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'End Days' marks change in tone for Auburn Area Community Theatre

<p>AACT performs "End Days" on Aug. 19, 2021, in Auburn, Ala. (from left to right) David Carter as Arthur Stein, Jackson Wells as Nelson Steinberg, Sadie Sawyer as Rachel Stein, Andrea Holliday as Sylvia Stein and Griff Smith as Jesus.</p>

AACT performs "End Days" on Aug. 19, 2021, in Auburn, Ala. (from left to right) David Carter as Arthur Stein, Jackson Wells as Nelson Steinberg, Sadie Sawyer as Rachel Stein, Andrea Holliday as Sylvia Stein and Griff Smith as Jesus.

The small, dimly lit black box theater at the Jan Dempsey Community Arts Center was filled with theatergoers on Thursday night as they sat in anticipation for the play "End Days" to begin.

Separated by three chairs marked for social distancing, the masked audience interacted with the actors as they delved into the story of an unconventional family reeling from the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

The stage is set craftily with rotating walls, an old television with antennas poking out from the top and a table with four chairs where there were many revelations.

Artistic director Andrea Holliday, who also plays mother Sylvia Stein, has been with the Auburn Area Community Theatre since its creation in 2003. The AACT was founded by former AppleBell Productions members.

AppleBell Productions was a for-profit theater in Auburn that relocated in 2002. After giving away its set to people that had worked with them, Holliday called everybody that had ever been in a show and asked if they wanted to start a community theater. All 40 people were willing to help, and so began the AACT.

"End Days" is the company’s 80th production.

“I have been in love with these characters, this story for a long time,” Holliday said.

Jackson Wells, 15, plays 16-year-old Nelson Steinberg, an eccentric next-door neighbor who is an Elvis impersonator.

“After I read the [play's] synopsis, I was automatically drawn to it,” Wells said. “It’s something that I have never seen before and I wanted to be a part of it.”

Nelson is normally wearing a white jumpsuit bedazzled in multicolored gems with a red neckerchief draped around his neck.

Sadie Sawyer, 20, plays Steinberg's love interest, gothic Rachel Stein, and Sawyer said she was shoved outside of her comfort zone with the role.

“All the other shows I’ve been in were children’s shows,” Sawyer said. “This play is a lot more adult-oriented. This is the first show I’ve had to say the ‘F word’ and I’m not too sure my parents are happy about that.”

AACT has an agreement with Auburn University where students majoring in theater can work and collaborate with the theater community outside of the University. For the past three years, students put on a spring show with this year's production being ‘The 12th Night’.

"End Days" was the company’s opening show of the season, with ‘Jack and Lil’ and the Beanstalk’ being its next production, slated to open on Sept. 30.

A sign promotes "End Days" outside the Jan Dempsey Community Arts Center on Opelika Road on Aug. 19, 2021, in Auburn, Ala.

"End Days" wasn’t a typical pick for the AACT because of its dark topic. Holliday was worried it wouldn’t be received well by the audience.

“It is difficult to talk about 9/11 — people might not be ready to talk about it,” she said. “Once [the audience] sits down and sees how the story unfolds and what these characters begin to see in each other and find family after this horrific event, I definitely think that the audience will hopefully love it and feel something from it.” 

Auburn resident Brittney Little was among the audience at Thursday night's performance and said she enjoyed watching the play.

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“I think it’s really funny,” Little said. “I would absolutely recommend the show to someone.”

As Thursday night was the first of AACT's performances of the play, Holliday said it was a learning experience for the actors but that each time they perform they become more familiar with the material.

“The show will just keep getting better and better throughout the week,” she said. “By Sunday, it’ll be perfect.”

Those who are interested in watching "End Days" have two more opportunities to do so tonight, Aug. 21, at 7 p.m. and tomorrow, Aug. 22, at 2 p.m. at the Jan Dempsey Community Arts Center. AACT said it will be donating a portion of the proceeds from the show's audiences to Tuesday's Children, a New York City-based nonprofit formed in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks. The nonprofit supports those who have lost family members because of terrorism, military conflicts or mass violence.

Ansley Franco | Community Writer

Ansley Franco, junior in journalism, is a community writer for The Auburn Plainsman.

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