Lake Norman & Mooresville

Do the math: Producer has years of experience

Here's a math problem: What do you get when you take a guy with eight years of litigation expertise, add 13 productions he's appeared in on a Davidson stage, then throw in eight more years of behind-the-scenes theater experience?

Oh, and combine six years as alumni relations director and four as director of major gifts at Davidson College.

The answer is Matthew Merrell, the newly appointed executive producer of Davidson Community Players.

When the curtain goes up June 23 on the organization's largest production of the year, "Ragtime," Merrell hopes the number of theatergoers who enjoy it will be too big to count.

Merrell grew up in Virginia but has long had close ties to the community. A Davidson College graduate, he did some theater there, which he parlayed into a position as a litigator in Atlanta. "There's definitely an element of performance there, and I enjoyed being in front of a judge and a jury," he said.

Merrell relocated to the Davidson area in 1996 and soon began auditioning for shows with the Players. When he was cast in "Oliver," he says, "I recaptured the acting bug."

He appeared in productions of "Lend Me A Tenor," "My Fair Lady" and "Blithe Spirit," as well as 10 other productions. He also was selected as outstanding lead male actor by the Metrolina Theater Association for his performance in "Noises Off."

Merrell also got involved with the Davidson Community Players Board, serving as both a member and as chairman. Over the course of his eight-year tenure, "I saw how the organization really matured in a significant way, under (former Executive Director) Cindy Rice. They have always produced quality productions, but over the years the breadth of talent onstage and backstage has grown tremendously.

"We've got people from Charlotte to Concord to Winston-Salem who want to work with the Davidson Community Players."

Apparently, critics agree. Since 2004, the Players continuously have been recipients of major awards, everything from outstanding regional production to direction to set design. Merrell said he is excited for the future of the community theater.

Summer shows take place in the Duke Family Performance Hall on campus. "When you are working at Duke, you feel like you're on Broadway," he said.

"Ragtime" is "a show that's not necessarily a staple of musical theater, and we're aiming to challenge our audience a bit by getting outside those predictable plays," Merrell said. "We want to continue to produce quality theater, engage our audience and hopefully create another generation of theatergoers."