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Break a Leg

Theatre community launches medical fund for actors.

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On Friday, April 1st, local actress Jo Lynne Palmer performed in the opening night show of The Fantasticks at Germantown Community Theatre. The following morning, she was admitted to Saint Francis Hospital after suffering a stroke.

Like many local volunteer actors, Palmer is uninsured, which inspired Theatre Memphis and Germantown Community Theatre to establish an emergency medical fund.

Palmer, known for her work as a dramatic actress and a gifted physical comedienne, has pieced together a living doing clerical and performance-based work. When Brent Davis, Germantown Community Theatre's executive producer, learned of Palmer's condition, he reached out to other Memphis actors for help.

When Davis reached Debbie Litch, Theatre Memphis' executive producer, his proposal to create an emergency medical fund took on new life.

"We'd already started the wheels turning on a similar idea," said Litch, who had previously set up a fund to raise money for the Red Cross after Hurricane Katrina. "Since Theatre Memphis already had certain systems in place, it made sense for us to handle and funnel the funds."

Donations to the fund are tax-deductible, and money is sent directly to doctors, institutions, and vendors, rather than the qualifying recipients.

Palmer has been released from the hospital and is currently on the mend.

"Remember me in light," Palmer typed in an email shortly after her release. She was quoting Henry, the Old Actor, the character she was playing in The Fantasticks. It's a role she'd wanted to try her hand at for 30 years or more.

"Did get to do opening night though," Palmer wrote.

Even occasional theatergoers have probably seen Palmer in action. The hard-working character actor has plied her craft on every stage in Memphis across four decades.

In recent years, she's appeared as Nancy in Edward Albee's Seascape, a red-nosed homeless woman in Tracy Letts' Superior Donuts, the titular character in Driving Miss Daisy, and she won an Ostrander award for her performance as Mrs. Bennett, the vociferous, marriage-obsessed mother in the play based on Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice.   "My hope is that Jo Lynne recovers completely so we can enjoy her performances in many more productions on all of our Memphis stages," Litch said. "She and [her husband] Jim have contributed so much to Memphis throughout the years."

Donations can be made online at TheatreMemphis.org or by calling 901-682-6801.

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