Victims: 'Heart and soul' of theater community

A day after three adults were killed and two others injured in a shooting at a community theatre picnic, friends remember the three victims described as the heart and soul of the Town & Gown Players in Athens.

Marie Bruce, 47

Dina Canup began working with Marie Bruce at the Town & Gown Players about eight years ago, and quickly came to respect Bruce's many talents, she said.

"Marie has been a mainstay there. She was witty, lively, brilliant and funny," she said. "She is one of those people who make the theatre run."

Canup, who is pregnant, did not attend Saturday's fatal gathering as she wasn't feeling well, but she remembered a recent discussion the women shared about being working mothers and how to balance theatre in the mix, she said.

Bruce, the estranged wife of suspected shooter George Zinkhan, worked in the Athens law firm of attorney J. Hue Henry. She served as the president of the theatre, but had also directed and acted in her nearly 20 years with the troupe.

"It really hurts the theatre to lose them," Canup said Sunday.

Tom Tanner, 40

On April 13th, Tom Tanner celebrated his 40th birthday. Today, his friends and family mourn the husband and father known as a prolific member of the Town & Gown Players.

"You could utterly and completely count on [Tom]," said Dina Canup, a member of Town & Gown. "He was very smart and funny, and designed some of the best sets."

Canup described how Tanner could alternate between set-building, acting and directing with ease. His wife, Kristina Schultz-Tanner, is also active with the theatre troupe, as is their young daughter Camryn, she said.

According to his Facebook page, Tanner earned a doctorate in economics and geography from UGA in 2005.

Theatre member LaBau Bryan recalls Tanner as talented and fun to be around.

"I just went to the play the other day and told him how he'd outdone himself," she said. "He was just so full of life ... and made you enjoy being around him."

Ben Teague, 63

Friend Brantley Settle, who said he's known Ben Teague for nearly 20 years, described the man who wore overalls and had a Santa-like scruffy beard as "approachable" and extremely intelligent.

Teague, who was married to UGA English professor Fran Teague, grew up in East Tennessee and lived in Texas before moving to Athens in 1977, according to his eponymous Web site. He worked as a translator for business, government and law technical manuals, but had a passion for reading and theatre.

He began working with Town & Gown in 1990, according to his Web site, and pitched in everywhere from building sets to directing to acting.

"He's the kind of person who made you want to be a better person," Settle said. "There was a certain grace about him."

Daniel Guyton, a former student of Fran Teague's and a playwright whose worked has been performed by Town & Gown, said Teague was integral to the theatre.

"Anybody who has worked with that theatre has worked with Ben," he said. "My first thought [after hearing the news] was 'That's the theatre. He knows every inch of that, every piece of that."

Friends say their heart breaks for Teague's wife, Fran.

"What's Fran going to do?" Guyton said. "I've never known a couple to be as tight as they are."

On Sunday morning, Settle pointed to Teague's white Toyota pick-up truck still parked in the Town & Gown parking lot and recalled a 1970s TV show "Kung Fu" to describe his friend's attitude toward life: "Power and position have no hold on a man who is one with himself. Ben was that."