PRINCESS THEATRE - Raising the Curtain: March 2015

Monday, March 30, 2015


Within the next few weeks, a special announcement will be made that will give you an opportunity to begin to reach for that special dream you've always had; to work in movies or television!  Don't pass up, what may be that first crucial step!

The following message is from Jason Benjamin.  Some of you saw him on stage at the Princess last Friday evening.  He mention then about having a new dream.  A dream of passing on his knowledge of stunt work, acting, and just life to a new generation of freshmen performers, and that someone from those first classes at the Princess, will come back to pass on what they have learned to the next class!  And on and on it will go...

Here's what Jason had to say when I talked to him recently:

Success can be defined as, “The accomplishment of one’s goals”. I’m the very definition of “success”.  I grew up in Roane County and graduated from Roane County High School in Kingston.   Shortly after I graduated I joined the military in search of the adventure I hadn’t been able to find at home in my small town and rural county.

After serving my country for 4 years in the Navy, I was honorably discharged and decided to return home to East Tennessee.  I’ve spent the past two and a half decades serving my community; first, as a police officer then as a firefighter.  I’m currently a captain with the Oak Ridge Fire Department.

By many peoples standards that would be enough to classify me as “successful”.  As proud as I am of these accomplishments, that wasn’t what I dreamed of doing when I was a kid.  Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love being a fire captain.  However, I have another career that affords me the means and opportunity to quit the fire department if I wanted to, but I’ve chosen to stay there because I still enjoy serving my community and I absolutely love the men and women with which I serve.

When I’m not working as a firefighter I get to live out my real childhood dream of being a stuntman and an actor.

The way I became a stuntman is a long story. The short version of it is still pretty long, but I’ll share it with you anyway.

I’ve always been the type of guy that would try anything that interested me.  I found lots of things I wasn’t any good at, but the one thing I found I was great at was not being afraid to fail.  The fear of failure keeps most people from trying things they want to do.  That never was a problem for me.  As a result of not being afraid to fail at something and not worrying that people would laugh at me if I did fail, I’ve been able to do a lot of really cool things.  Just a few examples are: skydiving, kayaking, and backpacking in the mountains out West for weeks at a time, zip lining through the jungles of Honduras and… trying my hand at being a professional wrestler.  That’s right; I was a “rassler"! I did pretty well at it, too. I was on my way to wrestling for the WWF (now called the WWE) before a broken leg ended that part of my adventure.

After my career as a professional wrestler ended, I really missed performing in front of a crowd.  That’s when I decided to pursue another childhood dream of being an actor.  I auditioned for a play at the Oak Ridge Playhouse and booked the role.  I had no real formal training as an actor, but I knew I was a fast learner.  I’d done a few small plays when I was a kid so I felt like I would be able to pull off being in a full-size production at a real theater.  This is one of many examples where not being afraid to fail gave me the chance to do something that wasn’t just fun, it was the beginning of a whole new chapter of my life.

The character I was going to play in this particular show gets shot while standing at the top of a flight of stairs.

During the first rehearsal for this scene, the director was trying to explain to me how to “safely” fall down the stairs after I got shot.  I hadn’t told him I’d been a professional wrestler and already knew how to fall down so he was trying his best to tell me how to do it without actually doing it himself.  Actually, I hadn’t told anyone involved with the play I’d been a wrestler because there hadn’t ever been a reason to, as far as I was concerned.  What I didn't know was there was a guy that was also in the play with me that had seen me wrestle and knew who I was.

Halfway through the director’s explanation of how to fall, the guy interrupted him and told him of my background as a wrestler.  He went on to tell the director he’d actually seen me wrestle and get thrown over the top rope of the ring and fall to the concrete so he was sure I could fall down a few stairs without any problem.  The director looked at me for a few seconds and asked if that was true.  When I told him it was, he asked me if I knew how to choreograph fight scenes, too. (SPOILER ALERT: rasslin’ ain’t real. We usually choreograph some of the things we do.  I’m sorry to disappoint you.)  I told him I did know how to choreograph fights and he asked me if I would choreograph the fights in the play we were doing.  I agreed to, and THAT was the beginning of my stunt career.

Word spreads about the new actor in town and his ability to fall down and make fight scenes look real.  Other directors started contacting me about choreographing fights for their plays and showing their actors how to safely fall down without hurting themselves.

A couple years later, my brother, Brooks (also known as “Mr. B.” to many elementary school kids in Roane County) decided he wanted to make a movie.  I was the only actor he knew so he asked me to be in it.  I helped him find other actors and choreographed the fights and stunts in it, too. The owners of Talent Trek Talent Agency saw some clips of the film before it was released and told my brother they wanted to meet me because they thought I was a good actor and liked my look.  I signed on with them and immediately began booking paying jobs doing commercials and TV shows.  Many of the directors I worked for found out about my background choreographing fights for the theater and asked me to do the same thing for their films and TV shows.  I quickly found out that the way you fight in a wrestling ring and on stage was completely different than the way you fight in front of a camera.

I realized that if I was ever going to become successful as an actor and stuntman I needed to learn how to do it right. What worked in the ring and on stage just didn’t work on film so I began taking acting classes and workshops everywhere I could. I spent more time and money over the next few years learning how to be an actor than I made actually being an actor.  With each commercial or TV show I booked, I got more real experience and used the money I earned from it to pay for more lessons.

Once I saved up enough money to pay for it, I went to learn how to be a stuntman from a real Hollywood stuntman.  I took what I learned from him and other stuntmen and women I worked with and used what worked best for me.  I did the same thing with all my acting coaches. I even went back to L.A. to learn how to be a stunt driver from the best in the business.

Now, several years later, I’m in a position where casting directors for big Hollywood movies call my new agent to see if I’m available to audition for big movies and TV shows. 

I’ve worked as an actor in movies like FLIGHT, starring Denzel Washington and on TV shows like THE FOLLOWING, starring Kevin Bacon.  I’ve worked as a stuntman on TV shows like REVOLUTION and THE RED ROAD, starring Jason Mamoa.  I’ve also worked as the stunt coordinator (that’s the person in charge of planning all the stunts for a show, hiring all the stunt actors and making sure no one gets hurt doing them) all across the country.  I’ve worked in Hollywood and Wilmington, NC and everywhere in between.  
I’ve worked with Oscar-winning actors and worked for Oscar-winning directors and producers.  Along the way I’ve learned a lot about show business and how to make movies.

Which brings me to the point I want to make about the Princess Theatre Foundation and what they have planned for the children in our area?

A few months ago, I sent an email to Paul Mashburn telling him I wanted to help the theater raise some money by teaching a workshop there for actors that want to learn how to do a fight scene for films and TV shows the correct way.

He put me in touch with the right people and I was amazed to hear that they had been planning for a long time to make the Princess Theatre a place where kids could come to learn about all aspects of visual and performing arts. I had no idea they were working to make that happen.

I met with Gary Baker and Vera Scarborough and was immediately excited by their enthusiasm.  When they told me their plans and talked about the Princess Theatre becoming more than just a restored building and how it would be a cultural center where kids from all over the area would be able to learn from working professionals and trained artists, I knew I wanted to help.

I came to offer a one-time workshop for actors to learn how to do fight scenes on camera, but signed on to teach as many classes to as many kids as we can find, that want to learn everything I know about being a stuntman, an actor, a writer, a producer and anything else I can teach them.  If they want to learn how to audition for a commercial, TV show or movie, I’ll share what I know about it.  If they’re interested in being a stuntman or woman, we’ll do that, too.

In my original email to Paul, I told him I used to watch movies at the Princess Theatre as a kid and daydream about being on the screen with the actors and I’ve done that and continue to do that still.  Never in a million years would I have ever thought that I’d be back in that same place teaching other kids how to fulfill that same dream.  These truly are exciting times for me and the men and women that have given their time and money to make this a reality. 

My challenge to anyone that reads this is a simple one: if you know (or can remember) what it’s like to have a dream, but you never got (or took) the chance to fulfill it, then do whatever you can to give yourself, or your children, the opportunity to make that dream come true.  Let one of the lucky ones like me, that got to live that dream, pass on what they’ve learned, and, just maybe, your dream, or their dream, will come true! 

I now have a new dream.  I dream that I’ll live long enough to see one of the kids we help now come back someday to teach the next generation of dreamers how to be a success!

Stay tuned to this blog
for the coming announcement!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

What A Wonderful Time The Multi-County Talent Shows Are!

The 2nd Annual Multi-County Talent Show was a wonderful experience, and proved again this year that there is talent in the youth of this area!  As Jason Benjamin* expressed it, "I came here expecting the "normal", "run of the mill" small-town talent show, but I was blown away!"  

More about Jason in the next post.  He has been in movies, on TV, as an actor, and stuntman and coordinator, and will soon pass on what he has learned to the youth in our community.  Stay tuned!

He was right too.  The talent show at the Princess Theatre in Harriman, TN never fails to amaze those in attendance.  This area is full of talent just begging for a place to express it, and the Princess is just the place to do that!

Muse Watson was bursting at the seams with pride as he, and daughter Sophie, took the stage after intermission.  "This is what it's all about folks!"  He loves to see young people take the stage at the Princess, where he and Gary Baker first had "The Dream".  "The Dream" is being fulfilled in the youth of Roane, Morgan, Rhea, and other surrounding counties today.  These annual talent shows are the proof!

For those of you that don't know what "The Dream" is, here it it:

Please come out and support these wonderfully talented kids every time you can...they are truly worth the effort.

As Ms. Vera Scarbrough put it on Facebook:  "EVERYONE!!! HEAR THIS! The Talent Show is going to be the last FRIDAY in March every year.  MARK you calendar for 2016!!   Unless the Lord comes back, we will see you there.  We need your help: parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, neighbors, businesses, make the Princess Theatre a true performing arts center for our children!"
And don't forget that the "Sidewalk or Street Art" show is the Thursday evening before the big show.  It even went off this year during the rain.  There are lots of awnings up and down the street, so come out next year.  Maurice Lowery says we need to "paint" the whole street, so if we get enough interested, we'll expand this portion of the talent show!  Make it happen!

Now back to the Friday night show!

The 2nd Annual Talent Show kicked promptly at 6PM, with Emery Francis, last year's "Princess Idol", playing her piano and signing.  It turned out that she co-hosted the show with John Condrone, who also played guitar and sang while the votes were being tabulated.
So, getting right to it, this year's "Princess Idol" was Kelsey Cate of Sevier County!  Kelsey sang "Tennessee Waltz" and really impressed the audience.  I was even impressed with her beautiful boots!

As you can see, the news of our annual "Multi-County Talent Show" is spreading!  We might have to have multiple nights in the near future, and that would be grand!
Here is Friday night's program, so you can read the names of those participating.  I don't want to clearly identify our young talents, but they and their parents and grandparents will know who they are.

Regardless, the Princess Theatre Foundation, Roane State Community College, and everyone who had something do with this production is very proud of all of them.  It takes courage to step out on the stage they did so well.  They will get more and more used to in years to come, and maybe they will be encouraged to follow that "dream" on to bigger stages someday.

I must tell you here about how proud I am of the Princess audience.  One young lady was a little intimidated by the bright lights and faltered at the beginning of her duet.  A couple of people shouted, "You can do it!", and others began to applaud.  I was touched!  This gave encouragement to the girl and she went on to finish strong!

In a world today where making fun and "boos" are the norm, this let gives me hope that we still have good people in the world.

The Princess Theatre Foundation would like to thank the Roane and Morgan County Schools Directors, everyone at Roane State Community College, the Princess Theatre staff, and all the volunteers that help at each show, who make these events possible.

Here are the photos of everyone that was in the show, and if I left anyone out that performed, let me know.  I will add them to the post.  However, I think I have it covered!
Almost forgot Alex, who is taking a video course at RSCC.
I apologize for this post being so long, but I must try and get in everyone who was there and/or participated! 
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