The Star-News


Melodrama is journalism professor's passion

Sat, Sep 18 2010 12:00 PM Posted By: Allison K. Sampite

Playwright, songwriter and Southwestern College journalism professor Max Branscomb wrote his first melodrama when he was 20 years old as a sophomore at San Diego State University. It was called "Thin Skins and Hayseeds" and based on the Sweetwater Valley flood of 1916, when the dam overflowed.

This year, 53-year-old Branscomb added a twist to a previous play, "Ms. Sweetwater Valley," for the 33rd annual Bonitafest melodrama, which is a musical-comedy inspired by a local controversial pageant winner.

Branscomb has written 14 plays for the melodrama. He said "Ms. Sweetwater Valley" has been particularly popular. "It always packs the place," he said.

All of Branscomb's plays are based on real events that happen in and around the community.

Branscomb moved to Bonita when he was in ninth grade and attended Bonita Vista MIddle School and Bonita Vista High School. "It was really cool moving here ... the weather and natural beauty," he said. "This is where I want to live and die," he said.

Branscomb is a self-taught musician and has a love affair with music, which he said he wished he would have studied. "I love music," he said. "Songs are stories and poetry. I love the Beatles and Elton John." Branscomb's favorite Beatles song is "Let it Be."

Other shows he's written include bilingual musicals called pastorelas, dramas and rock operas. His favorite rock opera is a 110-minue musical about JFK.

"To me its like the most fulfilling form of art," he said. "In front of the screen is a blank canvas, then you get to see your vision played out by other people. You get immediate feedback in the theatre and it's great."

Branscomb said the plays attempt to celebrate the community's heritage and history.

"The biggest rush in my life, after my wife and kids, is coming out of the theatre and hearing people singing my songs," he said.

Branscomb said if someone wrote a play about his life Brad Pitt would act as the lead. "Even though he's not as good looking, he's a pretty good actor," he laughed.

The plot of would be based on the progress of life, Branscomb said. "It would be about the things you learn and have to overcome in order to reach your goals."

Branscomb's father was in the Navy and grew up farming as a kid in Kansas. "My family was poor and worked their way up into the middle class," he said. "We lost our farm in the depression and moved to Idaho. But they (my parents) taught their kids good American values."

Branscomb is adamant that a person can do what they want to. "You can come from very humble roots and make something of yourself in this country," he said.

Branscomb is the oldest of three brothers and one sister, who all live in the bay area. He is the father of 15-year-old Michaela, who is this year's lighting director for the play, and Chantal who is 12 and is acting in the play.


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