10/02/05 — Anonymous donor asks for 'Shepherd's Song'

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Anonymous donor asks for 'Shepherd's Song'

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on October 2, 2005 2:11 AM


When he was just a freshman at Goldsboro High School, State Rep. Phil Baddour played the role of Reuben in "The Shepherd's Song."

The year was 1956.

Now, more than 49 years later, an anonymous $36,000 gift to Wayne Community College could allow that production to be mounted again in December 2007.

The play, an annual gift to the community by playwright and Goldsboro High School teacher Clifton Briton, joined the talents of the Goldmasquers, a children's performing arts troupe Briton founded, and adult performers.

The story described the lives of those who were alive at the time of the birth of Christ.

"It was always given free, and it played to a packed house," Baddour said. "I remember when I was younger watching it on Center Street from the roof of the Terrace Room. It wasn't closed in at the beginning. They'd close off Center Street."

By the time Baddour reached high school, Goldsboro High became the stage for what had become a community tradition.

The play was Briton's gift to Wayne County each year.

"It was an evolving script, always a work in progress," Baddour said. "It was a marvelous play."

Baddour continued to perform in the productions of "The Shepherd's Song" until he graduated in 1960.

He said Briton always wanted to involve as many people as possible.

"He believed there was a place for everybody in a production," Baddour said. "I loved every bit of it, the practices, the camaraderie, being on stage, the whole scene. It was very welcoming, and he was nurturing and supportive of anybody who was involved."

Foundation of Wayne Community College Director Jack Kannan was a senior at Goldsboro High in 1962, Briton's last full year of teaching.

The beloved teacher died Feb. 20, 1963, of Lou Gehrig's Disease, now known as ALS.

Kannan said many people have asked him to produce "The Shepherd's Song." But since Briton rewrote the script to showcase his strongest talents each year, there were many versions of the play, but none had surfaced.

"The legend is phenomenal," Kannan said.

It took Kannan three years to find a copy of the script.

It belonged to Baddour, who found the script among other items in a long-forgotten box of childhood memorabilia his late mother kept in a closet.

Kannan will take the tattered script and will have professional copies made for the cast and the crew.

He said he hopes the Wayne Community College production will live up to the legend. He expects it will take a year to get the props, the characters and the directors together for a production that would epitomize the quality demanded by "Mr. B" as he called Briton.

Kannan added that he, too, wants the play to be free to the community.

"It will take a lot of research," he said. "I hope those who have seen the play done by Mr. B will have fond memories from seeing it here."

Kannan said he hopes to find some of the original Goldmasquers and to talk with them about those productions. He said most of them should be anywhere between 62 and 82 years old.

Bob Hill of WGBR Radio is one of those students.

Hill, who graduated with Goldsboro High's Class of 1948, said Briton started working at the high school in the fall of 1942.

"There was not much there then, and he started putting together plays right away," Hill said.

Briton wrote a one-act play first and entered it into a state competition.

The three-act shows he created caught the eye of the business and civic community, Hill said.

"His philosophy was the guy who pulls the curtain is as important as the star on the stage," he said.

After years of victories and successful productions, Briton had made the Goldmasquers very well respected in the theater community. So well-respected in fact, that other high schools stopped entering the competitions.

So, Briton packed up his sets, his crews and his actors and headed to Courtland State Teacher's College in Courtland, N.Y., to perform.

"We bowled them over," Hill said. "The reviews were fantastically outstanding."

Hill said Briton was an inspiration to the students who were lucky enough to know him.

"It was a fantastic 20 years. He donated his life to kids," Hill said. "He was a dynamic person. We who were lucky enough to work with him could never say enough about the opportunities he gave us."

The college is continuing to accept donations in Briton's name for a fund that has been set up to start a scholarship program as well as finance future productions of Briton's plays. For more information, call Kannan at 735-5151.