Christmas musical set for December at McClellan
by Margaret Anderson
Special to The Star
Nov 26, 2013 | 2174 views |  0 comments | 55 55 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Cody Harrell, front and Eric Traynor. Photo: Anita Kilgore/The Jacksonville News
Cody Harrell, front and Eric Traynor. Photo: Anita Kilgore/The Jacksonville News
Former Jacksonville State University professor Eric Traynor and his former student Cody Harrell have formed a production company, the Cheaha Acting Company, with the first production, “How the Buckner Family Saved Christmas,” set for December.

Traynor taught drama at JSU from 2006-13. After graduating from Jacksonville High School in 1982, he received a bachelor’s of arts in drama from JSU in 1986, then went on to get a master’s of fine arts at the University of North Carolina in Greensboro.

After living in Chicago and Los Angeles, Traynor started a theater company in Greensboro, The Story Book Theater, which produced musical plays from 1994-2006.

During the seven years he taught at JSU, his musical plays, written especially to entertain children, were performed during the summers.

Harrell received a degree in music with a minor in theater from JSU in May. The first year he was in Traynor’s class didn’t go well for either of them.

Harrell takes responsibility for that. He seldom attended Traynor’s class or any other class.

“My first interaction with Eric was as a freshman at JSU,” said Harrell. “I was registered for his acting class, which I failed my first year in college. It happens when you stop showing up. Eric said I was one of the most talented students in his class, when I chose to come.”

Harrell said he was one of those students just not ready for college.

“In my sophomore year, I got my butt in gear and things picked up,” he said. “I was consistently in class making all As and Bs, but my first year, I could have done so much better.”

While a student at JSU himself, Traynor started off in music. JSU English professor Steven Whitton suggested that he audition for a play, and Traynor was good enough to get the lead.

“I loved it so much, I stayed with it from then on. I love writing music, and I’m continually working on new plays.”

He plays the piano and most woodwinds.

Here, as in Greensboro, Traynor said he and Harrell began Cheaha Acting Company to provided an opportunity for talented performers to work and make some money as actors.

“That’s one of my goals with the new company, is to pay the people who are working for us,” he said. “We’ll guarantee them a certain amount. If we do well with the box office, we’ll share some of that. We just want to bring people in and enjoy what we put on and have them come back.”

Traynor said he and Harrell have received a few donations to help them get started. They want to eventually be self-sufficient with the box office.

“We’re hoping to make it work,” he said. “We’re keeping our fingers and toes crossed. I think our unique quality is that we’re going to do unique works. All of our work is unpublished. We take plays from anyone who wants to submit them to us. If we like it, we’ll put it up.”

Traynor said Cheaha Acting Company will focus mainly on intimate plays with smaller casts.

“How the Buckner Family Saved Christmas” is an original musical that is loosely based on “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” Written by Traynor 15 years ago, it has been produced at The Barn Theater in Greensboro five times and is said to be the most requested show there.

Harrell said it’s unbelievable that, while he failed Traynor’s class, he’s now in partnership with him in a production company. Harrell is executive director and Traynor is artistic director.

It was Harrell who suggested the partnership.

“The idea first came up back in the spring, he said. “I was just a couple of weeks away from moving to North Carolina for three months to pursue a professional acting opportunity. I did go, but before I went, I called Eric and told him that when I got back we should start our own company. His response was, ‘Yea, we should.’ And here we are now with actors hired, a venue locked in and rehearsals in progress.”

Harrell said he’s basically in charge of managing the business side of the company.

“As the artistic director, it falls to Eric to direct each of the shows we do and maintain the artistic integrity of our mission statement,” said Harrell.

The men said the play was written for families and is one that all ages will enjoy.

“Families in the area are going to fall in love with it very quickly,” said Harrell. “It will become part of people’s Christmas tradition around here.”

Traynor is the son of Sara Traynor of Jacksonville and the late Michael Traynor. Harrell’s parents, Eddie and Cassy Harrell, live in Oxford.

“How the Buckner Family Saved Christmas” will be at 7 p.m. Dec. 5-7 and Dec. 12-14 and at 2 p.m. Dec. 15 at Foothill’s Theatre in the Buckner Event Plaza at McClellan. It is rated G. Call 770-9571 for reservations.

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Christmas musical set for December at McClellan by Margaret Anderson
Special to The Star

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