The audience grows; Maryville woman’s play opens in larger venue

If You Go

Tonya Stoutt-Brown’s play, “Coming Home,” will be performed at 6 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 11 at First Baptist Church Maryville, 202 W. Lamar Alexander Parkway, Maryville. There is no admission charge, but donations will be accepted for Vet to Vet Tennessee, a program that helps veterans adjust to civilian life after coming home.

When Tonya Stoutt-Brown wrote and then directed her first play, “Coming Home,” she envisioned sharing it with her own small church, Immanuel Baptist, with hopes others in the community would attach themselves to the message.

The play is set in 1945 at a small Baptist Church much like Immanuel. The families there are putting together a huge pageant as one of their members, a young man, has just come home from World War II. “Coming Home” sets the scene as pageant leaders and participants clash over most everything against the backdrop of a pivotal moment in history.

The soldier is unable to move forward after his wartime experience and seeks to isolate himself from others.

Then, those in the play also begin to share their personal stories of grief with the young soldier who suddenly no longer feels alone.

Stoutt-Brown’s debut of her play was back in the fall of 2017. There were three performances and every pew was filled at Immanuel. Chairs were brought in. It was a tight fit.

Because of the response to it, Stoutt-Brown decided to bring it back, in April of this year, again at Immanuel. The response was the same.

“Honestly, the last time we performed this show, the church was so packed that I had safety concerns,” this writer/director said. “At the Sunday night performance, we had folding chairs all the way to the back wall and up in the balcony. I remember standing in the vestibule because there was literally no place left to sit, knowing this would be our very last performance because we just didn’t have room.”

But afterwards, people were still asking for a repeat. That’s when Stoutt-Brown decided to call on a longtime friend, the Rev. Gary Stinnett, minister to students at First Baptist Maryville.

Space to grow

“We’ve been friends since we were kids,” Stoutt-Brown said. “We’re both a couple of hams, and we were in plays together at William Blount High School and at Dotson Memorial when we were teenagers.”

Stoutt-Brown asked Stinnett if it might be possible to perform “Coming Home” at First Baptist. He quickly agreed.

This will be “Coming Home’s” third go-round. It will take the stage at 6 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 11. Admission is free, but donations will be accepted after the show to benefit Vet to Vet Tennessee.

The cast has remained mostly intact for each of the performances. Stoutt-Brown said neither she nor the cast have grown weary.

None of them could have imagined they would still be performing it a whole year later, she explained. She said they have all put things on hold to take the project on.

As for any more performances, Stoutt-Brown said this is it. At least for this cast.

“It’s like being on amazing thrill ride at a carnival,” she said. “You love riding it over and over again but at some point you realize the sun is going down, the employees want to close the park and you need to go home and have supper. It’s been an incredible year and we’ve been blessed to be a part of it.”

Lucas Gasche will not be in the play. He is being replaced by two new actors, David Kirkland and Will Dubes. Kirkland is another longtime friend of Stoutt-Brown. Actor John Cherry recommended Dubes.

Returning cast members include people like John Cherry, Annie Brown, Alex Riegle and Bonnie West.

In addition, there are a few more people being added to the “Coming Home” choir to help carry those hymns in this larger venue.

First Baptist Church Maryville seats about 900 where Immanuel has a capacity of about 250. Stoutt-Brown and her cast hope there will be ample room this time for those who haven’t seen it or those who want to one more time.

A package deal

It took Stoutt-Brown 10 years to write “Coming Home.” Her hope now is that it can be packaged and published so other theater groups and churches can perform it. Never say never when it comes to Blount County getting another view on down the road.

She admits she “lured” this talented band of actors into this project by telling them it wouldn’t distract from their everyday lives. She promised there would be minimal rehearsal time and only one performance.

“I had to eat every single word,” she admitted.

So, why do these busy students, full-time workers, musicians and parents agree to do it? Stoutt-Brown said she would like to think it’s because of their admiration for her. That might be part of it.

“The truth is, that’s just who they are,” Stoutt-Brown said. “They don’t do anything halfway. If they have a chance to use their God-given talent, they put it out there with no restraint and give it all they’ve got.”

Donations will be accepted for Vet to Vet Tennessee because Stoutt-Brown attended a Memorial Day observance and heard one of its representatives speak about the high suicide rate among veterans. She said developing the play’s plot and learning more about PTSD made her want to do more for our veterans.

“Coming Home” will be performed on Veterans Day, Nov. 11. “It was like it was meant to be,” she said.

Her hope is to package the script and have it published so other theater groups and churches can perform it. Blount County might still get another chance down the road.

“I might even direct it again someday, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the original cast members reprised their roles in future productions,” Stoutt-Brown said. “But this scene is coming to an end and it’s time to take our final bows.”

November 5, 2018 By Melanie Tucker melt@thedailytimes.com

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