This week marks the closing weekend of the university’s production of “The Secret Garden,” and the start of some very mixed emotions on my part. I’m thrilled to know that audiences will be exposed to the inspiring, magical story of this play and the many characters within it. I’m excited to see what it is that makes people laugh tonight and what it is that makes them cry tomorrow. And I’m filled with a bittersweet, indescribable sensation — a sort of premature nostalgia — at the thought that the wonderful experience of being involved in this show is coming to an end.
When I came to Southern Virginia two and a half years ago, I didn’t know a soul. Not one. A week passed, and my social status (or essential lack thereof) didn’t seem to change. But then Professor Stoddard, who was at the time my theatre history professor, walked up to me and asked me to be his assistant as he directed “The Servant of Two Masters.” Within a month, I was assistant director for another show, “Hello Dolly,” and ready to declare theatre in addition to my English major.
Since high school, directing was always the element of theatre that held the most appeal to me, and I dreamed of doing a directing senior project at the end of my tenure at Southern Virginia. I fought my way awkwardly, nervously, yet somewhat successfully through two acting classes in order to take directing last semester, and then Professor Stoddard made me an unimaginable invitation: he asked me to associate direct this spring’s musical, “The Secret Garden.”
I was raised on this musical, and it was difficult for me to believe that many people had never heard the music, or perhaps even of the play, before Professor Stoddard added it to this year’s season. My mom and I used to belt “Lily’s Eyes” in the car. When he offered me the position, I don’t think Professor Stoddard realized that he wasn’t just providing me with fodder for a senior project — he was giving me the most perfect culminating experience, the best possible cherry on top, of my career as a theatre major at Southern Virginia.
This entire production is such a testament to the wonders brought about by “the genius of small.” Theatre majors and non-theatre majors alike have come together to sing, learn, act, live, and laugh. Though only a student, I have been fortunate enough to work with Professor Stoddard as a collaborator, to learn from him while we worked together to block scenes, coach actors, and realize our vision for the show. At what other university could I possibly have had this opportunity?
Ultimately, in five short weeks of rehearsal and many hours of work, the cast and crew of this production have put together what I think is the best show I’ve seen since I’ve been here. Sure, I may be a bit biased, but just as being so closely involved in this show has made me attached to it, it has (necessarily) made me especially critical of it, too. So, it is with both tenderness and the “eye” of a director that I say that this show is a gem.
“The Secret Garden” tells a story of loss, fear, mistakes, faith, hope, family, love, and forgiveness. It captures, in my opinion, some of the most vibrant and integral emotions of the human experience — the messiness and the beauty of it alike. Furthermore, it tells this story through incredible music and characters that you’ll either love to love or love to hate. This particular production also adds some intricate physical elements through the set and costumes that together provide the audience with a performance that is rich musically, visually and emotionally all at once.
So, as the lyric says, “come to [the] garden.” I can attest to the fact that the efforts of the many talented and diligent people I’ve been able to work with have produced a show that has the ability to both entertain and enrich. One audience member told me, following the opening night performance, that the show was a “sacred experience,” and I really can’t think of a better commendation.
The final performances are tonight and tomorrow night at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 for the general public and $7 for children, senior citizens, and Southern Virginia students, faculty and staff. They are selling quickly and ought to be purchased in advance, if possible, through Student Financial Services or at 540-261-8464.
(Post by Madeleine Gail Rex ’16. Photos by Eva Sorensen Smith ’17.)