Hidden among the pages of his childhood journal, Western Carolina University senior Briar Boggs found a sign, THE sign: a wistful note from his 10-year-old self, longing for a dream he did not think possible. The discovery made him cry.
“I had to choose either acting or baseball,” he said of the agony he went through as a high school senior trying to decide what to do after graduation. “I was being considered by some junior college teams to play baseball. It was a hard decision. It was one of those big decisions in my life.”
So, Boggs turned to God and prayed for a sign, anything, he said, to help him make a decision.
“And it was funny, it was the very next day, I found a journal that I had from fifth grade, and it said, ‘Hey journal, I’m going to start writing in you from now on. I really love to play sports, but I’ve also always really wanted to act and sing, but I don’t think I’ll ever get to do it.’ And to me, that was like, ‘there’s your sign, this is your chance to do it.’ And it kind of made me tear up. I’m not an emotional, external person. I’m more internal. But when I saw that, I knew that was a sign.”
After graduating from Oakleaf High School in Orange Park, Florida, in 2014, Boggs promptly enrolled as a theater major in the Florida School of the Arts, a two-year program in Palatka, Florida. Two years later, he graduated with an associate in science degree and a yearning to spread his wings. He had visited WCU over his spring break and knew it was for him.
“All of my friends from high school went to college in Florida, but I decided to jump out of the nest,” he said. Lured to WCU by its strong School of Stage and Screen (and a chance meeting with a persuasive WCU professor at a theater conference), Boggs dove right in. “I came here because there was a lot of opportunity to be on stage. But also I wanted to be a film actor, and we are linked with the filmmaking program here. So, there are a lot of films going on, and they always ask for the actors from the stage program. I’ve gotten to work on so many films, so many shows.”
Dustin Whitehead, assistant professor of WCU’s School of Stage and Screen, isn’t surprised by Bogg’s success at WCU. Boggs’ energy resonates throughout his performances, Whitehead said. “Briar is a light in class, in the rehearsal room and on stage. He has a great sense of humor, an infectious smile and a solid understanding of truthful performance,” said Whitehead, who directed Boggs in “Angels in America” last fall, where Boggs played the lead, Joe Pitt. “His optimism and dedication are an inspiration to his classmates.”
Besides “Angels in America,” Boggs’ stage production performances include roles in “In the Soundless Awe,” “Really, Really,” “Hair, the Musical” and “King Lear.” He also performed in three senior thesis films: “Heads Up,” “Bid Day” and “Around and Around,” along with other smaller assignments.
His favorite performances, he said, were as a sailor in “In the Soundless Awe,” a play about the USS Indianapolis during World War II, co-written by Jayme McGhan, director of WCU’s School of Stage and Screen, and “Hair, the Musical.” “I loved ‘In the Soundless Awe’ because I’m a big World War II buff kind-of-guy. It was about the Navy, and my dad’s a retired Navy guy. And it’s kind of about PTSD and my dad actually suffers from that. So, it was morally and personally important to me,” he said. “And then ‘Hair’ was just a cool experience because you get to be hippy and loose. It was one of those things
where I had never felt so into a character before, even though I was in the ensemble. I had so much fun. We were hanging off the scaffolding. It was just a great time.”
So why acting and not baseball?
“It’s seeing how people are changed from it,” he said. “People come to the theater to experience emotions they’re not allowed to feel outside. People who come to the theater are at a safe place, even in movie theaters, where no one’s watching. They’re just in this world and they’re experiencing it and they get to cry, they get to laugh, they get to love. They get to feel all of these different emotions . . . and not feel judged for it. As an actor, the thing that makes me want to do this is it allows me to change people’s lives.”
WCU adjunct professor Colin Wasmund, who directed Boggs in “Really, Really” and taught him in class, believes Boggs’ work ethic will serve him well once he leaves the safety net of college. “He is always incredibly well-prepared and brings a nice positive energy to any process that he works on. Additionally, his instincts as an actor are spot-on and I have no doubt that he will be successful in this theatre and film industry.”
While Boggs’s star has shone bright on the stage, it also has been on high beam in the classroom. A student of the Honors College, Boggs will graduate in May with a bachelor of fine arts degree, with highest honors – summa cum laude – and a perfect 4.0 GPA, not an easy feat, he said, when you’re a theater major. “If you’re in a production, you go into rehearsal at 6 o’clock and don’t get out until 10:30 p.m. It’s a lot,” he said.
Luckily for Boggs, he has had the time and energy to pursue his craft because he hasn’t had to hustle part-time jobs to make ends meet. He has received three WCU endowed scholarships, totaling just more than $6,000, which have eased the burden of his out-of-state tuition and allowed him to follow his dad’s sound advice. “It goes with what my father (a retired high school teacher) said: ‘Just go to college, get good grades, do your thing, focus and then everything else is kind of extra.’”
Boggs’ scholarships include the Friends of the Arts Annual Scholarship, Josephina Niggli Scholarship, and Jack and Judy Brinson Annual Scholarship.
Boggs credits Claire Eye, his adviser, assistant professor and program coordinator of theater in WCU’s School of Stage and Screen, with putting WCU on his radar and helping him find the much-needed scholarship money to make it all happen. “I met Claire at the Southeastern Theatre Conference in Greensboro in 2016 while I was still at Florida School of the Arts,” he said. “I told her I needed money, and she told me about the Niggli Scholarship, which I applied for. It lowered my out-of-state tuition, which was extremely helpful.”
Eye said Boggs set a new standard for students who transfer to WCU’s School of Stage and Screen. “Since the day Briar arrived, he has been cast in both Mainstage productions and senior film projects. He has been working on stage and camera every semester, often on more than one project,” Eye said. “These projects demand a great deal of commitment in terms of hours and dedication and talent. We usually only admit transfers on a case-by-case basis, when significant talent and maturity are observable, due to the tough row they have to hoe in order to graduate and complete the training. Briar has become the epitome of that type of student.”
With graduation just around the corner, Boggs is once again on the threshold of change, but technically not until he completes two summer stock jobs. He’ll play the role of schizophrenic Barry Klemper in “The Boys Next Door” at Cane River Theater in Kearney, Nebraska, which will run June 7-10. Then it’s back to Florida for a week for a break before he returns to North Carolina in June, where he starts rehearsal for “Godspell” (he’s Judas) at the Parkway Playhouse in Burnsville. The musical is scheduled to run July 28-Aug. 11.
After that final curtain call in August, Boggs, 22, plans to move to Atlanta, which has emerged as the top film location in the world, according to a July 10, 2017 story in the Atlanta Business Chronical. He’s realistic about the move, allowing himself three to five years to catch his big break and the flexibility to move to New York, Los Angeles or Chicago, if the work takes him there instead. “Where the difference is now, compared to four years ago, I’m a lot more comfortable with the ‘unknown,’” he said. “I know that at the end of the day, God has a specific plan for me and He will put me in the best situation possible for my success.”
For more information on how to provide scholarship support for WCU students, visit the website leadtheway.wcu.edu or call 828-227-7124.