Unlikely student wins lead in play

Phil Culton preparing for the role of a murderer in “The Why”. Photo by Jamie North.

A freshman at Western Carolina University took to the stage as the lead in the school’s performance of “The Why” while not even being a part of the Bachelor of Fine Arts program.

Phil Culton was beyond exited when he learned that he was going to play Robert in the mainstage performance of “The Why.” This was his first performance at Western Carolina. Culton’s first theater performance was as Billy Flynn in his high school’s performance of “Chicago” roughly a year from his performance in “The Why.”

Culton started college as a Nursing major but quickly  became undeclared. After working tech for “I Hate Hamlet,” sound for “Sweeny Todd” and becoming the lead for “The Why” he decided to audition for the Bachelor’s of Fine Arts major for acting and was admitted.

“It felt right and after working in theater I realized that’s what I wanted to do,” said Culton. “When I got the part I could tell the staff believed in me and had high expectations. I also knew I could make a career out of it.”

“The Why” is a play centered around the hard-hitting issue of school shootings. It follows the story of Robert, a teen that brought a gun to school and killed three of his fellow classmates. “The Why” follows the struggle Robert goes through with accepting what he has done. It was performed in March and successfully sold out all five shows.

Culton discussed how different acting is in a musical than acting in his first college performance.

“With Billy it was simply a costume character. I put it on right before each performance and that was it. But with Robert I had to find him within myself. I couldn’t simply act. I had to become Robert and it was difficult with no prior experience.”

Culton spent many hours researching his character. He needed to change from his driven enthusiastic self to the harden and  unreadable character that is Robert. Culton researched other school shootings and the motives behind them in order to find why Robert did what he did. He also began writing in a journal and wrote in it as Robert to help find his character.

“I don’t feel like I completely found out who Robert was,” said Culton. “I was close though. I think if I had more experience it would have been perfect.”

Culton plans to move to New York after he has completed his education but would also like to join a touring group.