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Gourmet dinner, great wine, award-winning entertainment highlight APSU theatre benefit

One reason ‘A Christmas Memory resonates so strongly with people is that it so beautifully captures the wonder, the innocence and the emotional turmoil of childhood, says David Alford, executive artistic director for the Tennessee Repertory Theatre and an alumnus of Austin Peay State University.

It has special relevance to anyone raised in the South and even more relevance to anyone over 40 who can remember what life was like before interstates and the Internet.
“One reason ‘A Christmas Memory' resonates so strongly with people is that it so beautifully captures the wonder, the innocence and the emotional turmoil of childhood,” says David Alford, executive artistic director for the Tennessee Repertory Theatre and an alumnus of Austin Peay State University.

“It has special relevance to anyone raised in the South and even more relevance to anyone over 40 who can remember what life was like before interstates and the Internet.”

As if the promise of a gourmet dinner with wine and champagne weren't enough, Alford's insightful comments only add to the anticipation of the 10th Annual Theatre Scholarship Benefit, which will feature Alford and fellow alumnus Paul Carroll Binkley in “A Christmas Memory,” a two-man play based on the personal remembrances of Truman Capote.

Sponsored by Friends of the Austin Peay Playhouse, the evening's activities begin at 6:15 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 9 in the Customs House Museum and Cultural Center, Clarksville.

The deadline for reservations is Nov. 22. At $50 per person, tickets are sold on a first-come, first-served basis, and tables of eight are encouraged.

The dinner, offered with a selection of wines, includes beef tenderloin with wild mushroom sauce, smoked salmon with cucumber dill sauce and peppermint cheesecake. Champagne and chocolates will be served in the lobby immediately following the performance.

Alford and Binkley are reprising roles they have performed together more than 100 times over the past decade. According to Alford, years ago he performed in a sell-out production of the play in Portland, Maine. It was brought back a second year for another sold-out run.

In 1995, after Alford returned to Nashville to found Mockingbird Theatre, he and Binkley presented the play with such success that it was mounted every holiday season for five years, selling out each year. Three years ago when Alford was named artistic director for the Tennessee Repertory Theatre, he brought it to life again at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center, garnering rave reviews.

Both Alford and Binkley have established themselves on the regional and national stageAlford with his acclaimed acting and Binkley, with his exceptional musical talents.

Interestingly, Alford the actor came to APSU on a music scholarship. However, he fell in love with acting when famed New York City playwright Arthur Kopit was in residence. With support from Kopit, Alford auditioned and was accepted into New York City's Juilliard School for the Arts. After completing studies at Juilliard, Alford performed on stage and in film and television before returning to Nashville in 1993.

Binkley, who has been playing guitar and composing his own music since he was 9, received formal training at APSU, Berklee College of Music in Boston and the Blair School of Music of Vanderbilt University, Nashville.

His music has been heard worldwidefrom Nashville's Bluebird Café to the Lincoln Center in New York City, from CMT to NPR, from Holland to Singapore. His solo recordings have received national recognition on such broadcasts as NPR's “All Things Considered.”
Now president of Grand Vista Music, a new record label and publishing company located on Nashville's famed Music Row, Binkley has served as music director and sound designer for many groups, including the Nashville Children's Theatre, Nashville Shakespeare Festival, Tennessee Repertory Theatre and The Coterie Theater, Kansas City.

Binkley, a highly respected acoustic guitar specialist, continues to be in demand for recording sessions and live performances with such artists as Lorrie Morgan, The Fifth Dimension and The Knoxville Opera. For years, he traveled with and played guitar for superstar country music group, Alabama.

Binkley and Alford have performed collaboratively many times on stage, including their previous presentations of “A Christmas Story,” a play that is special to each of them.

According to Alford, what draws him to “A Christmas Memory” is Capote's “beautiful writing,” especially the lyrical style evident in his stories about his childhood in rural Alabama.

With no inclination or means to raise a child, Capote's parents sent him to live with a house full of elderly relatives in Monroeville, Ala. There, the young Capote formed a powerful bond with his eccentric, often childlike cousin, Sook Fauk, an older woman who was as close to a mother as Capote ever knew. Miss Sook, as she was known, became Capote's best friend and constant companion. His reminiscences of Miss Sook in his stories have immortalized her.

Alford, who was extremely close to his late grandfather, says, “‘A Christmas Memory' evokes powerful connections for anyone who, as a child, had a close relationship with an older relativea grandparent, an aunt or uncle.

“It's full of joy, but it doesn't let us forget that Christmas can be a profoundly sad time for anyone who has lost a loved one. In the end, it celebrates those special people and serves as a reminder that they live on in us.”

To make reservations for the Theatre Scholarship Benefit, telephone (931) 221-7378. -- Dennie B. Burke