The Blog @
Southern Virginia University

Posts with the tag: Theatre

  1. Come to the Garden

    February 20, 2016

    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.)

  2. ‘Bells Are Ringing’ at Southern Virginia

    June 10, 2015

    I’m as much a fan of cordless phones and instant messaging as the next person — partially because I have a habit of tripping over cords in general, but also for the obvious convenience of the thing — but taking a step into the 1950’s and the world of answering phone services and phone booths in “Bells Are Ringing” wasn’t only refreshing but delightful.

    Of course, there are a few mix-ups that could be prevented by the invention of instant messaging and cell phones, and by “a few” I mean all of them, but that’s part of the charm of the story. These characters have to get out of their scrapes without caller ID and Google, and they do so through hilarity, sincerity, and, well, a lot of singing.

    “Bells Are Ringing” features some of the most quirky and fun musical numbers that I’ve heard at Southern Virginia and is so well suited to the talent that we have here. From the very first number, the adeptness and skill of the ensemble is apparent, and numbers like “Better Than A Dream” seal the deal: this is one great show.

    And it’s not made any less by the quality of its secondary characters. The ensemble members have taken it upon themselves to create personalities for every one of their characters, and folk like Heidi Glauser’s Gwynne Smith and John-John Leake’s Carl contribute to the play’s charisma.

    The talent onstage is complemented by the beauty of said stage. The set embraces the era and creates just the right ambiance for the quirky, unique show. The accordion-like pullout walls add a neat layer of dimension, and, to put it frankly, it’s just awesome. Go see it.

    Needless to say, the hard work invested in this play in the past three and half weeks (yes, you read that correctly: three and a half) by the nearly 30 cast members, the crew, and all the other contributors seems to have been very much worthwhile.

    If two sold-out performances are any indication, this is a play you won’t want to miss, so be sure to buy tickets for this week’s Thursday or Saturday performance (Friday’s already sold out), or both. That’s cool, too.

    Tickets for “Bells Are Ringing” are $10 for the general public and $7 for Southern Virginia faculty, staff and students. Tickets can be purchased in advance by calling 540-261-8464, or at the door prior to each performance.

    For more information, check out this news article.

    (Post by Madeleine Gail Rex ’16. Photos by Leigh Stoddard.)

  3. Thoughts on ‘Mansfield Park’

    February 23, 2015

    “Mansfield Park” is the third play I’ve seen that was written, co-written or musically adapted by Robert Stoddard, and it lives up to the high bar he set for himself with previous shows like “Stone Tables” and “Little Women.” It’s a show with meaningful human themes, a wonderful cast of characters, moral complexity, and fantastic music and lyrics.

    The story of “Mansfield Park” centers on the coming of age of Fanny Price as she leaves her own home — a poor, immoderate one — to live with her wealthy aunt and uncle at Mansfield Park. Fanny’s shyness and reserved nature lead to years of struggle trying to belong in her new surroundings and to find acceptance with her new family. Her cousin Edmund is the first to embrace Fanny as a part of the Mansfield Park family. Fanny never forgets this. Over the years, her attachment to Edmund becomes love, but Edmund, like nearly every other young character in the play, is confused in his own attempts to find romance.

    Some of the main themes in “Mansfield Park” deal with being true to yourself and your values, being cautious in whom you choose to love, and with the individual’s power to influence others for the better. The script, music and lyrics all do a fantastic job of unfolding these themes. One of the show’s strongest qualities is the seamless way the music connects with narrative, driving plot, character, relationships and these major themes forward with nearly every song.

    In contrast to other Jane Austen novels, the novel “Mansfield Park” shows particular depth in the less than noble characters in the cast. This musical adaptation takes that depth to a new level with songs like “Unbidden Feeling” and Maria’s “Set Me Free.” Largely through music, the emotional turmoil of the show’s bitterest characters becomes just as poignant as the struggles of the heroine.

    Ultimately, Stoddard and Stoddard’s new musical left me with a deeper appreciation for the original source. I read the novel “Mansfield Park” once before and didn’t like it. After some fresh perspective and some unearthed gems in the musical, I think I’ll find the novel well worth revisiting.

    (Post by Stephen Taylor ’15. Photos by Leigh Stoddard.)

  4. Review + Photos: Southern Virginia Steps into the Dark with ‘Antigone’

    November 13, 2014

    As a theatre major, I’m required to be involved in every production, and that generally means that I attend every performance. So, the fact that I will see Southern Virginia University Theatre’s production of Jean Anouilh and Lewis Galantiere’s adaptation of “Antigone” four times isn’t remarkable on its own.

    What is notable is that I want to. (Okay, so maybe that’s also not unusual, but I promise I’m not the only person who’s been happy to see this show more than once.)

    I’m going to come right out with the rather embarrassing admission that I was not familiar with the story of “Antigone” before I saw the show. Therefore, I didn’t know what to expect from the performance. I’m even less familiar with Southern Virginia productions of tragedies than I am with “Antigone,” after all. Since I’ve come here, there have been a slew of hilarious comedies and the thought-provoking “Our Town,” all of which I enjoyed, but I was, nonetheless, curious to see how well we could pull off a full-blown tragedy.

    The verdict? We do it quite well.

    The atmosphere is set the moment house opens — what could be more appropriate than the Gregorian chants softly filling Chandler Hall? And the set — by golly, that set — is perfect. It is probably my favorite of the sets I’ve seen here. And it is made only more awe-inspiring by the skillful lighting throughout the show. The craggy rocks, the broken stained glass, and the generally unwelcome appearance make it evident that this is not the sort of play in which actors use pool noodles as light sabers (as in “A Servant of Two Masters”).

    The play is an adaptation of the Greek original and is set in France during World War II. Creon and his men are depicted as Nazis, but the references are subtle. There’s something intriguing about considering the story from this perspective, as a representation of the conflict created by Nazi occupation. However, as I said, the change of setting is unobtrusive. What I appreciated most about the modernity was the effect it had on me — it was easier for me to relate to the characters once the entire experience had been brought a couple millennia closer to home.

    As the performance progressed, I was continually impressed by the actors. Not simply because they were skilled but because of the vast differences between the characters they play in “Antigone” and the characters I’ve seen them play in the past. Creon isn’t going to don colorful Sunday clothes and participate in a massive choreographed musical number (as actor Glenn Williams did in “Hello Dolly!”), and Antigone isn’t about to show someone how to add more “bevel” to their step (as actress Gloria Bowden did in “Martin & Margaret & the M.I.N.D.S.W.A.P.”). Instead of making me laugh, they prompted me to contemplate moral and social issues — and they evoked my sympathy.

    Southern Virginia’s production of “Antigone” was a step into the dark for many of the actors here, but there they found an entirely new and exciting side of themselves. I left feeling the emotional exhaustion and mental frenzy that every good tragedy induces. Just as importantly, I left with an overwhelming gratitude for being a part of the theatre program at this university and for the opportunity I have to see wonderful people put their all into a performance — and to see it pay off.

    There will be two more performances of “Antigone” this Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in Chandler Hall. The house has been packed both nights, so I recommend that you see the play and that you reserve tickets ahead of time. Tickets are $8 for the general public and $6 for senior citizens and Southern Virginia students, faculty and staff. You can purchase tickets in advance by calling 540-261-8464 or stopping by the Student Financial Services Office.

    (Post by Madeleine Gail Rex ’16. Photos by Leigh Stoddard.)

  5. ‘Our Town’ Takes the Stage

    February 17, 2014

    Professor Robert Stoddard and the Southern Virginia University theatre program had a successful Valentine’s Day with the opening of their performance of Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer-Prize winning play “Our Town.” Opening night’s patrons were surprised with door prizes and Valentine’s Day gifts, but the real treat was the play itself. It was performed up close and personal on the floor of Chandler Hall with the audience on three sides!

    The play included a cast of 18 students, faculty and community members. Professor Robert Stoddard plays the stage manager, our guide through the small town of Grover’s Corners in the more innocent American times of the early 20th century. He narrates the lives of a handful of the town’s locals, focusing on Emily Webb (Rebekah Taylor), the daughter of a housewife (Jasmine Anderson), and George Gibbs (Kjell Henness), the son of the local doctor (Justin Winslow). Professor Stoddard chronicles the love story of Emily and George, their marriage, and the tragic death that separates them.

    The role of stage manager is a tricky one as he creates the bridge between the audience and the actors, interacting with both as a narrator and commentator. Periodically, he joins the team of actors, in a variety of roles (e.g. the reverend, the soda shop owner, local townsmen, etc.).

    In three acts, “Our Town” tells the story of life in the small fictitious town of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire. From what starts as a simple morning in the year 1901, the play blooms into a moving portrayal of how the simple things we do every day are what’s really worthwhile in our lives. The characters were sympathetic and well cast. Their costumes were modern, which emphasized the timelessness of the theme. The play concludes with a tone of motivation, encouraging everybody to appreciate the present, and wishing the audience a good night.

    Choosing “Our Town” was the right move. The play is very unconventional. The script calls for few props and little scenery. With the exception of chairs, tables and benches, the actors mostly mime their interactions with invisible props. The surroundings, like the props, are also mostly created in the viewer’s mind. This allows the actors to transform the aisles, in between where audience members are seated, into another part of the set. The stage effects were my favorite part of the play! This feat of minimalism requires a great deal of courage, but as it was undertaken so wonderfully, it created a humble atmosphere that really let the message of the play take its rightful place.

    If you missed it last weekend, “Our Town,” will continue to run this Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in Chandler Hall!

    (Post by Brian Caycho ’16. Photos by Lindsey Morgan ’13.)