Guest director bringing "charming" play to life on WBU stage

PLAINVIEW – It’s clear Jeff Scott welcomes a challenge. After all, who else would accept the offer to direct a play at a nearby university with little more than a month before opening night?

That’s exactly what Scott did when he took on the role of director for Wayland Baptist University Theatre’s upcoming dinner theatre production of The Exact Center of the Universe, a comedy Joan Vail Thorne to be performed Sept. 28-30.

“Dr. Runnels called me the Friday before classes started at Wayland and asked if I’d be willing to direct the show,” said Scott, who just finished his Master of Fine Arts degree at Texas Tech University in May and was contemplating doctoral work. “I decided to do it because it would mean more experience for me and it’s what I love to do.”

Scott, a native of Bandera in South Texas, earned his bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Texas at San Antonio, then decided that the field of theatre was more fitting for a career. His master’s degree emphasis was acting and directing, and he hopes to direct theatre and teach at the university level, with great interest in pursuing the Ph.D. in theatre at Tech.

“I really enjoy the atmosphere more in the educational setting than in the professional theatre,” Scott said. “In the professional setting, everything is about the product, and it is pretty cut-throat.”

All this made the offer from Wayland hard to turn down, and it’s the educational aspect he’s enjoyed the most from the experience so far.

“This was very much a collaborative process (with the actors), rather than me just sitting up in a chair dictating orders,” he said. “I wasn’t really familiar with the theatre curriculum here so I didn’t know what they knew. I’ve had the chance to teach them stuff they might not have been exposed to yet.

“That’s also been the most rewarding part of this experience. These are sharp, talented kids who can think, and it was good to have that exchange of ideas.”

For Runnels, that was a major reason for bringing Scott into the picture.

“I think it's great that our theatre department has grown enough to allow students to have exposure to several directors during their time at Wayland,” Runnels said. “When students were just working with me, their perspective about theatre and directing was limited by my way of working. I have seen Mr. Scott’s work, and he is an outstanding director that has a great deal to offer our students in this play.”

The major challenge for Scott was coming in to the project relatively cold, having never read the script for “Exact Center,” much less having a month to pore over it before auditions, which he prefers.

All that meant he and the cast were learning the script and uncovering the play’s nuances together, an experience that he said really stretched him. With the play opening in just a week, Scott has grown comfortable with the play and the students under his tutelage.

“It’s a very charming story,” he said. “It deals so much with Southern families, so I could definitely see these people.”

Scott said the story centers around Vada Love Powell and her son Appleton, called “Apple” for short.

“This young man has lived under his mother’s thumb,” Scott said. “As such, Vada has been so overbearing and overprotective of him. He finally gets married and has a life of his own, and she has to deal with it and adapt on her own terms. It’s kind of a ‘coming of age’ story, he just experiences it in his 30s rather than earlier in life.”

Scott said the play is realistic and is a comedy, for the most part, though it has its dramatic moments like most. He believes audiences will enjoy the play and will be able to identify with the characters because of the similar culture.

Rachel Morgan, a Wayland freshman from Plainview, will play the lead role of Vada, with sophomore Chris Smith playing Apple. Morgan returns to the WBU stage after a role in last year’s The View From Here as a senior at Plainview Christian High School. Smith, a new theatre major, makes his first appearance on the WBU stage.

Rounding out the cast is senior theatre veteran Mary Feril, playing Apple’s wife Mary Ann and her twin sister, Mary Lou; Khrystyne Eckerd, a freshman from Ruidoso, N.M., as Vada’s friend Enid; and Hannah Stewart, a sophomore theatre major, as Vada’s friend MaryBelle.

Junior Grant Jasper, a familiar face at Wayland theatre, returns for this production but in a different role. Jasper is completing his theatre major practicum by designing the set for the play.

“Grant Jasper is an actor that our patrons have seen onstage in several plays, and last year he gave an exceptional performance as ‘the Nerd.’ In this play, Grant is stretching his designing wings by creating the set design under the capable supervision of our university designer, Chris Moore,” Runnels explained.

Jasper said he had the choice of directing a production or doing design and wanted the challenge of set design. It has been exactly that.

“It’s a lot of work,” he said. “There’s a lot of drawing and drafting before anything goes up on stage. Once you get it on stage, it’s completely different and most of what you’ve done doesn’t work so you end up almost starting over.

“It’s a lot of trial and error.”

Jasper said he chose a traditional, realistic approach for the setting of Exact Center and is glad he went that route. He said Moore has provided much expertise and advice, as has Scott.

The dinner theatre production will be catered by Johnny Carino’s of Lubbock. The Italian meal will begin at 7 p.m. each night, with the play beginning at 8 p.m. A dessert will be served afterward.

Tickets for the dinner theatre are $20, and reservations must be paid for in advance with a credit card or check. For the play only, tickets are $8, and reservations are encouraged. To make a reservation, contact the Box Office at (806) 291-1089.