An act of friendship
Lauren Lierly is preparing assiduously for her role in Nevada Union High School’s theatrical production of “Steel Magnolias.”
To accurately portray the character of a southerner – “Steel Magnolias” is based in Louisiana – Lierly has even learned the southern twang from her grandmother from Little Rock, Ark.
The play opens Thursday at 7 p.m., and subsequent shows are on March 30 and 31, also at 7 p.m.
In the play, Lierly, 16, plays the role of Shelby Eatenton, a young woman who, despite being diabetic, decides to have a child and face the ordeals of her failing health.
The play has five other characters – all women – who include Eatenton’s mother and her friends.
“It’s been really difficult,” Lierly said. “It’s a definite push. I have a lot of responsibility in the play. I’ve never played the lead role in any other play before.”
Undaunted, Lierly has practiced “in front of the mirror a lot” and spent a lot of time in her room alone, “focusing on the moments” in the play that are most challenging.
To portray a diabetic who has seizures, Lierly has done her research, as well.
“I talked to a lot of people who have diabetes,” she said. “I looked online. I talked to my doctor about it. I asked them what the characteristics of seizures are that I can show on stage. They told me things like, during seizures, people roll their eyes, hyperventilate and are also very incoherent. It’s like a blackout. So on stage, I do exactly that.”
Rikki Fairweather, 17, is playing M’Lynn Eatenton, Shelby’s mother. For her, the most challenging task is to impersonate an older woman.
“How do I, a 17-year-old, portray a mother of three – a much older woman (than I am) – who has gone through so much more life experiences than I have?” Fairweather said. “It’s very challenging.”
What drew Fairweather to the role was the last scene, where the words uttered by her character moved her to tears the first time she read them.
“The words were so beautiful,” Fairweather recollected, “I wanted to play the part.”
Fairweather’s character in the play goes through intensely emotional situations – moments that require her to laugh and cry at a moment’s notice.
“What I do is, I draw from personal experiences, and that works for me,” Fairweather said about crying on stage. “I look at those old wounds as a part of healing because I get the opportunity to channel that emotion into something that is positive, which is entertaining the audience.”
Remembering lines isn’t difficult for her, either.
“I associate my line memorization with my emotions when I deliver that line,” Fairweather said. “So, in a way, I memorize how I feel first, and then the line comes naturally.”
Valerie Huntington, 18, is the student director of the play. She’s being guided by Rob Metcalfe, teacher at the NU drama department, and two local drama enthusiasts, Sandra Rockman and Marion Jeffrey.
Rockman directed “Tea,” a play produced earlier this year by the Community Asian Theatre of the Sierra (CATS). Jeffrey was the assistant director of the play.
“I think the challenge (for the director) is getting across your opinion and feeling for a particular scene to the actors without telling them how to do it,” Huntington said. “It’s insanely hard because you want them to find your truth while finding their own truth at the same time.”
Huntington, however, complimented her actresses “for making it so easy for me to get out there and express my opinion.”
“I’ve seen egos in the past, but with this group of girls, there aren’t any,” Huntington said. “They are all very helpful and positive. They never fight.”
“I think, as a whole, our culture underestimates the maturity and depth our teenagers have,” Metcalfe said. “The emotional depth isn’t a stretch for them. It’s the circumstances (within the play) that might be outside their realm of experience.”
According to Metcalfe, “Steel Magnolias” is “really about friendship” despite its poignant moments.
“Though it ends in a tearful note, we hope the audience takes away the message of hope,” he said.
To contact Soumitro Sen, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 477-4229.
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