In its first months, the Clayton Center for the Arts is serving as home and showcase for many community and college performances. This winter and spring, there have been concerts by public schools, the community-college orchestra, the Maryville College faculty, and more such college and community events are scheduled for the next weeks.
However, when the Center opens officially, March 25 through 29, it will express its intention to be a venue for regional, even national artists.
One of the performances which makes this statement will be offered by locals of national prominence. David Dwyer, a transplant of long standing, and Bruce McKinnon, a native of Maryville, are actors whose faces are familiar to television and movie audiences. Both have accomplished that rare feat of maintaining professional acting careers while based in their hometown.
Dwyer has appeared in more than 80 films, including the recent hits “We Are Marshall” and “The Blind Side.” Currently, he is seen often as Matt Garrett in commercials for the Tennessee Lottery.
“It is an honor to be invited to perform,” he said. “The Clayton Center for the Arts is an astounding facility. I’m real excited about helping to open something like this in Maryville.”
On March 27, Dwyer and McKinnon will team to honor an East Tennessee literary legend, James Agee. Agee, a native of Knoxville, was a film critic for both The Nation and Time. He was a screenwriter on such film classics as “The African Queen” and “The Night of the Hunter.” He also won the Pulitzer Prize posthumously for his autobiographical novel, “A Death in the Family.”
Now, in a sketch written especially for the gala opening of the Clayton Center, Agee is brought again to the stage. The title of the piece is “Rufus Recalled,” and it was written by Charles Wright, who grew up in Maryville.
Wright resides in New York City, where he is the vice president and associate general counsel for the A&E Television Networks. He serves as legal and business affairs counsel for the long running television series “Intervention,” “Ice Road Truckers,” and “Project Runway.”
“What we’re doing is the introduction to an original play still under development about James Agee,” Dwyer said. “That is a double blessing. We’re at home, and we’re talking about a Knoxville-native. I’m having a good time.”
McKinnon’s work includes numerous television roles in such series as “Christy” and “Walker, Texas Ranger.” He has worked with Bernadette Peters and Harry Connick Jr. in the Lifetime movie “Living Proof” and most recently starred with Julia Ormond in Lifetime’s “The Wronged Man.”
“To be a part of this production means a lot. David Dwyer and I have known each other 30 years, so it is so cool to finally be acting with my friend David in a piece written by my friend Charles Wright and being co-directed by my brother Bill McKinnon as I play the part of James Agee, who is someone I greatly admire as an artist,” McKinnon said.
Wright makes frequent trips to Maryville to visit relatives. He devoted part of his most recent visit to directing Dwyer and McKinnon in rehearsal on the Clayton Center main stage.
Wright said he is fortunate to have having grown up on the edge of the Maryville College campus. “The college’s fine arts program played a significant part in my education. Because my parents were active in what was then called the Maryville College-Community Playhouse, I got to observe play rehearsals and to see multiple performances of all the plays,” he said. “Over the years, the Playhouse performed a remarkable range of works notably, “All the Way Home”, Tad Mosel’s dramatization of “A Death in the Family” by James Agee, which featured Robert Hutchins, now executive director of the Clayton Center for the Arts, in a leading role.”
Wright said he has known McKinnon his whole life and recently met Dwyer. “It has been a real privilege to watch David and Bruce develop their roles these past many days,” he said.
Wright praised the staff and associates at the Clayton Center for the Arts. “With its fine venues for drama and music and its dedicated professional staff, the Clayton Center for the Arts will enhance the already-rich cultural life of East Tennessee and perpetuate the college-community collaboration that has been a hallmark of Blount County for several generations,” he said.
It is not a coincidence that as a child Wright appeared in the stage version of “A Death in the Family.” That play, “All the Way Home,” was presented by the Maryville-Alcoa Community Playhouse at Maryville College in the summer of 1967. Wright has maintained an interest in and loyalty to James Agee for a lifetime and now gives him a place in the annals of the Clayton Center for the Arts.
“Rufus Recalled” is a part of the opening weekend gala which will take place at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 27. Tickets are on sale at the Clayton Center box office, by phone at (865) 981-8590, or online at www.ClaytonArtsCenter.com.
To learn more about the Clayton Center for the Arts, visit www.ClaytonArtsCenter.com.
Gala program line-up
On Saturday, the program, which will have actor David Keith as the emcee, will feature the following:
Dr. Robert Bonham and Jennifer Olander, pianists
David Dwyer, Bruce McKinnon - James Agee dramatic scene “Rufus Recalled”
Will Tate and 6ix Mile Express - Bluegrass
John Wesley Wright - Tenor
Appalachian Ballet Company - Peter Pan and Friends
Robinella -- Singer/Songwriter
Delores Ziegler - Mezzo-Soprano
Special Guests - Senator Lamar Alexander and Jim Clayton
76 Trombones - John Cherry and community ensemble
Pistol Creek Catch of the Day - music
The Orchestra at Maryville College
Orchestra with MC Concert Choir, Community Chorus, Voices of Praise