Springfield Contemporary Theatre's new "Missouri Solo Play Festival" was launched last week with Ned Wilkinson's Firing My Bass Teacher, which concludes its run this weekend at SCT Center Stage in downtown Springfield. Opening tonight (Friday January 8) will be the second of three plays in the festival, Everybody Dies, receiving its Midwest premiere.
It's written and performed by Ben Carney, who grew up in the area and graduated from Missouri State University after appearing in many Tent Theatre productions. (Ben is the brother of well-known local singer/actor Jeff Carney.) Ben went on to receive a Ph.D. in Theatre at University of Missouri, and is retired Professor of Communication at Bronx Community College of the City University of New York. He later received acting training from, among others, Jerzy Grotowski and Uta Hagen. Among his many other credits, Ben served as Associate Director of the Baltimore Theatre Project. He last performed in Springfield when he performed another show he authored, Homeland Insecurity, for Springfield Contemporary Theatre about 10 years ago.
Ben relates the story behind Everybody Dies: "A couple of years ago my wife and I were throwing a Christmas Eve party, having a wonderful time. And I heard someone mention the Tea Party, and how they were thinking of themselves as 'American patriots', the 'true' Americans. And I flipped out--I became enraged, and I started screaming, 'I'M A TRUE AMERICAN!!'" Has a good case: the Carney family came to America from Ireland as long ago as 1630! He adds, "I know they came from Ireland, but I never thought of myself as 'Irish-American'--just an American."
Unfortunately Ben got so upset, he literally suffered a stroke just "moments later--a little tiny one. The symptoms were not that bad. But they scared me to death! I was afraid I would die. And it was the first time I had ever thought seriously about my own death." He became obsessed with discovering his family history--a journey that brought him back home to the Ozarks, up and down the Eastern seaboard, and eventually to Ireland itself. He didn't manage to find any Carney family members there (did they all come over to America in 1630?!), but he did discover interesting artifacts in Ireland such as a Carney Chinese restaurant, a Carney Post Office--even a Carney Castle. However, he didn't encounter any family other than some Neolithic burial mounds of some 10th-century ancestors. Everybody Dies is an exploration of Ben's journey of discovery.
Springfield Contemporary Theatre Managing Artistic Director Rick Dines says Ben's play, which he first performed in Woodstock, NY as a "work-in-progress" at the Byrdcliffe Art Colony Barn, and later at Jimmy's 43 bar in New York City, was a perfect fit for SCT's Missouri Solo Play Festival. "Marcia (Haseltine) has been working on (her) play (Saving Rose O'Neill) for over ten years, researching and writing it. I've known about it for several years. Finally, about a year ago she was ready for people to start reading it, and she did a small, invited reading over at the house on the Drury campus where Rose (O'Neill) died. At that point we starting talking about producing it and tried to figure out how it fit into the season. And we knew Ben had a new show that he wanted to come back and do, and we also knew that Ned (Wilkinson) had been working a show that he was originally planning to do down in Orlando (FL), and that fell through. So it kind of coalesced to say we have three performers who all have shows they have written: they're all originally from Missouri. Two of them are autobiographical, and the third one is about a Missourian. So it just made sense to put them together and have a mini-festival."
The second leg of that "mini-festival," Ben Carney's Everybody Dies, opens Friday January 8 at 7:30pm at SCT Center Stage. For ticket information call 831-8001 or visit http://www.springfieldcontemporarytheatre.org.