Local woman stars in WCU production of ‘King Lear’

Autumn Bryson will star in WCU’s production of ‘King Lear’. Photo taken with permission from Bryson’s Facebook page.

This story was written by Haley Smith, originally published in The Sylva Herald.

Autumn Bryson is making a name for her acting, at Western Carolina University.

Bryson is a WCU junior, preparing for a lead role in William Shakespeare’s “King Lear.”

Bryson plays Cordelia, one of Lear’s three daughters. Cordelia is disowned by her father when she refuses to praise him in exchange for a portion of his kingdom.

Growing up in Sylva, the Smoky Mountain High School alumna initially wanted to look beyond her local university.

“When I was younger, Western was looked at as the place not to go to, because I’m from Sylva,” Bryson said. “Once I learned about the acting program, and I came here and auditioned, I immediately fell in love.”

She finds herself on stage, Bryson said.

“I was good in school, I made good grades, but nothing really grabbed my attention and pulled me in like acting,” she said. “It’s my passion, and it’s what I love to do. I get out there on stage and I immediately know who I am.”

She’s performed for years, taking part in her first play in seventh grade. In high school, Bryson participated in musicals and show choir.

At WCU, she’s performed in “Peter Pan,” “Blithe Spirit,” “Macbeth is the New Black” and “In the Soundless Awe.”

Of those performances, Bryson said that “King Lear” has proven the most personally profound.

“I’m learning much more than I thought I would, not only about Shakespeare and Cordelia, but about myself,” she said. “I’ve just grown as an individual through this entire process.”

She said playing Cordelia on stage has awakened her.

“I’ve never been able to play a powerful female role,” Bryson said. “Cordelia is a strong woman who says what she wants to say and means it. It’s really uplifting and empowering.”

She pursued the role to better learn how to perform Shakespeare – and to take part in something new.

“Every form of acting is challenging, but this one is challenging in a different way,” she said. “Most of the time, you have to know what your character is doing. In Shakespeare, you have to find out what they’re saying, because every phrase and word has a different meaning and can be interpreted in different ways.”

Bryson has landed a part this summer in the Cherokee drama “Unto These Hills.”

Her plans after graduation? Bryson laughed, then said: “To move away.”

Although she hopes to find a professional career in Atlanta, Bryson won’t have a real direction until completing Unified Professional Theater Auditions, during her senior year. UPTA helps pair aspiring actors with companies.

She is the daughter of Rick and Belinda Bryson of Sylva.

She said she’s grateful for educational assistance through the Charlie Stephens Memorial Scholarship and the Josefina Niggli Scholarship.

These WCU performances of “King Lear” are courtesy of the Dean of the College of Fine and Performing Arts George Brown.

Performances start at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 15. Performances continue through Saturday, Feb. 18, and 3 p.m., Sunday Feb. 19, in Hoey Auditorium.