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Prof-penned ‘Outside Paradise’ continues at Black Box

Relationships can be messy.

Maybe none more so than the relationship between literary figure F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda as shown in “Outside Paradise,” a new play written and directed by Belmont theater professor Bill Feehely.

Set in the jazz era, the play follows the couple as they build their renowned literary works and go through their often volatile relationship.

Feehely, who is also the founding artistic director of Actors Bridge Ensemble, and the Department of Theater and Dance will present its annual collaboration with Actors Bridge Ensemble, a professional nonprofit theater company in Nashville, through Nov. 18 at the Black Box Theater.

The idea for the piece came about as Feehely was listening to “The Great Gatsby” on tape while driving home from visiting family in the New York/New Jersey area.

“I was just struck again by the beauty of the piece,” he said. “Coming back, I just was mulling it about, and I did a little bit of research on F. Scott. I decided to put in a grant to write a show based on his life and of course his wife Zelda’s.”

The grant from the Metropolitan Nashville Arts Commission was subsequently approved, and after two years of research and writing, the piece came to fruition.

The play explores the works of F. Scott and how those came about and the period of time surrounding his rise as an author, said Feehely.

“It also explores the cost of alcoholism and mental illness and challenges that F. Scott and Zelda faced in their relationship and life together,” he said.

Clay Steakley, the Actors Bridge Ensemble actor who will portray F. Scott Fitzgerald, was impressed with the piece.

“I think it’s a really powerful and touching piece of theater,” he said.

Steakley said he is excited to play such a noteworthy literary figure, but he also noted that there are some challenges to taking on such a role.

“There are so many layers to any character, but especially to a real person – a historical figure,” he said. “You know the audience is going to come in with this preconceived notion.”

Steakley, a Belmont alum and Los Angeles resident, returned to Nashville to take part in this production.

“Getting to play F. Scott Fitzgerald – that’s a once in a lifetime opportunity and also getting to work with Actors Bridge again [is what brought me back to Nashville]. Since it was a blended production with Belmont, I was excited to return to my alma mater,” he said.

Steakley said he particularly enjoyed working with the current Belmont students in the production.

“The students, I have to say, really, really impress me,” he said. “They came with such a high degree of training and discipline. They all really bring a lot to the stage in all the characters they play. They are all very professional and handling themselves incredibly. They are great to work with and hold their own with the professionals.”

Admission to the show for Belmont students is free. For others, the cost varies. Tickets can be found online or can be purchased at the door. Students can receive convocation credit at select dates of the performance.

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