By Laura Ann Tipps/Staff Correspondent
Cody Carlton founded CharACTers, a community theatre company, at the age of 16. He has now directed almost 30 full-length musicals and found time to marry the love of his life – all before his 22nd birthday.
“We didn’t know what CharACTers was going to be in the beginning,” said Cody. “We just knew we wanted to do theatre and it grew with each production.”
After starting with casts of mostly middle school students, the company has progressed to drawing professional performers from Birmingham and Atlanta. The shows have grown up a bit, too, since the company’s first productions, like Disney’s High School Musical.
Each season now includes some family-friendly shows and some that are more appropriate for adults.
For instance, the upcoming Monty Python’s Spamalot features an irreverent, worldly humor that can be described as “PG-13.” The production is a musical version of the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, a parody of Arthurian legend.
The show will be staged July 26 and 27 and Aug. 2 and 3 at 7:30 p.m. and July 28 and Aug.4 at 2:30 p.m. at Wallace Hall Fine Arts Center on the Gadsden State Campus. For tickets visit www.charACTersEntertainent.com, www.wallacehall.org, or call 256-543-ARTS.
As a guideline for deciding whether or not to bring the kids, Cody suggested, “If you’d let your children watch the movie, they’d have no problem watching this.”
Spamalot is “exactly like the movie, just with music,” according to cast member Evan Gunter, who plays the oddly adorable Sir Galahad.
Evan is a college sophomore who performed in two CharACTers productions during his full-time freshman year at UAB. He can’t imagine not being on the CharACTers stage, especially during the summer when he takes fewer classes.
“I want to do shows through college, but every summer I’ll be back on stage for sure,” Evan said with a bari-tenor chuckle that makes him a perfect fit for Sir Galahad’s singing role. “It’s funny – people associate me with CharACTers now. It’s just what I do.”
Despite growing to accommodate college students and adult humor, CharACTers still has a place for younger performers. Last year, Cody’s wife, Santana McKinney Carlton, started CCT – CharACTers Children’s Theatre. CCT will put on Aladdin Jr. in October, just weeks before the mainstage company performs Jekyll and Hyde.
Santana also directs the CCT Kids Troupe, an award-winning group of musical theatre students. Every year, young singers, dancers, and actors audition for spots on the team, then train weekly for festivals and competitions. Last year, the students attended the International Junior Theatre Festival in Atlanta, where they met a Broadway director and Alan Menken, Disney’s legendary musical mastermind. After competing with over 4,000 participants from approximately 30 states, the team won an “Excellence in Ensemble” award at the festival.
“It’s one of those things where not everybody gets an award, so it was a huge honor for our first year,” said Cody. “It’s an amazing event.”
Cody hopes that Spamalot will be an amazing event as well. After producing Alabama’s premier performance of Disney’s High School Musical in 2007, CharACTers has continued the tradition of premiering big shows in the area. The company’s production of Spamalot will be the musical’s northeast Alabama community theatre debut.
“We’ll be premiering another couple of shows next year that we haven’t announced yet,” said Cody with a sly grin, an obvious glint of anticipation in his eyes. “I’m really excited to see what comes of it.”
For now, the company’s focus remains on King Arthur and his knights. The show demanded a lot of time, effort, and elbow grease, but Cody and the CharACTers are no strangers to hard work.
“It’s been a lot of work, a lot of love since we started six years ago,” said Cody, but it’s paid off. “In the past 12 months, we’ve had over 15,000 people come to our productions, and we have over 1,000 performers every year. We’re really proud.”
But none of the CharACTers will take much credit.
“It’s nothing but a lot of blessings,” said Cody. “We truly believe this is part of God’s plan for Etowah County and for us, and we’re very grateful.”