February 19, 2008
Tift Co.- If community stage productions were eligible for Tony Awards, the judges should consider giving one to a 10-year-old boy who got one of the oldest breaks in theatre.
Ben Branch sits in front of a computer screen and plays a game with unmatched intensity.
"It's supposed to be like playing a guitar," says Ben as he quickly presses keys and hears words of encouragement from the computer.
But lately he's spent a lot of time sitting in front of a mirror applying his own make-up, something rather unusual for a boy to do.
"It's so I won't look so pale on stage. It's kind of fun," says Ben who played the lead role in a murder-mystery production at the Tift Theatre in Tifton.
He wasn't supposed to be in the play titled "The Plot Like Gravy Thickens."
"The show is unusual to begin with because it's a play within a play," says Dottie Freeman, the show's director.
The play called for a 50-ish year old man to play the lead, but no one auditioned for it, and the other 13 parts were almost perfectly cast.
Ben's mother called the director to see if a child's part existed in the production. Technically no, explained Dottie who encouraged Ben to audition anyway since he needed the practice.
With no lead, with no one even wanting the part, with 13 actors already cast, Dottie had a flash of inspiration. What if a kid played the part?
She thought about it overnight. Looked over the script and took an unheard of risk by casting Ben, who had attended three of her summer acting camps.
The lead character comprised literally three parts-a playwright, a rich guy and a detective. Ben had not one, but three roles. Half of the speaking lines in the two-hour production were his.
"I like Walter the best," says Ben. Walter is the playwright who can snap his fingers and freeze the stage action.
He doesn't like one part of the play, the part where he gets kissed on the cheek by the beautiful, talented Elizabeth Powell who played his love interest Peggy Sue Brumley.
"It's gross," says Ben when asked about the kiss.
"Hopefully, when he gets older he'll feel different," says Elizabeth about Ben's thoughts on kissing.
"He's done a great job, but he's surrounded by an incredibly talented cast," says Dottie.
The audience thinks so, as well.
"The response has been great. The audience has loved it," says Dottie.
Ben wants to be a professional actor.
"That's where community theatre comes in to give people in our community who are talented a springboard on to something else," says Dottie.
Ben thought he would get audition practice when, in the end, he got more than he auditioned for.