It was a professional audition with the South Eastern Theater Convention in Mobile, Ala., and thousands of students and professional actors showed up hoping to land work in performing arts elements ranging from theater to theme parks to resorts. Bethel senior theater major Bryan Kenton of Memphis was among those hopefuls.
Kenton would soon learn that he had caught the eye of representatives from Theater West Virginia.
“They gave me the opportunity to participate as a principal character ensemble member,” he said.
Kenton said his summer work opportunity began in late May where he has had the opportunity to be in the musical “Paradise Park” and play the role of Avis.
‘Paradise Park The Musical’ is based on the cult classic film of the same name by acclaimed West Virginia filmmaker and director Daniel Boyd, and this summer’s performance at Theater West Virginia is the adaptation’s world premiere.
The role of Avis, a fire and brimstone preacher, is in a lot of ways like the other roles Kenton has played during his time at Bethel. He played Admiral Boom in Mary Poppins the Musical and Mr. Witherspoon in Arsenic and Old Lace among other roles. However, his portrayal of Officer Dexter in the Bethel Renaissance recent presentation of Thoroughly Modern Millie is more reminiscent of the real Bryan Kenton.
“My main passionate love is comedy,” he said, “and making other people feel better about themselves.”
Kenton says this has led to his nickname among his acting peers as “funny guy number one.”
“I’m just a boy who wants to spread happiness because I used to suffer from so much depression and sadness,” he said. “But I refuse to go back to that same place.”
Kenton said he has had many champions on his side throughout the last few years.
“I have been lucky to have several people take me in like a son,” he said.
He is quick to give Bethel credit for helping him in many ways.
“I got to serve as a student ambassador at Bethel, and this really helped me learn to talk to people, work with them and basically be a people person,” Kenton said.
“I also have had the opportunity to have a work study position in the Housing Office,” he said. “Ms. Peggy Carter has been not just my boss but like a mother to me.
“Then there are the leaders I’ve worked with in theater. They have done so much for me. I can honestly say they have helped me grow to become the best actor I can be.”
As for his summer experience at Theater West Virginia, Kenton said the experience was definitely life changing.
“I have grown so much over the summer being on my own in a new city and state,” he said. “Getting to be involved here in the way that I have has made me love theater even more.”
Kenton said his future goals are to work in the entertainment industry.
“I see myself continuing on with comedy, but I also want to give back,” he said. “I always want to remember how much people have given to me, and I want to be a mentor to others like so many were to me. I’m not the typical theater looking guy, but I want others to see that we all just embrace the moments and blessings we are given. I want them to see that I am making this my moment, that I’m going to let it shine and that they can do the same thing.”
Bethel Student Bryan Kenton (black pants, plaid shirt) plays Avis in Theater West Virginia's Summer presentation of Paradise Park.