South Charlotte

Actress shares her love of the stage

Though she's put hundreds of south Charlotte residents in the spotlight, Matthews Playhouse Artistic Director June Bayless prefers to stay on the other side of the curtain.

Bayless is an accomplished actor, but for the past two decades she's concentrated on the educational side of theater.

Each year, more than 1,000 children are involved in camps, workshops and productions through Matthews Playhouse, the community-based nonprofit Bayless founded in 1995. Thousands more children and adults attend performances there, opening their eyes to worlds they might never have imagined.

"Theater has an educational value unlike any other venue," said Bayless, 56. "It educates in a different way. You see the subject. It's brought to life in front of you. It's live, in your face. It should change you."

While viewing theater can be transforming, she says, the process of performing is important to young people as well.

"A lot of children come to us because they can't stand up in front of a class and give a book report," said Bayless, who lives in Stallings. "We help them develop self-confidence. We don't create actors. We create well-rounded people."

Bayless, a 1972 Myers Park High School graduate, attended UNC Charlotte, earning an undergraduate degree in theater. She then headed to Penn State for graduate school, where she met her husband, John, a grad student and professor of theater.

After stints in Pennsylvania and California, the couple landed in Charlotte, where John started working in movies and television (he recently earned an Emmy for his work in makeup and special effects for HBO's "John Adams" miniseries) and June became the education director at Charlotte Children's Theatre.

After five years of long hours and two small children at home, she quit her uptown job and started Matthews Playhouse.

"I planned to teach a few classes and direct an occasional play, but it just exploded. It was unbelievable," said Bayless.

The Playhouse soon moved from a small storefront facility to the Historic Matthews Community Center, where Playhouse players now perform on the original stage built in 1908.

Though their children now are grown and gone, the Baylesses have put their plans to move to the mountains on hold indefinitely as John continues to work on movies and June continues to tend to Matthews Playhouse.

Bayless says one of the most important qualities necessary to succeed in theater is also one of the most important qualities necessary to succeed in life: perseverance.

"Talent is 10percent of it, and want and drive is 90percent. You've got to keep on trying. There have been times when we've had children to audition and audition and audition and they don't get cast but eventually a part will come along. You will succeed.

"You have to keep on trying. Perseverance is the key," said Bayless.