Presented by b. scott productions
8 p.m. March 24-27 at Belcourt Cinema 2102 Belcourt Ave.
$15, $35 for Mar. 27 patrons’ party and reception
For tickets, call 255-9600
Language not suitable for young audiences
With the opening of b. scott productions’ Stuff this week, the historic Belcourt Cinema returns to its roots as a venue for live theater, marking the first live dramatic performance at the venue since 1966. Originally built to house vaudeville acts, the Belcourt stage was later converted to accommodate films; until its recent demise, it was Nashville’s only showcase for arthouse and small independent movies.
When he heard the Belcourt was closing, playwright Jim Reyland called owners Juliana and Charlie Hawkins and asked that they allow him to use the space for five weeks while the building was being sold. The owners agreed, and a small troupe of actors moved in to rehearse and perform the world-premiere workshop of Reyland’s original drama Stuff.
Once inside, Reyland drew inspiration from the surrounding flotsam and jetsam of the aging theaterthe heavy cables, rigging, and scaffolding. Although he’d originally set Stuff in an old Civil War warehouse, the playwright altered the script to incorporate the Belcourt’s unique ambiance. He has reset the show in modern-day Nashvilleappropriately enough, in an old vaudeville theater.
When he’s not creating theatrical scripts, Reyland is the owner of Audio Productions, a radio and commercial production house on Music Row. Several years ago, he was inspired to pen Stuff when he began expanding his business and hired two day laborers to help him clean out the clutter and piles of junk that filled an old storeroom.
“These two old guys spent the day talking and reminiscing while they worked. Their characters seemed so rich,” Reyland muses. “So out of this stuff-moving day came the foundation for a piece.”
Hoping to cash in on Barry Scott’s dramatic skills and credibility, Reyland approached the local actor about helping him develop the play and taking a starring role. Scott agreed, impressed by the down-to-earth realism of the three characters in the show. After Reyland had revised several drafts, the cast completed a staged reading of the work at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center last July. Then, as luck would have it, the Belcourt opportunity hit at the very moment when Reyland considered his revised version of Stuff ready for a workshop production. Scott is directing the workshop, and Kimberly LaMarque is assistant director.
The story opens with a rising young businessman, Michael Price (played by Ed Haggard), purchasing the theater with the intent of renovating the space into a 21st-century cineplex. First, however, he has to remove all the rubbish and miscellaneous doodads that have piled up over the decades, so he hires a pair of day laborers for the job. Enter Milton Stack (played by Matt Carlton) and Bobby Warren (played by Barry Scott)war buddies whose past and future are inextricably linked.
As the play moves along, the two workers relieve the theater of obsolescent objects while also clearing their own lives of guilt, longing, and excess baggage. “By taking on this job, they’re going to be changed forever,” Reyland explains. “Bobby is going to receive forgiveness, and Milton is going to be able to get on with his life.”
Scott has invested time and creative energy in this production primarily because he closely identifies with his character. “Bobby is a Southern black man who has an atypical story,” the actor-director says. “He takes these jobs cleaning out places, and he collects stuff. He never had anything growing up, so he takes these junk items and puts them into his trailer. He’s not typical of black characters usually seen in theater, but he is typical of black characters in life. He has a sense of black pride and worth.”
Milton, on the other hand, is still battling the demons that emerged when he was in the military. A homosexual, Milton was failed by the don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy drafted to protect him.
Reyland insists, however, that the issue under scrutiny is not that one character is black and another one is gay. “This is about living in a world where some people aren’t like everybody else,” he says. “It’s about tolerance.”
It’s about, one might say, cleansing, reshaping, and growing. Those working to save the Belcourt understand that concept perfectly.
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