YOKNAPATAWPHA COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT
Investigating Officer(s): Det. P. Beckwith, Det. J. Magee
Incident No.: 005121-27J-2021
Case Description: Scott Bryant death investigation
YCSD investigators conducted a canvass of the crew and supporting cast after Scott Bryant was killed during a dress rehearsal of an immersive play at the theatre.
The interviews summarized are some of the most typical or relevant to the investigation and are representative of all the interviews conducted.
Age 27, actor
Kyler Birdsall is one of the younger actors in the Yoknapatawpha Players acting troupe. He said he studied classical acting at Ole Miss but dropped out after two and a half years.
While in college, Kyler said he founded a guerrilla theater troupe specializing in In-Yer-Face plays meant to scandalize the Oxford gentry. During this time, Kyler said his most prominent roles were Tadge in Anthony Neilson's Penetrator and Spinx in Mercury Fur. He said he realized the plays actually served only to entertain Ole Miss art students on the social fringe, so he left to pursue other opportunities.
Kyler said he joined the Yoknapatawpha Players after Anna Kessler saw him perform in a particularly intense solo rendition of Sarah Kane's "4.48 Psychosis." He said Anna told him he was going to be the spearhead young actor of the new direction that she sees for her theater.
Kyler said the play began with actor Weston Naboa giving the premise of the play and then dividing the audience and cast into two teams. Naboa then got slaughtered as the two teams scrambled to perform their assigned duties.
Kyler played a soldier who, along with actor Martin Vargas and board members Ervin Cyr and Cherie Atkinson, was assigned to defend the camp against the zombie attack, which involved collecting weapons at the armory.
Once inside the armory, Kyler said he and Vargas suited up with body armor and grabbed prop weapons, then gave body armor and weapons to Erv and Cherie. He described Erv as "into it," saying Erv put on the body armor, took the weapons given to him, and also grabbed a sword.
Kyler said Cherie refused the body armor because she "was already sweating." He added that Cherie warned him that if she "breaks a nail on this stupid gun," he would be paying for a full set of replacement acrylic nails
Kyler said his character was scripted to participate in the play's action from beginning to end, and he never went backstage during the rehearsal at any time. Kyler said, as far as he could tell, nothing unusual happened. He said he had not seen anyone else from the main cast or the audience go backstage other than Vargas, who briefly retreated backstage to retrieve a prop weapon as scripted.
Kyler said he saw Scott Bryant right before the show started but did not recall seeing Scott again during the performance.
Kyler said he was at the evacuation point talking with board members when Woody Herron informed the troupe that Scott had been in an accident. Kyler went with the large group of actors and others who went to help Scott, but there was nothing he could do to help.
Age 29, actor/stagehand
Nathan Daugherty is a stagehand and actor who has been with the Yoknapatawpha Players for the last four years. For this rehearsal, Nathan said he was Martin Vargas's understudy, was working lights, and acted as a general zombie.
Nathan recounted that, before the show, he noticed a lamp had blown on an important portion of lighting rigging. He said he found Scott Bryant shortly thereafter to let him know about the necessary lamp replacement. Nathan said Scott told him to replace it himself, but Nathan had to get into makeup. Nathan said that, though visibly exasperated, Scott told Nathan he'd fix it or find someone to do it.
Nathan said his zombie character first attacked the audience members at the mobile hospital lab and followed them into the maze. The script called for Kyler Birdsall's character to kill Nathan just before the end of the maze. Nathan said he could not remember Scott playing a zombie during the show, even though he's sure he should have been in a place to see him at some point.
Nathan said he was still in the maze at the time Woody Herron told those at the evacuation point that Scott had been injured.
Isabelle “Essie” Joplin
Age 32, actress/ticketing
Isabelle "Essie" Joplin is an actress who has been with the Yoknapatawpha Players for less than a year. Essie said she usually works the ticket booth, but for this rehearsal, she was playing a general zombie role and was Janet Weber's understudy.
Essie said, given that she had major roles in community productions of "A Raisin in the Sun" and "Seven Guitars, she sees acting at the Yoknapatawpha Players as a stepping stone to other more prestigious troupes. She said board member Ervin Cyr has encouraged her to stay on to push Anna Kessler to stage plays with more black actors.
Essie said she did see Scott Bryant in full zombie makeup in the western side of the backstage area at the beginning of the play. Essie recalled that he was carrying what looked like a replacement lamp for a stage light in one hand and a baseball bat-like weapon in the other. Essie said she didn't talk to Scott at that time because he looked busy.
Essie said her zombie character got killed by a gunshot to the head during the big zombie attack after the audience left the mobile hospital lab. After the audience progressed into the maze for the last act of the play, Essie said she returned to the west entrance area of the theater. She said she didn't know about Scott's death until Weston Naboa came up to the west entrance and told her that police were on the way.
Weston “West” Naboa
Age 39, actor
West said he has worked as an actor in the Yoknapatawpha Players acting troupe for the last three years. Prior to that, West said he performed at theatres in and around Oxford, where his biggest roles were Buster Pollitt in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" and Biff Loman in "Death of a Salesman."
West said he likes the direction the troupe is headed under director Anna Kessler. He feels the immersive model fits his more improvisational style, and he hopes to make his mark on the genre since accolades for traditional productions have mostly eluded him.
West said he played a soldier who briefed the audience about the zombie situation at the start of the play, then immediately died a gruesome, bloody death. He said this early surprise attack was meant to ratchet up the tension for the audience from the beginning.
West said that whenever a character dies in a zombie attack, the play calls for that character to return as a zombie. So after his character was killed, he headed backstage to get into zombie makeup when he noticed board member Heath Rushing acting strangely. West said Heath had been "glassy-eyed" prior to the start of the show, but after West's character died, Heath went too far and began yelling about "all the blood" and that "we're all gonna die."
West said that while he was backstage applying his zombie makeup, he briefly saw Scott Bryant moving past him to the eastern section of the backstage area and that Scott was in zombie makeup at the time.
At the end of the show, when he heard Scott was hurt in an accident, West said he was getting water in the play's evacuation point in the east lobby. He followed the others present to the incident scene, but by the time he got there, Ervin Cyr was already doing CPR.
Age 37, producer
Lara Shipp is a producer for the Yoknapatawpha Players. Lara said she and Anna Kessler are long-time friends, having been together since the two were acting in the Yoknapatawpha County community theater scene over a decade prior.
Lara said she had been at the warehouse to see how Anna's first attempt at immersive theater was progressing. She said that earlier in the day, she had been with playwright Denis Goodman looking at the set for the play. Lara decided that it wouldn't be proper for her to join the board members as an audience member during the actual rehearsal, so she left just prior to the beginning of the show. She waited at her house for Anna's post-show call to hear Anna's thoughts on how everything went from her perspective.
Unfortunately, when Anna called, instead of telling Lara of the show's highlights, Anna told her Scott had been in an accident. Lara said she immediately rushed back to the warehouse to see how she could help.
Lara said when she heard Scott had died, all she could think about was how sad she was for his family, given that his girlfriend had just killed herself about a month and a half ago. Lara also said she was worried about how the news of Scott's death would affect the future of the Yoknapatawpha Players.