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Alumnus Takes Center Stage With Debut Of First Play

July 25, 2014
SHSU Media Contact: Emily Binetti, Jennifer Gauntt

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McCarley in front of old town theater
SHSU alumnus Scott McCarley is dedicating the proceeds of his first play, "Dust Bowl Motel" to the arts students at his alma mater and to the theatre in which the play will debut (the J. Gibbs Centre for Performing Arts, in downtown Huntsville, as seen above). —Photos by Brian Blalock


“Katie's gone to California / She read there's something in the air / She's got her pockets full of Dixie / She just might make it halfway there.”

Caitlin Cary’s song lyrics were just part of the inspiration for “Dust Bowl Motel,” a new play by SHSU alumnus Scott McCarley and writing partner Jim Roth that will debut in Huntsville Aug. 15-17.

Centered on the struggles, heartbreak and dreams of one woman’s journey to find happiness, the production combines acting and storytelling with live music and video to capture a unique theatre experience.

Set in a rundown motel in western Oklahoma where “bad just got worse,” the play focuses on Katie, who has little to do but clean old motel rooms and watch the heat waves rise from the highway out front.

To escape this mundane reality, she dreams of a new life in sunny California and develops a plan to get there.

Although the play’s title and theme of moving west for a better life seems straight out of a Steinbeck novel, the production isn’t about the depression era, but rather a modern-day story with a timeless message, according to McCarley.

“Escaping the motel is a metaphor for people’s desire for something better, something more. It’s that place they don’t want to be,” he said. “The story invites us to reflect on what we really value and includes a few surprises along the way.”

Dreams and surprises play a big role in “Dust Bowl Motel,” and through the play, McCarley also hopes to do “something better,” using the production as a fundraiser for SHSU and the arts in Huntsville.

The play itself also is a dream four years in the making for McCarley, who opted to major in environmental science and chemistry when he came to Sam Houston State University in the early 1970s, despite always having had an interest and involvement in the arts.

“I had always been interested in science when I young and played music at the same time. Environmental awareness was just coming into its own in the early 70s, and it was very interesting to me,” McCarley said. “I didn’t have a plan to major in environmental science until I took an introductory course taught by Dr. James R. DeShaw. He inspired me to take more courses and then become involved in the first student-originated National Science Foundation grant at the university, to fund a study of the then-proposed Lake Conroe watershed.

McCarley in front of old movie poster painting in front of theater
While McCarley made a career in the oil industry, having majored in the sciences and then business at SHSU, his heart has always been with the arts. He is not only a playwright, but a musician, sculptor and songwriter.
McCarley playing guitar

McCarley, who is a first-generation college student—who chose SHSU because of the proximity to his hometown of Trinity—said he really never considered the arts as a major, though he isn’t sure why, because he had always been interested in music and writing.

“The artistic process and the scientific process are sometimes thought of as mutually exclusive but to me the process has always been similar. Music, to me, is very complex and scientific,” he said. “The writing process, on the other hand, remains a mystery to me; I’m not sure where the words or ideas come from and how they are developed. It is almost timeless when it is happening.”

A point of pride for McCarley is that he was a member of the first freshman class to graduate from the renamed Sam Houston State University, which changed its name from Sam Houston State College in 1969.

After graduating in 1973, McCarley began taking graduate classes in environmental biology, but shortly after beginning, he changed his major—not to music, as one who knows him today might assume, but to business—and earned his Master of Business Administration degree in 1975.

“I think I was the first person to receive an MBA from Sam Houston without first getting a business degree,” he said.

But that decision paid off for McCarley, literally, and ultimately allowed him to follow his heart back to music.

After entering the petrochemical and oil industry in Houston and starting his own oil company, McCarley Oil Corporation, he returned to Huntsville in the 80s, where he established and served as both president and chief executive officer of three international businesses.

“My wife and I moved to Huntsville on the day that we took our new baby home from the hospital, in July 1981, and have lived here since,” he said.

After three decades of being a businessman, in 2012, he retired, which allowed him to devote his time to his other passion, as a songwriter, musician, sculptor, and, now, a playwright.

McCarley said he had the vision and dream for “Dust Bowl Motel” for years, but it wasn’t until he met Roth, by chance, in a Colorado cafe that he realized Roth’s talents as a professional playwright and interest in collaboration.

Another surprise developed in discovering the music of Cary, a singer/songwriter from the group Whiskeytown—an alternative country band fronted by Ryan Adams.

“When I heard their song and those lyrics (‘Katie's gone to California / She read there's something in the air’), it connected so closely with the story, and I realized I had to get her music involved,“ said McCarley.

Fortunately, Cary was willing to lend her talents—by providing the lead song “Conversation About a Friend”—to help make “Dust Bowl Motel” a reality.

Other original songs in the production come from alumnus Davin James, a successful musician and songwriter who has had songs featured in movies, TV shows and commercials.

A song by McCarley, himself, will also take center stage.

“Rosalita” was cowritten with Todd Hoke, of Asheville, North Carolina, and Erin Condo, of Millheim, Pennsylvania, at the Kerrville Folk Festival, which McCarley has attended for years.

After months of developing the story, music and dialogue, the two turned to McCarley’s alma mater and theatre professor Maureen McIntyre to read and record the early draft.

“From this recording we were able to rework the play and then get a complete working script that is pretty much the same as the one that will be presented at Old Town theatre in August,” McCarley said. “Ms. McIntyre is very instrumental in getting this play produced; it was on her recommendation that it be done. We are very grateful to her for her help.”

McCarley also found help from many others, including the expertise of long-time theatre professional and educator Marjean Creager, who will be directing the production, and the behind-the scenes talent of Huntsville residents and SHSU faculty, staff and alumni, including Margie Eglsaer, Melissa Miller, Colette Cotton, Mary McCarley, Cynthia Smith, Rick Hanna, Josh Starkey, Davin James, Kevin Currie, Matt Weedman, Annie Strader, Margaret Smith, and Emily Binetti.

The production will be presented on Aug. 15-17 as a fundraiser, with ticket sales benefiting the J. Philip Gibbs Jr. Centre for Performing Arts and SHSU performing arts scholarships.

Show times will be at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and at 2 p.m. on Sunday at the J. Gibbs Centre for Performing Arts.

All ticket sales from “Dust Bowl Motel” will benefit Gibbs Centre for Performing Arts and SHSU performing arts scholarships, which McCarley sees as promoting goodwill and synergy between SHSU and the community.

“The goal is to make this a community project and to truly do that, the community should benefit financially, which is why I have arranged for all ticket sales to be shared with two local organizations—Old Town Theatre, whose team has done so much to make this effort possible, QR codeand also to talented and well-deserving SHSU performing arts students to help make their educational and artistic endeavors possible,” said McCarley.

Ticket prices are $12 for general admission and $10 for students and senior citizens. Group rates are also available for those interested in purchasing 20 or more tickets. Tickets can be purchased by calling 936.293.8681.

The J. Philip Gibbs Jr. Centre for Performing Arts, also known as the Old Town Theatre, is located at 1023 12th St., in the Huntsville downtown square.

For more information, visit Facebook.com/DustBowlMotel, call 936.293.8681 or scan the QR code to the right.




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