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The Director's Chair

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By Jonna Spelbring Priester

General Manager

She started off, quite simply, as an audience member in 1999.

Now, almost eight years later, Ashley Raymer-Brown of Eminence is directing a play at Shelby County Community Theater in Shelbyville. The play, “Cactus Flower,” debuts May 9.

Raymer-Brown said she always wanted to see a play at the theater, and did so in 1999. “I watched everything unfold and said that is what I want to do,” she said. The aspiring actress tried out for a few shows, but didn’t quite make the cut in her first two auditions. The third time, however, was the charm.

She had just a few lines in her first show, but she relished every word and attended every rehearsal, though she wasn’t required to do so.

“Then, the next show, they said ‘Hey, you seem pretty dependable,’” Raymer-Brown said. As a result of her dependability, Raymer-Brown received what she called a fairly large supporting role, and then her first musical.

Raymer-Brown said it’s the atmosphere of community theater that drew her in.

“I just loved everything about it,” she said. “Something in me clicked and said that’s where I need to be.”

But there’s another side to Raymer-Brown — she also enjoys writing. About five years after her stage debut, she had an opportunity to write and direct a coffeehouse production for the theater. She had the opportunity again the following year, and all four shows sold old.

“I went from sitting in the audience in 1999, to 2007 and I’m directing a main production,” Raymer-Brown said.

She’d always had an interest in acting, and was involved in theater on a relatively minor scale before joining Shelby County Community Theater. “I did a couple of church plays, maybe one school play,” she said.

She had a love for old movies, and said she learned a lot through watching movie legends like Carey Grant and Audrey Hepburn.

Growing up, though, she wanted to act in and write plays.

“I was always told ‘you’re too shy, you’ll never do that,’” she said. “I’m really doing what I love. This has just been a dream job.”

Cheryl Rankin Van Stockum, a producer with the community theater admitted Raymer-Brown was not the first choice for director of “Cactus Flower.”

“We had a director in line for “Cactus Flower,” but he had to bow out,” Van Stockum said. “Ashley asked if she could do it.”

Though Raymer-Brown’s age was a concern for the theater’s board members, Van Stockum said, she had plenty of other good experience.

“We still felt like all the other good things and positive things she had done ... (she had) certainly proven herself numerous times with other productions,” Van Stockum said. She said the theater’s board also looks for people with experience, vision and a positive attitude toward the theater.

Van Stockum added that the theater wants to help people like Raymer-Brown fulfill their dreams.

“It happened to me,” she said. “I was 48 years old. Some people pick up golf, I picked up acting.”

Like Raymer-Brown, Van Stockum began with a small part. Now, she produces shows.

Van Stockum said she was very happy for Raymer-Brown.

“She’s done a great job, really,” she said of the play that features 16 scene changes.

“Cactus Flower” debuts at the Shelby County Community Theater, located at 801 W. Main in Shelbyville, on Friday, May 9. The play will run May 9-11, and 16-18. For the Friday and Saturday shows, the play begins at 8 p.m. for the Sunday shows, the play begins at 2:30 p.m. Van Stockum said reservations are highly encouraged and can be made by calling 502-633-0242. Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and students.

E-mail us about this article at editor@hclocal.com.