m. on March 8, 9 and 10 and at 2:30 p.m. on March 11. Thursday, March 8 is “pay what you want” night. Tickets are $10 for students and $20 for adults for all other performances.

 

 

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