Playhouse roles: Gary at home

FHS graduate’s live theater career going strong, despite COVID-19, nationwide, in Crossville

  • Farragut High School alumnus Paul Gary is pictured playing the accordion from a 2019 performance of “Sanders Family Christmas,” which he is reprising at the Cumberland County Playhouse beginning Friday, Nov. 13. - Photos submitted

  • “A Merry Little Christmas Carol” is among Gary’s many acting roles. He is pictured second from right. - Photos submitted

  • Gary, second from right, is pictured in what he calls his “favorite” show, 2019’s “Forever Plaid” at the Playhouse. - Photos submitted

Farragut High School alumnus Paul Gary is in his element, even during COVID-19.

The 2013 FHS grad always had his eyes, heart and talent set on live theater, and Cumberland County Playhouse currently is providing that venue.

“I know I am very lucky to be working,” Gary said, amid a pandemic that has effectively shut down live theater from coast to coast. “I am so fortunate that CCP is able to be open.”

CCP, which has been delivering musical and dramatic theater to the community for more than five decades, typically has two or more shows running at any given time. It was, of course, shut down earlier this year when the pandemic first struck. However, by July, officials had established socially-distant methods to safely present two shows — including utilizing outdoor space — so live theater could resume.

“They got very creative with spacing,” said Gary, who was able to join the cast of “Smoke on the Mountain” when the Playhouse opened in July.

“It was very challenging, doing the play outside in East Tennessee during the summer,” he said of the experience, which he described with a chuckle as “fun, exciting and sweaty.”

He will be reprising his lead role in its sequel, “Sanders Family Christmas,” which opens Friday, Nov. 13, and runs through Saturday, Dec. 19.

Gary’s passion for theater began as a sixth-grader, when his older sister, Holly, took him to see his first play, “Into the Woods.”

“I saw it and it gave me the theater bug,” he said. “It really changed my whole life.”

He snagged lead roles in plays all through FHS, and attended Middle Tennessee State University as a theater and dance major.

“My experience with the arts at FHS was amazing, and it was like flooring the gas pedal, until I ran out of stuff to do,” Gary said.

It was during his undergraduate studies that he secured his first paying job with CCP, and he also established relationships through the Southeastern Theater Conference, which led to performances beyond Tennessee.

“I was able to meet people, who knew other people, and it just steadily led to auditions and work,” Gary said. “That is the magic of theater.”

He lists an impressive body of work that includes “A Merry Little Christmas Carol” in Hoboken, New Jersey; a Cole Porter Review in Florida; and a year-long internship in South Florida where he performed an array of shows.

At CCP alone, his credits include “The Little Mermaid,” “Mama Mia” and 2019’s “Forever Plaid.”

“That was such a fun musical — it had great music and was just a fantastic experience,” he said. “It is my favorite thing I have ever done.”

He said his family, which includes parents, Jeff and Lisa Gary of Farragut, “has always been super-supportive. They are really proud of me, and I’m really proud of myself, too, to get to this point in my career, and so far it has worked out.

“No one ends up in this field by accident,” he added. “It is so demanding emotionally and mentally, but I can’t imagine doing anything else.”