ABINGDON, Va. — A Barter Theatre resident actor who left for the Big Apple in 2012 has returned to the Abingdon theater stage — this time for the music he loves to sing.
Ben Mackel, along with Barter resident actors Sean Campos, Zacchaeus Kimbrell and Justin Tyler Lewis, is performing an eclectic group of songs in “The Boys of Summer,” a concert-style production at the Moonlite Drive-In. The production is running now through Aug. 21.
Summer-themed songs, including “Harvest Moon” by Neil Young, “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding and “California Girls” by the Beach Boys are just a few of the selections people will recognize and want to sing along to from their vehicles at the drive-in.
“Some are high-energy songs, and others are more laidback summer songs,” Mackel said.
“I just can’t imagine being in my car, looking up at the stars and singing along with these amazing tunes.”
The actor and musician said being back in Abingdon has released a flood of memories.
“It’s good to be back and to be part of something as cool as Barter Theatre at the Moonlite Drive-In. This is such an innovative way to make theater accessible for everyone. I’m proud to be part of it.”
Mackel’s return marks nearly 10 years since he left the Southwest Virginia venue.
“New York was a wonderful experience. I got lots of jobs through auditions. But I’m a big nature lover, and I love small-town life,” said the Hendersonville, North Carolina, native.
While in New York, Mackel formed the band Blue Eyed Bettys, a harmony-driven string trio with an indie-folk pop grass sound. Mackel plays guitar, Daniel Emond is on banjo, and Sarah Hund joins them on fiddle.
“We’ve toured everywhere from hospital cafeterias to the Lincoln Center in New York,” he said. “All three of us are actors, balancing lives between the band and our work onstage.”
Mackel has continued to write songs for Barter Theatre productions since he left nine years ago.
What was a hobby for the singer and songwriter has transitioned into more of a profession. “I actually get more work now as a musician than as an actor,” Mackel said.
“I’ve kept a good relationship with Barter over the years, and I’m glad they reached out to me for this production.
“It’s good to be back.”
Carolyn R. Wilson is a freelance writer in Glade Spring, Virginia. Contact her at email@example.com.