Ron Gephart, one of the hardest working thespians in the tri-state area, has been selected to receive the Eugart Yerian award for lifetime achievement in Memphis theater. I'm having trouble wrapping my mind around this, and here's why: He's so deserving. Now, I'm not saying that past winners weren't deserving because they most certainly were. But for being so visible, a regular Ostrander nominee and occasional winner, Ron's work often seems to go underappreciated. I don't mean his work as an educator at Southwest Tennessee Community College, or his work as an actor on virtually every stage in Shelby County, where he has been seen in roles ranging from three line cameos to Willie Loman in Death of a Salesman. Some of his most important work, however, has taken place just outside the spotlight. Ron has been a great friend to experimental artists, small theater companies, and indie producers. In the 80's he spearheaded a professional summer repertory company called Beale Street Ensemble Theater, that produced popular favorites like Pippin and Harvey alongside soulful music reviews like the regional premiere of Blues in the Night. He's the kind of person who took the old slogan "start something great in Memphis" at face value. And anybody else who wanted to start something great, and work hard on it, could count on Ron to roll up his sleeves and pitch in. Salud!
Ron appeared alongside Irene Crist and DJ Hill in Wendy Wasserstein's Third.
Ron Gephart is an artist's artist with a big heart and a blue-collar work ethic. I'll be writing more about him before he's honored on August 28 at the annual Ostrander Awards. In the meantime, three questions.
Intermission Impossible: Why are you so awesome?
Ron Gephart: [My wife] Karen is awesome, not me. She married a roofer, encouraged me to find the thing I excelled at and was passionate about, supported me through college and moved to Memphis with me while still meticulously building her own career. She’s amazing.
Intermission Impossible: You really do seem to be working constantly. What drives you?
Ron Gephart: The fear of ending up on a roofing crew in Memphis summers. I just thought I was tough in Ohio; I wouldn’t mess with these Memphis cats.
Intermission Impossible: So now what? Do you intend to keep up the pace or do you intend to retire and show people your medal?
Ron Gephart: It is a new era at Southwest. As my late friend Rufus Thomas, jr. was fond of saying, “just because I’m leaving that don’t mean I’m gone.” Although I’ll only be working part time, I plan to work closely with Patsy Fancher (our new department head) who is already a dynamo in cultivating more community involvement within our theatre.