Theater leads Murphy Capps to the divine

Shelly Frome
Special to The Black Mountain News

Murphy Capps’ path to Black Mountain began with theater at a very young age.

She was three years old when she played Peppermint Patty in preschool near Greenville, North Carolina. She felt right at home on stage.

“I knew this is what I’m supposed to do because I loved it,” she said. “My father was a minister attached to the armed services. We traveled all over the world, moved every two to three years. But from that point on, wherever I was I always did theater.”

In the fourth grade, Capps had her first taste of “normal life,” she said, when her father was assigned to Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, Virginia. Living in a house on a cul-de-sac, playing with other children, she began writing shows and putting on presentations for the whole neighborhood.

“Theater gave me something to hold onto,” she said, noting her family’s subsequent moves to Montana, the Philippines and elsewhere. Being somewhere new, “you’re always the weird kid,” she said. “But the theater community is the one place that will accept you, no matter how weird you are.”

In college, she gravitated toward business, moving up in responsibilities from bartender to corporate trainer. In 2008 she quit her job as an operations manager in Colorado to go back into theater. Cashing in her company retirement account, she took “Crazy Bag,” her one-woman show about life as a minister’s daughter, on the road.

She played a single mother whose chaos at home forces her to deal with the baggage and guilt that spills out of her head. After the show had run its course, Capps came limping into Asheville with $50 in her pocket.

“I had to do something sensible,” she said. She saw a connection with storytelling and marketing and started a company, Kudzu Brands, six years ago with her husband Kenny, a lawyer and design artist.

“It would provide me with an ideal way to put my left and right brain together and create something on my own,” she said.

New to Black Mountain, she wondered why the town didn’t have a theater. She proposed a “front porch theater,” one that would take in Black Mountain’s reputation as “the front porch of Western Carolina.” A lunch with Gale Jackson, the director of the Black Mountain Center for the Arts, evolved into a series of productions which have included Capps’ own stints as an actress and director.

Capps had always thought she was too restless to live in a small town. But, she said, she has found out that Black Mountain offers everything she needs.

“It has character and really interesting people,” she said. “Everywhere you turn, everyone is so talented. Writers, artists, musicians, entrepreneurs and intellectuals. It’s beautiful and nearby to Asheville. You can walk everywhere. It has a greenway and so many other things. The mystical vortex sucks me in, and I certainly want to raise my children here.”

Black Mountain’s specialness inspired her to reconcile her spiritual baggage, she said. In January, she’s going back to school, feeling called to the ministry.

“Your mission in life,” she said, “is to find a way to come to terms with all you’ve been struggling with.”

Call of the Valley is writer Shelly Frome’s periodic profile of people who are drawn to the Swannanoa Valley.