10/20/06 — Another curtain call

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Another curtain call

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on October 20, 2006 1:52 PM


News-Argus Staff Writer

When Jack Kannan approached A.G. "Bert" Allen about the possibility of bringing a popular play back to the Goldsboro stage, Allen initially balked.

Resurrecting "The Shepherds' Song," written in 1946 by Clifton Britton, a Goldsboro High School teacher, would be a complicated undertaking, Allen said.

But then Allen suggested an alternate plan and adapted the play around it.

He wrote a condensed version of The Shepherds' Song, said Kannan, director of the Wayne Community College Foundation. And now the men are going full tilt to produce the play during a weekend event for former Goldmasquers Dec. 2-3.

Allen suggested a reunion weekend that would serve as a tribute to Britton, or "Mr. B" as he was affectionately called by the estimated 5,000 students he taught during his 20-year stint at the high school. Britton left Goldsboro in 1962. He died one year later of Lou Gehrig's disease at age 52.

"Mr. B came in 1942 as a first-year teacher," Allen said. "He planned on staying only a year but got involved with students and they with him."

Britton wrote the Christmas play and produced it as an outdoor show, with support from the Goldsboro Merchants Association.

That was nearly a decade before Allen would be in high school, but he recalls seeing the play as a young child.

"I remember being on Center Street, watching it, and it was cold," he said. "Some people got on their cars, some were in their cars."

The play was first performed on the open-air rooftop of what was the Terrace Room next to the former Goldsboro Hotel, Allen said. It was presented there for four years before moving to the high school in 1950.

"He rewrote it. It went from a pageant on top of the Terrace Room to the inside production, and it changed to a drama," Kannan said. "So, somebody from 1949, 1952, 1957 will think, 'That's not the version I saw.'"

The play was performed by the Goldsmasquers high school drama group. It was not uncommon for Britton to take creative liberties with his own work from time to time.

"He would write the lines and characters to meet the talent and work in students," Kannan said.

Britton also got the whole community involved, he said. Performances would be Dec. 21-24 and the 1,100-seat auditorium at the high school would be filled every night.

"It's just amazing what went on in those days," Kannan said.

Allen has taken it from a simple revision of the original production to a chance to "remember Mr. B" so that even those who never met the teacher can still appreciate the upcoming event, Kannan said.

The Goldmasquers have never had a reunion, the men said. So the planned weekend is generating quite a buzz among alumni.

"People from D.C., Connecticut, all over, are responding to the event," Kannan said.

"The lady who played Mary the first time is going to be there," Allen added.

And several former Goldmasquers have banded together to build and paint the set for the production.

Fred Loyd, Goldmasquer from 1961-62, is serving as technical director. Others creating the backdrop for the play include Zeno Spence, 1944-45 Goldmasquer; Louis Marriner, 1952-53 Goldmas-quer; Gene Howe, Goldmas-quer 1959-62 and president in 1961; Wesley Turnage, 1960-62 Goldmasquer and president in 1962; and Connie Tew and Jim Herring, both 1961-62 Goldmasquers.

In addition to word of mouth, Kannan said about 600 letters have been mailed to known members of the drama group.

There will be two performances of the play, one at 8 p.m. Saturday evening, Dec. 2, and a 3 p.m. matinee on Sunday afternoon. Receptions will also follow each performance.

And on Saturday morning from 9:30-11 a.m. in the college atrium, there will be chance for Goldmasquers to reconnect and enjoy memorabilia from the Britton era, Kannan said.

Among the items on display will be the original, handwritten version of "The Shepherds' Song" as well as an array of photographs and programs from previous performances.

Kannan said he also hopes to enlist the help of current students at the college to record some of the oral history from those who attend.

"We're doing a small, condensed version of 'The Shepherds' Song', for a walk down Memory Lane," Allen said.

Many will likely pay tribute to the man who inspired and involved them in school productions, the men said.

"This man was very democratic. If you came forth with an attitude and were there to work, he would use you," Allen said.

"He would take people with no self-esteem, who maybe weren't anybody but because of Mr. B, he inspired many to go to college ... inspired students to rise above what they thought they could do," Kannan added.

"The Goldmasquers motto was, 'It must be better than this.'"

Allen said Britton turned a lot of young men and women around and pointed them in better directions.

"The timing was right, the man was right, everything clicked," he sald. "It was just a great time for all of us who passed through it.

"As we grow older, it becomes more and more significant."

Kannan said tickets are currently on sale for the production and have been moderately priced. There are a limited number and each sells for $10 in advance. Any tickets left will be sold for $15 at the door.

Call Kannan at 735-5151 for more information about the event.