Garry Allan Breul was well on his way to a career as director. He loved it. And he was pretty good at it too. He directed an Asolo show or two back in the '80s, when he was an intern there, and people say they were memorable productions.
After a while, though, he took a one-time job as the stage manager for a show at the old Golden Apple Dinner Theatre in Sarasota. Stage managing is often considered the toughest and most thankless job in theater. Bruel loved it.
"I love the theater," he said. "I love theater people. When you're a director, you leave after opening night and go on to your next job. I want to be there every single night."
These days Bruel, who lives in Bradenton, works mostly at Florida Studio Theatre and with Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe in Sarasota and at American Stage and freeFall Theatre in St. Petersburg. He's always in-demand, and he's always working.
"I'll work with anybody," he said, "because I believe in theater."
Stage managing is a demanding job that involves every aspect of a production, from the first rehearsals to closing night, from making sure everyone shows up on time to making sure the people who run the lights do their job and the actors all know their lines.
"The stage manager is there through the run of the show and keeps the concept exactly as the director wanted," said Keli Karen, the production stage manager at Florida Studio Theatre. "You keep a positive attitude all the time no matter what's going on in your life and you make sure everyone is happy. You're like the nurse and the psychiatrist and the brother and the father. The stage managers makes sure the fires are put out, and there are fires every day."
People who have worked with Breul say he's one of the best around.
"He's got this gift," said Joseph P. Oshry, a Bradenton-based lighting designer who has worked with Breul many times over the past 25 years. "He understands how all the parts are going to interact and he knows how to drive the machine. And the machine works very, very well when he's driving it."
Stage managers have to tell everyone else involved with a show what to do, and Breul, his colleagues say, does that in a way that everything gets done and people don't mind doing it.
"Some stage managers have that love of being bossy," Karen said. "Garry's very loving and accepting."
Even when he's not stage managing, Breul's involved with theater. He's the artistic director of the Bradenton-based non-profit Suncoast AIDS Theatre Project, which produces shows to raise money and provide other services for people living with HIV and AIDS. The project's next show is "All About Steve," a comedy based on "All About Eve" that features a host of the area's best theater professionals.
"I direct the show, I introduce the show and then I go backstage where I'm happiest and let other people perform the show," Breul said.
"All About Steve" will be at American Stage June 23 and 29.
Just a few weeks back, Breul was stage managing "The Wiz" for the American Stage in the Park Festival. He wasn't feeling well and went to a doctor who ordered him to stop working.
"It killed him to have to leave that show," Oshry said.
After lots of tests -- tests that are still continuing -- doctors determined that Breul had cancer in his lungs and in his brain.
Local theater people heard the news and immediately started putting together a benefit for Breul. It's scheduled for June 9 at the Gompertz Theatre at Florida Studio Theatre. Among the well-known performers involved are Brian Shea, Jim Sorensen, Roxanne Fay, Lulu Picart, Alison Burns and Broadway star Ann Morrison. They're all among the best theater professionals in Florida. The people involved haven't had time to rehearse together, so everyone will be doing their own solo and small-group acts in a sort of variety show.
"It's a celebration of life in the theater," said Sarasota actor Katherine Tanner, who's organizing the benefit. "As a benefit, it doesn't make an linear sense. But as a celebration of Garry's life, it makes perfect sense."
Breul, who still doesn't know too much about how his medical treatment will proceed from here, said he's flattered but a little embarrassed by the attention.
"I'm so surprised," he said. "I'm overwhelmed. I serve people. I love to serve people. Garry Breul comes fourth, he doesn't come first. I won't even know how to react when I'm supposed to be first."
Details: "A Life on Stage," a benefit performance for Garry Allan Breul, is scheduled for 7 p.m. June 9 at the Gompertz Theatre at Florida Studio Theatre, 1241 N. Palm Ave., Sarasota. A silent auction precedes the show at 6:30 p.m. Cost: $20 at the door. Reserve seats by emailing email@example.com.
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.