Breaking new ground for BLT
STORY AND PHOTOS BY JEFFREY STITES
Beth Strickland isn’t playing it safe with her choice of Stop Kiss
for her directorial debut. She admits the show, centering around two women, Callie (Cat Thomas) and Sara (Brandi Simmons), who’s first kiss on a New York street leads to a brutal assault that leaves Sara in a coma, is a bit out of the box for Brunswick Little Theatre. The show is non-linear, with scenes exploring both the women’s blossoming relationship before the attack (which is not portrayed on stage) and the efforts to nurse Sara back health afterwards.
“I know this isn’t the type of show BLT normally does, and taking risks like that can be scary but the fact I’m being trusted with this endeavor is amazing,” Strickland said.
While Strickland is new to the director’s chair, she is far from new to theatre. That trust she mentions has been earned over years of involvement with BLT, particularly its Youth Division, Stagestruck Players. Strickland has been a part of Stagestruck since its beginnings in 2002, acting from sixth grade all the way through high school and moving onto other roles once she graduated and began college.
“I would come home during breaks and go to Stagestruck auditions and rehearsals since most of my friends were still involved in it and would take notes for (Stagestruck founder and director Debbie) Skillman. But part of Stagestruck was to learn every aspect of theater. We played theater games to learn improv and how to create stage pictures, we would all collaborate on choreography, and we all pitched in when it came to props and costumes and sets. So it was a very natural transition to go from that to helping Skillman when I could during the summers, to being the assistant director, assistant to the choreographer, Beth Strickland, Director and stage manager starting with Dorothy Meets Alice in 2012,” said Strickland. “And I haven’t really stopped since.”
Debbie Skillman and Strickland go way back. “I have known her since she came into this world,” said Skillman. “Her grandmother sang in my church choir and I played for her baptism. I taught her in elementary school and she appeared in musicals I produced there. She also attended a summer creative arts camp I held for several summers called KidzArts. Once she finished college and returned to the area I encouraged her to get involved with the theater again and asked her to be my assistant director. She has served in that capacity for Dorothy Meets Alice, Dear Edwina, Godspell, and Thoroughly Modern Millie.”
As far as confidence in Strickland’s abilities, Skillman leaves no question. “She is organized, creative, and a great note taker. The kids love her and I love her. She is calm under pressure, does not get flustered, has high expectations and works hard. She is pleasant, smart, happy, and a team player; consistent and highly dependable,” she said. For her part, Strickland said Skillman and Stagestruck Players prepared her to move into directing. “I don’t know if I have to words to describe the depth of the impact Skillman has had on my life and what I have learned from Stagestruck. She has challenged me and pushed me to be better than I thought I could be- both as a performer and as a person- without making me feel as if I wasn’t good enough to start with,” she said. “And Stagestruck! Theater people always talk about theater being a refuge, a place for the outcasts to find each other. But Stagestruck is more like a sacred space. Being a young person and feeling like you don’t belong is such a debilitating feeling but Stagestruck provides that belonging. And to be able to give back to that as an adult has helped give my life meaning.”
Strickland hopes her audiences can find some meaning in the story she is bringing to stage as well. “Everybody has wondered what they wanted at some point. Everybody has loved somebody unexpected. Everybody has fought to get something they wanted at least once. Everybody has been scared of losing somebody they love,” she said, adding that the fact the lead characters are in a lesbian relationship shouldn’t make the story less relevant. “I don’t want people to think it is only a show for LGBT people. I hope audiences can see that LGBT stories are universal stories. I hope audiences are moved in some way.”
Strickland first saw Stop Kiss as a senior at Appalachian State University. “It struck a chord with me. I think it was because I could relate to the main characters so well. I was facing the end of my college career and I only had a vague idea of what I wanted and absolutely no idea how to get it. So I admired the bravery of the some of the characters who knew what they wanted and how to get it. Almost six years later I could still remember the way the show made me feel and to me that is good theatre,” she said. “I like doing good theatre.”
Good theatre requires more than a director, though, and Strickland said she has the help of a talented cast. “So far, this cast is amazing. Everybody seems to know their characters inside and out and this is such a character driven show. And since we are a small cast we can really kind of collaborate and get people talking about how their characters relate to each other and what would feel more natural for them in terms of movement and reactions,” she said. “It’s great because, so far, I’m more of a facilitator than a director. Which as an actor is something I appreciate so I’m incredibly lucky to have a cast where I can be that type of director as opposed to somebody who has to plan every little movement, because the things they come up with are great and things I wouldn’t have thought of.”
With all the pieces in place, Strickland said she has the makings of a successful show. “The content of the show is probably the riskiest thing and convincing people to come see any show is a continuous challenge for community theater. But BLT has so many great supporters and I’ve had tons of people tell me how excited they are to see my directorial debut, so I’m not even all that worried about either of those things,” she said.
“I hope I can positively impact this community by doing something I love.”
Stop Kiss will be performed June 17-19 and 24-26, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm with Sunday matinees at 3:00 pm, at the Brunswick Little Theatre, 8068 River Road SE, Southport. Tickets are available at Ricky Evans Gallery in Southport and online at www. brunswicklittletheatre.com.