Theater with a twist

Ben Redding ’13 is redefining the theater scene in his Georgia hometown through Muddy Water

Immediately after music theatre major Ben Redding ’13 graduated from Elon, he got his dream job: a role in the national Broadway tour of “West Side Story.” When the tour was over, Redding settled down in New York to continue pursuing a career in theater, but he soon began to feel unfulfilled.

After moving back to his hometown of Columbus, Georgia, Redding reconnected with Austin Sargent, an old friend from middle school and fellow theater lover. They quickly realized they had the same vision for producing. “All I wanted to do in life is to actually help people, to effect change and to do that with my art, and so when I kind of looked at those two factors, it just made sense that I would do something on my own,” Redding says.

In May, after a few months of working out logistics, Redding and Sargent launched their own theater company, Muddy Water. The venture isn’t a typical theater company. They don’t have a set location, but rather put on shows in different theaters around Columbus. “We really function as producers,” Redding says. “We don’t have a physical building, we don’t have a theater, we partner with different venues and we put up shows in their facilities.”

I was prepared, and it was because I had people pushing me at Elon and expecting my best, and it just set the course for my whole life.

While unconventional, this business model has its advantages. For instance, Redding and Sargent don’t have to worry about electricity bills or potential repairs to a building. “We’re able to invest our money in paying people and giving back to the community,” Redding says.

This year, Muddy Water is putting on four shows. So far, they have performed a sold-out show called “Three Act Play,” where they turned an empty venue into a speakeasy. One of their upcoming shows will be “R + J: Theory,” a modern version of Romeo and Juliet.

One of Redding’s goals for Muddy Water is to promote diversity and global thinking, two tenets of his Elon education. Even though Columbus is in a period of resurgence in the arts and development, he says, there is still a long way to go. As an openly gay man, Redding says he has often felt like he was on the outside of his local community, and entertainment has not always sought to represent different people. “A lot of our entertainment is geared toward hetero-normative values, and it just doesn’t make for a tightly woven fabric of our community,” he says.

He credits Elon with cultivating global thinking and wants to continue that in his work. “I want more than anything to bring that to Columbus and do it in a respectful and insightful way, not just shove it in people’s faces and be like, ‘this is what we should do,’” Redding says. “But I think through the arts we can give examples of how to be better community members and get insight into these demographics that are underrepresented.”

Elon also helped prepare him for his career, whether that was being on a Broadway tour or starting his own production company. “I was prepared, and it was because I had people pushing me at Elon and expecting my best, and it just set the course for my whole life for sure,” he says. “I don’t think I’d be doing Muddy Water at all if I hadn’t gone to Elon.”