Theater group in second season at BPACC

In its second year as Bartlett’s only professional theater group, the Bartlett Repertory Co. is expanding its reach in the community as it plans for two classic shows.

In its first show of the year, the group of professional artists, educators and actors will put on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play “A Streetcar Named Desire.” The first showing will be at 8 p.m. Sept. 12 at the Bartlett Performing Arts And Conference Center, and it will run that Thursday through Sunday, Sept. 15. The Sunday show will be a matinee, starting at 2:30 p.m.

It’s unique in the fact that no one in the audience sits in the house, said company founder and Streetcar co-director Debbie Nelson.

“It’s been very successful,” she said. “The community loves being on the stage with the performers.”

The group started about 1 1/2 years ago when BPACC director Ron Jewell contacted Nelson about starting a professional theater company in town.

“It sounded like a great opportunity to get a professional group of actors together on stage,” said Nelson.

The actors are hand-picked by Nelson and co-director John Maness. Nelson, a former English and theater teacher at Bolton High School, said almost all of the troop members in the company and the others who work on the set come from her experience there. Many of the others are well-known throughout the Memphis-area theater circuit.

Maness, of Bartlett, teaches at Arlington High School. He was also one of Nelson’s students at Bolton, as were Kendall Karcher; Jenny Kathman, whose husband, Ryan, teaches at St. Benedict and also is in the troop; and Rebecca Sherrod, who teaches at Arlington Middle School.

Another troop member, Falon Jones, Karcher’s girlfriend. But that’s not the only reason she’s in the troop.

“I’ve seen Falon’s work and wanted her in the troop,” said Nelson. And as for Ryan Kathman, “He had glowing references.”

It’s not just a family in the company for its first production of the year. The casting looks much like a family affair, too. The Kathmans will play the role of husband and wife Streetcar roles Stanley and Stella, while Jones will play Blanche and Karcher will play Mitch.

In addition to the troop members, the company had to hire extras to put on Streetcar. They include Gwen Belcher, who played with the company last year in its production of “Dixie Swim Club”; LaVita Brooks, who happens to be a friends with Jones and Karcher; Chris Carter, who Nelson saw perform at Millington’s Playhouse 51; and CJ Warren, who also was one of Nelson’s Bolton students.

When the troop members and actors aren’t behind the scenes, they are building the sets and working in the technical parts of the play’s back stage. Even Falon Jones’ father, Alder Jones, is helping to build sets.

“We all wear different hats because we’re all qualified to wear different hats,” said Nelson.

This, the company does, over a five-week period. And while BPACC provides the production for the show, the company is responsible for everything else.

Later this year, the company will put on a second show, “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged).” Meanwhile, tickets for Streetcar are $10 per seat can can be purchased through the BPACC box office at 901-385-6440.

And as for the future, Nelson, a Memphis transplant nearly four decades ago from Iowa, would like to expand her theater experience throughout Memphis as an actress. But the company will keep going.

“As long as there’s a need in the community that can be filled, we’ll be doing it,” she said.