Theater Community Mourns Death of Actor/Director BRYAN SUNDAY-BOOTH

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After a protracted four-year battle with an especially virulent form of cancer, Murfreesboro actor-director-producer-artist Bryan M. Sunday-Booth died in the early hours of Friday morning, July 20. As the news of his death made its way through the theater community in Middle Tennessee, several of his friends and associates shared their memories of Bryan, seeking to cope with their own stages of grief while coming to terms with the realities of the day.

Despite his illness, Sunday-Booth refused to let it rule his life, continuing to pursue his career as an artist and constantly inspiring those around him with his courage, his fortitude and his devotion to his wife.

The Chattanooga-born Sunday-Booth, a former Marine, leaves behind his wife Sherry Sunday-Booth, herself a widely respected member of the Middle Tennessee theater community.

Murfreesboro’s Center for the Arts, located at 110 W. College Street, will host a memorial service on Sunday night, July 22 at 6 p.m. For further information, call (615) 904-2787.

Angela Gimlin (who worked with Bryan as part of his cast for Dracula at the Center for the Arts): I knew of Bryan long before I worked with him. I had heard about the work he had done down in Murfreesboro and had witnessed his talent when I saw him in the Center for the Arts performance of Much Ado About Nothing.

Last year, I saw audition notices for Dracula at the Center and also saw Bryan was directing, so it became my chance to work with him. And that is how I met Bryan. He was kind enough to cast me and working with him was easy. He had a different style of direction, like pacing the acting area while we rehearsed, but it made you feel better that he was trying to look at everything from all angles and not just aesthetically. He had a wicked sense of humor and tried to push the envelope in his directing style. He was challenging and kind and so very funny.

Knowing that such a talent has left our theater community and our world is heartbreaking, but I also feel lucky he touched my life and so many others. I would just like to add that my heart goes out to his close friends and family and especially his sweet wife, Sherry Sunday-Booth. He was a beautiful soul and will be dearly missed.

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Michael Adcock (was also a part of the Dracula cast at Center for the Arts): Bryan and I met first at an audition for Dracula, which he was directing. I was intrigued from the start, and became instantly excited to work with him. We had near-encounters previously with other shows, but had avoided paths until this one, somehow. 

As someone who was removed from his cast due to scheduling conflicts, then accepted back—I can say a few things: First, he was organized, had a strict schedule, and made sure everyone was dedicated to the production. And secondly, he didn't give anyone special treatment. Many times in community theatre, organization is nonexistent—but Bryan seemed to always have things together. When I was removed from the cast, it was done respectably and fairly. We talked through it, compromised, and I was allowed rejoin- on probation, so to speak. This was structure I needed, however. It taught me a lesson that was long overdue, and I thank him for that. 

What impact does his death have on you personally? It's a tired cliché, but it simply reminds you how life is short and you never know when you're going to be called. After hearing how he'd fought before, I had an instant admiration for Bryan and it doesn't end now. He was a fighter, and I think we can all learn from character such as his. Life is going to give you lemons. It's guaranteed. If we can deal with it as well as he did, I think we can consider it a win. 

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Lora Phillips Hortert (a friend and actress from Murfreesboro shares her feelings after hearing the news of Bryan’s death):I met Bryan in March of 2011 when I took my daughter to audition for To Kill a Mockingbird. He was originally supposed to direct this play but stepped aside due to his current treatment. I could tell immediately two things: 1. He was brilliant and 2. He was someone I wanted to know better. 

My daughter convinced me to audition, and I was fortunately cast as Miss Maudie. Bryan would occasionally pop in on rehearsals and lend his thoughts and opinions. I knew he was someone I wanted to be directed by at some point and hoped to have that opportunity.

When I found out he was directing Dracula I jumped at the chance to audition. I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed working with Bryan and learning from him. I had participated in theater in high school but never as an adult, so I had a lot to learn. I wanted the role of Sullivan, but in the end was cast as a Vampire Bride. When Bryan decided to go a different way with the role of Sullivan, I asked him if he would mind telling me where I could improve on my auditions. He graciously took the time to offer constructive criticism and encouragement. 

I completely enjoyed his method of directing. I will always remember him asking the actors, "Now what is your character's motivation for doing that?" It wasn't that he wanted to change it, he just wanted to make sure the actor knew why he was doing it. For Bryan, the why was just as important to a role as the script. He could and often times did spend hours on character development. Bryan garnered such respect from the actors he directed that they worked harder for him than they would have worked for anyone else. No one wanted to disappoint him with their performance. 

It was during Dracula that I got to know him on a more personal level as well and came to appreciate all the more the man that he was. He loved his wife and his family with every fiber of his being, and it was for them that he fought so long and so hard. So many times I heard him tell Sherry how much he adored her. He never took one day for granted and made sure everyone that he loved knew exactly how he felt about them.




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Jeffrey Ellis Jeffrey Ellis is a Nashville-based writer, editor and critic, who's been covering the performing arts in Tennessee for more than 25 years. He is the recipient of the Tennessee Theatre Association's Distinguished Service Award for his coverage of theatre in the Volunteer State and was the founding editor/publisher of Stages, the Tennessee Onstage Monthly. He is a past fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center and is the founder/executive producer of The First Night Honors, held during Labor Day Weekend, which honor oustanding theater artists in Tennessee in recognition of their lifetime achievements and includes The First Night Star Awards and the Most Promising Actors. Midwinter's First Night, held the first Sunday in January after New Year's Day, honors outstanding productions and performances throughout the state. Further, Ellis directed the Nashville premiere of La Cage Aux Folles, The Last Night of Ballyhoo and An American Daughter, as well as award-winning productions of Damn Yankees, Company, Gypsy and The Rocky Horror Show, with Ellis honored by The Tennessean as best director of a musical for both Company and Rocky Horror.


 
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