As part of an internationally acclaimed storytelling group from Kennesaw State University, Rockdale County native Phillip Justman has a knack for expertly projecting any number of larger-than-life personas on an audience.
The 20-year-old Heritage High School graduate (Class of 2006) also has considerable leadership skills. But perhaps most importantly, Justman has the gift of a compassionate heart.
A rising junior at Kennesaw State, Justman will lead a group from the school's highly regarded KSU Tellers on Saturday, Aug. 9 at 8 p.m. in a local performance benefiting his sister, Tian Justman, who is undergoing treatment for leukemia. The performance will be held at the Conyers Rockdale Council for the Arts' black box theatre, Center Street Arts, in Olde Town Conyers.
"Tian was diagnosed with cancer during her junior year in high school," said Justman of his older sister. "She went to St. Jude's in Memphis and two years later got the all-clear. It's not completely unpredictable. I'm sure she'll be there at the show."
The KSU Tellers, a group of eight to 10 men and women, are storytelling performers, taking new and old tales and acting them out in front of audiences. Justman - who's majoring in theatre and performance studies - auditioned for the ensemble during his freshman year, and this year begins his third performance season with the troupe.
"I tried out on a whim," he said. "But since my first exposure to (the group), I jumped in with both feet and just loved it. We perform on campus, at schools, at festivals - you name it, and we've probably been there. All you need is the space and a crowd of people and the magic happens."
Last year, the KSU Tellers trotted out their version of "Beowulf" at the International Fringe Festival in Edinburg, Scotland, meriting a four-star review from the British Theatre Guide.
Justman, who has also appeared in plays like "Moby Dick," "Howie the Rookie" and "The Cripple of Inishmaan" on the KSU campus, said his interest in theatre began at an early age, adding that his hometown was a great place to start.
"I've always been interested in the arts," he said. "And thanks to growing up in Conyers, there was always the opportunity for a project to dive into. The arts were all around me and I took advantage of it."
During his time at Heritage, Justman appeared in performances of "Beauty and the Beast," "The Music Man" and "Guys and Dolls." Although he's capable of being a song-and-dance man, Justin said he's focusing on acting and spent a portion of the summer studying at Dell'Arte International in Blue Lake, Calif.
"It's a school of physical acting," said Justman, the son of Mary and Colye Justman. "I'm here studying this school's theory about acting, and I'm getting into body training and physical work.
The entire membership of the KSU Tellers won't be in Conyers, although Justman said five of his colleagues will join him to perform a collection of "crowd favorites - from scary stories to hilarious stories to epics to personal narratives to children's stories; it's a big hodge-podge."
Justman, whose younger sister Abigail has also performed in productions at Heritage (as well as swimming and running track), said he's got a lofty goal after he graduates next spring.
"My most ambitious idea is to start a theatre company in the Atlanta area," he said.
The KSU Tellers' show, entitled "Storyfest," will represent Justman's first performance in Rockdale County since he graduated from Heritage.
"I'm really looking forward to it," he said. "I hope that my old friends will stop by to see the show. It's great to perform on the home front."
Chris Starrs is a freelance writer based in Athens, Ga. If you have a story idea, contact Karen Rohr, features editor, at firstname.lastname@example.org
SideBar: If you go
What: Kennesaw State University Tellers performing "Storyfest"
When: Saturday, Aug. 9 at 8 p.m.
Where: Conyers Rockdale Council for the Arts' Center Street Arts theater, 910 Center St.
Cost: Tickets are $7 and more information can be obtained by calling 770-922-3143.