Wood Honored As Theater’s 'Superior Volunteer' 

Friday, April 15, 2011

Daily News publication

By Allison Buckley  

Bennett Wood made his acting debut as a second-grader playing George Washington in a historical pageant.  Today, Wood can be found on the big screen, the small screen and on stage at Theatre Memphis, and his work there has earned him the Robert E. Gard Superior Volunteer Award from the American Association of Community Theatre. After moving to Memphis, Wood enrolled in Messick High School, where a speech teacher named Freda Kenner inspired in Wood an appreciation for performing arts. “She inspired a lot of interest in dramatic activities,” he said. “I loved it and really responded to it.”

The renewed adoration for all things drama-related led Wood to Theatre Memphis in the summer of 1953. After a brief stint in the U.S. Army, he returned to the theater in 1957. Since then, he has been able make a name for himself in the community theater, as well as secure small roles on TV and in major motion pictures such as “The People vs. Larry Flynt” and “The Last American Hero.” At Theatre Memphis, however, Wood is more than just a talented actor. He’s also a director, stage manager, techie and board member of the Artistic Advisory Committee, where Wood and other AAC board members meet twice a year to offer show directors opinions of their productions.

“You name it, I’ve done it,” Wood said. “I enjoy the theater so much. I walk into a dressing room and it’s like you’re home again – going to the theater every night and there are the other actors, your friends. You’re engaging in a common enterprise, and I just feel comfortable there.”

This year, Wood will receive the Robert E. Gard Superior Volunteer Award in Rochester, N.Y., in conjunction with the American Association of Communities Theatre festival competition. The award is presented to individuals older than 65 who have served community theater on a non-paid basis for more than 25 years. With more than 55 years of experience working for Theatre Memphis, Wood is more than qualified for the award. Still, Wood said receiving it was exciting mainly because it brought further attention to Theatre Memphis – or as he calls it, his second family.

“You name it, I’ve done it. I enjoy the theater so much.” – Bennett Wood

“I was thrilled,” Wood said. “It’s always a pleasure to be rewarded for something that you enjoy doing. I get a kick out of working for the theater and I am very fond of … Theatre Memphis.

“To get an honor like this, it’s just the cherry on the sundae.”

The AACT recognized Theatre Memphis as a whole with the Twink Lynch Award, an award given to the most outstanding community theater in the nation. The theater will receive its award when Wood receives his.

With all of this excitement, the theater is still busy with its production of William Shakespeare’s “Richard III,” which runs until April 23.

Wood stars in the performance as King Henry IV of England, who is stabbed to death before returning as King Henry’s ghost to haunt Richard III.

“Bennett is a remarkably authentic performer,” said Bo List, director of “Richard III.” “He’s marvelous. No matter what he does, you believe it, and in a play by Shakespeare –which can be very difficult for an audience to understand – it helps to have someone who is so believable no matter what he’s doing or saying, like (Bennett). Really being able to see him and his work really helps the audience grasp the gravity of the play and the true villain of the bad guy, Richard.”

Tickets for the play can be purchased online at theatrememphis.org or at the box office at 630 Perkins Road Extended.

“It’s a very interesting production. I think the director is very talented, and he had some very interesting ideas. He’s assembled a fine cast of what he likes to call ‘fresh, exciting new talent and experienced veterans,’” said Wood before laughing and adding, “I, of course, fall into the ‘experienced veterans’ category.”

It has been many years since Wood paraded around the stage of his elementary school theater in the notorious cotton ball wig, but his passion for performing has never wavered. “Feeling them laugh when you make a funny remark or gasp when something happens,” Wood said, “there’s just no thrill like walking out there and doing a scene and feeling the audience respond.”