After years of working in professional theater both stateside and abroad, Ben Mays and his wife, Kim, are giving amateur actors in Wise County, Va., some time in the spotlight through their new You’ll Never Work in Theater Again community theater group.
“My wife and I are gluttons for punishment and obviously haven’t learned anything from our years of touring and working with numerous dysfunctional institutions, community groups and organizations,” Ben Mays said. “There is no dysfunction in Wise, so my wife told me if we ever lived there, she’d help launch a community theater effort. In April, I bought her a house in Wise so she’d have to step up to the plate.”
The You’ll Never Work in Theater Again players, part of The Mays Theater Project, will stage their debut production — “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” based on the award-winning book by Barbara Robinson — beginning Dec. 4.
Performances will be held at 7 p.m., Dec. 4 and 6, and at 2 and 7 p.m., Dec. 7, at the Gilliam Center for the Arts on the campus of the University of Virginia’s College at Wise.
Tickets are $10 for general admission and $5 for students and senior citizens, and may be purchased at the door or reserved in advance by calling (276) 328-2370.
Over the course of their careers, the Mayses have met many people who enjoy participating in local theatrical productions but have had few opportunities to do so — thus the need for a group like the You’ll Never Work in Theater Again players, a name Kim came up with.
“It immediately popped out of my wife’s mouth, like most everything she thinks,” Ben said. “She referred to an event that happened 30 years ago when, as a college student, I auditioned at one of the premiere theatre conferences held annually. I was told I’d never work in theatre. I’ve been working in theatre ever since.”
Ben earned his bachelor’s degree in performing arts from Clinch Valley College and received his master’s degree in theatrical design and production from the University of Louisville. He toured internationally for 12 years with Appalshop’s Roadside Theater and has worked for the last seven years at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise, where he serves as Technical Director and Assistant Professor of Theater.
Ben said You’ll Never Work in Theater Again has received support not only from UVa-Wise, but also from the Pro-Art Association and Appalachian Children’s Theatre as well as arts leaders in the Wise community like Jan and Billy Thompson. A former theater teacher, Jan Thompson is the advisor for the award-winning drama team at Wise’s Central High School.
“Our productions can offer citizens who have no outlets otherwise the opportunity to explore their own identities as artists while providing entertaining and thought-provoking live performance,” Ben said. “We believe a thriving and healthy community produces art, supports it and respects it. Wise County and the surrounding region deserves to be in this category.”
Unlike typical productions of “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” which feature a cast of children, You’ll Never Work in Theater Again’s version features mostly adults, adding to the hilarity of the family-focused, heart-warming story.
When Grace and Bob Bradley, two well-intentioned parents, find themselves having to direct the church Christmas play at the last minute, they make the terrible mistake of casting the Herdmans, probably the most inventively awful family in history. Chaos and hilarity ensue as the show’s cast and crew collide with the Christmas story head on.
“Since selecting ‘The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,’ many people have voiced their love for the book, reading it to their children and grandchildren and attending the play when the opportunity presents itself, as part of their holiday tradition,” said Ben, who plays Bob in the production. “We found this to be very promising, in regards to having a production people might actually put forth the effort to attend. If they have children and grandchildren, it will be disgracefully neglectful if they don’t.”