Theater scholarships bring together Belmont’s thespian family

Tuesday, August 18, 2009 at 11:45pm

If you’ve never had the opportunity to see a Belmont University student production, you may not be aware of how extensive — and reputable — its theater programs are. But chances are, you have seen Belmont students and alumni in action.

In fact, these young performers are regularly featured with some of the area’s top professional companies, including The Actor’s Bridge Ensemble, Nashville Children’s Theatre, Nashville Shakespeare Festival, People’s Branch Theatre and many others.

“That’s something that really sets Belmont apart,” said Jessika Malone, a 2007 graduate who frequently works with Actor’s Bridge. “There are so many professional opportunities available here, and the level of professional collaboration is amazing.”

For all of its attributes, however, there’s one thing that Belmont’s Theatre and Dance Department has been lacking — scholarships. But Malone and an enthusiastic ensemble of Belmont faculty, staff and alumni are looking to change that with the department’s first annual scholarship fundraiser. The event, which will feature an evening of short plays, runs Friday through Sunday at Belmont’s Black Box Theater.

“The idea of getting faculty and alumni together to perform has been floating around for quite a while,” Malone said. “My classmates and I used to say, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to see our professors perform?’ Then, about a year ago, I started working in the department myself and wondered why there were no theater-specific scholarships. This just seemed like a great way to get everyone together to benefit future students.”

Malone said that the ensemble includes a number of familiar faces, such as department chair Paul Gatrell and Actor’s Bridge Founding Artistic Director Bill Feehely, along with Shawn Knight, Dr. James Al-Shamma, Nettie Kraft, Mitch Massaro, Jaclyn Johnson, Briana Smith, Brian Lange, Jennifer Lewis, Brandy Austin and Steve Boysen.

“The response has been great,” Malone said. “We have alumni traveling back from as far away as Boston. Everything is directed, designed and starring Belmont faculty, staff and alumni. And Bill Feehely has even written a new short play, which is really exciting.

“But I think the best part is being able to take the stage with our former professors. To see their joy and discipline is so inspiring. It’s reinforced our training, and honestly, makes us want to step our game up. We’re having so much fun, and we’re already brainstorming for next year — we definitely want to make this an annual event.”

What: First Annual Belmont Theater Scholarship Fundraiser
When: 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: Belmont’s Black Box Theater, 1575 Compton Ave. (just off Belmont Blvd.)
Cost: $5 (All proceeds go to benefit scholarships for future theater and dance students.)
Info: 460-5503 or