The ’it’ factor: performer Cassia Rose has it, director says

Staff Writer
Brownwood Bulletin
Cassia Rose, pictured recently on the Howard Payne University campus, sees theatre as her ministry.

Cassia Rose isn’t a bank robber, but she’s played one on the stage. (Bonnie Parker of the infamous Bonnie and Clyde.)

Nor is she a war widow, a spy, a secret agent, a child, an old woman, a villain, a cat or a child. She is definitely not a shipwrecked male castaway on an unchartered desert isle following a three-hour tour.

Those are among the many roles the 24-year-old Winnsboro native and Howard Payne University graduate has played in a decade-plus theatre career.

After graduating from HPU in 2018 with a degree in theatre and double minor in Spanish and computer informations systems, Rose works as an admission counselor for the university. She is pursuing a master’s degree in theology and ministry and also serves as a teaching assistant, teaching elementary Hebrew.

She’s brought her talents to numerous venues including the HPU stage and the Lyric Theatre, where most recently she appeared in the virtual production of “Augustus Does His Bit.” She will play Agent 99 in the Lyric production of “Get Smart,” which was postponed because of COVID and is now scheduled to open in early October.

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Rose said she sees theatre as her place of ministry. “My thought is that every job is a ministry,” Rose said.

She recalled a time in high school when she sat with her mom at the kitchen table one afternoon after school, eating a snack and doing homework. She remembers what the sunlight looked like coming through the windows.

“It just hit me, almost like a water balloon dropped on my head,” Rose said. “I looked up at her and said ’mom, what if my mission field is back stage at a theatre or on a movie set?’ She just looked up at me as if she wasn’t surprised at all and said ’well, you’d better be there.’ That was her answer — if that’s where God is calling you, if that’s your mission field, then go be there.”

Rose said God is “the ultimate creator. I love that he has created us to create,” she said. “We collectively are so much more fulfilled when we are creating something special because that is something God has imprinted on our souls — ’use what I’ve given you to create something wonderful and useful that’s going to bless people and cultivate the earth.’”

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Her favorite types of roles: “honestly, all of them,” Rose said. “I have somehow avoided, for the most part, being super typecast, so I’ve had the opportunity to play a really diverse range of roles, which I’ve very much enjoyed.”

She said the first role she remembers is from a fourth-grade musical. “I had a vocal part wherein the villain came on stage and sang his villainous song, and in the end it was my job to scream bloody murder,” Rose recalled. “That was my debut into the performing arts.”

Veteran director Larry Mathis, who directed the Lyric production of “Gilligan’s Island: the Musical” in 2019 — in which Rose was cast to play Gilligan — described Rose as a versatile and adaptable performer. “I’d have all the faith in the world to cast her in any role,” Mathis said.

“I think she makes everybody around her better. She just has that ’it’ factor. It’s just there. I think you’re immediately drawn to her when she walks on stage. She’s just like a magnet.”

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Rose didn’t start off her college life with any intent of attending HPU. “I love this story,” Rose said as she began to describe the circumstances that brought her Brownwood.

Rose was junior in high school when then-HPU theatre head Dr. Nancy Jo Humfeld served as a judge at a one-act play that involved Rose. Humfeld later sent Rose a scholarship offer letter.

Rose already had plans to attend Northeast Community College on a scholarship. “I put that (HPU) scholarship letter in a box somewhere and honestly forgot that HPU even existed,” Rose said.

As Rose neared the end of her second year at the community college, Early resident Tracy Ebarb visited Winnsboro, where he preached in the church Rose’s father pastored. Her father had once been a member of the church youth group where Ebarb was youth minister.

Ebarb had lunch with the family and asked Rose where she was considering transferring after completing community college. He urged her to consider HPU.

A short time later, Rose and her father both received phone calls and emails from Humfeld, who told Rose, “I was serious. That offer still stands. You should come check us out.”

Rose, her father and sister drove to Brownwood, where they visited the HPU campus on a Good Friday. Humfeld and HPU’s Dr. Nick Ewen met with Rose and her father, and she auditioned for Humfeld and Rose. “They told me some great things that they do in the department,” Rose said. “We just had a great time, and that’s how I ended up here.”

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“I was Gilligan. Mercy, yes,” Rose recalled of the Lyric Theatre production. “The most tremendously terrifying role of my entire life. It sounds so silly because it was such a fun role. It was the only time that I’ve ever been truly afraid that I couldn’t be capable of working hard enough to pull something off.

“I am not a male person, and I am not a tenor, either. I am a soprano, so I wasn’t sure if I was physically capable of vocally producing what was being asked of me.”

Mathis, the plays’ director, said the auditions for the play hadn’t produced someone who could capture Gilligan’s personality. Then Mathis realized Rose was right for the role.

Rose recalled the moment Mathis pitched the idea to her with a big grin. “I just had a frozen grin on my face and I just shook my head,” Rose said.

She told the grinning director, “uh-uh. This is not going to work. Larry! I am a female person!”

“I know” Mathis replied. “It will be great.”

Mathis said Rose was “flat-out Gilligan. I think I told her Bob Denver would’ve been proud.”

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While Rose couldn’t speculate on her future, she’s happy in Brownwood.

“I like it here,” Rose said. “I love Brownwood. I love all the wonderful things that are happening. Clearly I love Howard Payne University because I stayed, and when they offered me a job jumped at the chance. I love this university and I love these people.”