LOCAL FOLKS: Stephenson takes helm at Corinth Theatre-Arts

By M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal

CORINTH – As a football player, Tyson Stephenson got used to cheers from the sidelines.
After serving his country in Korea’s Demilitarized Zone, he enrolled at Western Carolina University. He played free safety, until he blew out his knee.
“I was at the Veterans Administration hospital for several months,” the 61-year-old said. “I kept getting infections.”
When he got out of the hospital, he wasn’t sure what to do with his life.
“I was waddling down the street with my crutches and my flip-flops,” Stephenson said.
“A friend said, ‘You look depressed.’
“I said, ‘I’m used to the cheerleaders and the girls in the stands cheering for me. That’s gone.’
“He said, ‘You’ll find lots of girls in the theater.’”
He started taking some classes, and about nine months later he was cast in “The Lost Colony,” a historical account of an early American settlement. It was a paying gig, as well as proof of what his friend had said.
“I met my wife there,” Stephenson said. “We didn’t get married until many years later, but we met there.”
That was nearly 40 years ago. He put in the requisite time as a bartender in New York, and also worked as an actor on stage and screen. His TV credits include appearances on “Miami Vice.” “B.L. Stryker” and “Key West.”
In recent years, he’s been a freelance director, traveling up and down the Oregon coast to work with a variety of theater companies.
Stephenson started in February as the new artistic director for Corinth Theatre-Arts. His first production, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” will open on Friday at the Corinth Coliseum Civic Center.
The CT-A job was posted on a theatrical job site.
“I sent my resume, they called me and we got together,” he said.
He visited Corinth in December for the interview, and signed a 15-month contract that will see him through the rest of CT-A’s current season and to the end of the 2011-12 season.
Stephenson packed his belongings into a Saturn and drove across country. Along the way, he thought up the set design for “Cuckoo’s Nest.”
“It’s a difficult show to do on stage,” he said. “It’s a challenge for the actors because there’s so much happening.”
He didn’t have as much time on the drive as he’d expected because of the unusual winter weather.
He’d planned to visit his daughter in Tulsa, Okla., but decided he couldn’t risk getting stranded by an ice storm.
“I would’ve been stuck in Tulsa,” he said. “I might’be been in a hotel room and not able to see my daughter, so I kept going.
“I drove 860 miles in 15 hours on that last day, because of the weather.”
His daughter, Hannah, has since visited Corinth and his new place in Glen. At 700 square feet, he said, the cabin where he lives “is much bigger than his first New York City apartment.”
The job in Corinth has taken him away from his wife, Carolyn Hurlburt, who’s staying in the Portland area, where the pair recently bought a house. She plans to visit Corinth to catch some of the shows.
“We’ll just see how it goes,” Stephenson said. “We’ll see.”
For now, he’s focused on bringing quality productions to audiences, and he’s found a willing cast and crew to work with.
“The great aspect of community theater is instead of paying people to do all the work, it’s the playground for all the people who are a part of it,” Stephenson said. “Everybody builds the sets and paints the sets. They do everything. It’s cool, and it keeps them away from the TV after work. We’re going to have a lot of fun.”
Contact M. Scott Morris at (662) 678-1589 or scott.morris@journalinc.com.

On Stage
- What: Corinth Theatre-Arts’ “One Flew
Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”

- When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 2
p.m. Sunday

- Where: Coliseum Civic Center, Corinth

- Tickets: $12/adults, $6/students

- Info: (662) 287-2995