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.

His mentoring continued through the spring when he worked with me one-on-one to help me develop and refine my acting skills. Anytime I read for a part, I hear Bryan's voice in my head asking me why I'm reading it a particular way or what my character is thinking or feeling. That is part of him that I will always carry with me.

How does Bryan’s death affect you? His death is a great loss to everyone who knew him, me included. I have never met anyone like him and don't think I ever will again. His light shone so brightly that I loved simply being in his presence. His sense of humor and determination was apparent to anyone within three feet of him. 

Even though Bryan lost his battle with cancer, he still decided when. Sherry told me yesterday that he would wait until everyone was gone, and he did. He died just as he lived, on his own terms.

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Molly Breen (the Nashville actress became friends with Sherry Sunday-Booth when the two of them worked together on Five Women Wearing the Same Dress at Out Front on Main, Inc. in Murfreesboro): I didn’t know Bryan as a director. I knew him primarily as Sherry's husband. He came out to the shows at OFOM and had kind things to say about my performances—encouragement that I greatly appreciated and treasured.

Aside from that, I just liked him right away when I met him. He just seemed to be a really good person. I knew he had been well-respected as a director. I could tell from talking with Sherry how much love was present in their relationship, and that was nice to hear about, despite all the hardship they were currently undergoing. I know he will be missed by many.

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George W. Manus Jr. (as a producer-director-actor in Middle Tennessee for more than 20 years, Manus was able to get to know Bryan Sunday-Booth in a variety of ways, primarily through their shared passion for the theater): I met Bryan over ten years ago at The Center for the Arts when I first began to work there. We were immediate friends and so began a collaborative relationship that would span a decade.

What was it like working with Bryan as a director? Bryan directed Dog Sees God at Out Front on Main. His attention to detail with the show was amazing and his visionary skills were ever present. I directed Bryan in several shows. Two that stand out most are The Laramie Project and Sylvia. Bryan was not only a giving actor, he worked to present the script verbatim. Words were very important to Bryan as an actor. He meditated before every show and brought the entire casts into a serene environment.

What kind of an impact does his death have on you personally? I am heartbroken by this news. I saw him in the hospital two days before his death and even then he still had the face of an angel. Bryan was the kind of friend who would light up an entire room with his beautiful blue eyes and beaming smile. Bryan was slated to direct Farragut, North later this year. I will direct this play that meant so much to him in his memory. I not only lost one of my best friends but also a collaborative partner who will never be replaced. Bryan was one of a kind both on- and off-stage and will forever live and love in Out Front on Main, Inc. as well as every theater in Murfreesboro.

I am at a loss to express the devastation I feel from losing two of my very best friends [in addition to Sunday-Booth, Manus’ longtime friend Melissa Burnett Russ died last fall] in the span of nine months. Bryan was one of the strongest and most determined people I have ever met. His sense of humor never faltered throughout his hard-fought battle with cancer. His writings and beautiful music will long last and serve to provide hope with anyone facing this most devastating disease. Bryan left a legacy that will continue to inspire and affect! 

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

Katie “Kat” Hanrahan (the veteran stage manager and actor first met Sunday-Booth during a show at the Center for the Arts):I met Bryan when we did You Can't Take it With You at the Murfreesboro Center for Arts.

I stage managed Bryan as an actor and he is a stage manager’s dream. He prepares outside the theatre, remains open in theatre, supports his fellow actors, provides comic relief, straight shoots when needed and although a talented director, as an actor he doesn't direct.

What will you miss most about Bryan? I will Miss Bryan's heart. He was quick witted, sometimes cynical, sometimes funny, and sometimes a smart ass but he never tried to put anyone down. He always tried to bring out the best in people and when you were around him you found you were a better version of yourself.

Thank you to George W. Manus Jr. of Out Front On Main, Inc., for providing photos from productions of The Laramie Project and Sylvia

 

 

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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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