Why I Chose Steel Magnolias To Kick Off Our 70th Anniversary Season – blog post written by Artistic Director, Andrew Gall

My  relationship to the play Steel Magnolias is personal and storied, not in the sort of academic way, but in an intimate way that is hard to describe…

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In 1988 I was still in High School in Grand Rapids Michigan.  After school I could walk from school to the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre- which I did just about every day. The 1980’s were a good time to be a teenager and the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre was a great place to go when you were interested in learning about theatre, which I absolutely was.  It was in this magical time that one day my mentor, the late Paul Dreher, the Director of the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre told me about a new play that he had seen, Steel Magnolias, which had opened in New York in 1987.
The Civic Theatre did their own production of Steel Magnolias that came at the end of Paul’s 30th Anniversary. The theatre’s Board and Staff had conspired to surprise Paul with a huge celebration at the opening night performance.  At 17, I was beyond thrilled to be included in the production and in honoring the mentor I had come to so admire and love.   Here’s a picture after we decorated Paul’s office with balloons that night.  (You can’t really see me, but I am on the left, directly behind the woman in the blue shirt. Her name is Nancy and she is a lovely human being, as everyone else in this photo.)
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The party was a huge success, Paul was completely surprised, and it was a source of some incredibly strong memories that were characteristic of an incredibly happy point in my life.  The play became a personal favorite. It is a play that I think accomplishes many things that truly great plays should do: it makes you think about yourself and the world you live in, it makes you feel something, and affects you long after the performance has ended.  It is a deeply felt play that celebrates friendship in ways that are not quantifiable and reminds us that we are connected by more things than we are divided by.  For a play that appears to be about women in a beauty shop, it is surprisingly powerful.
Flash forward 30-some years:  I am cleaning my office here at Parkway Playhouse when one of the many teenagers that now comes to this theatre after school – a development that is both purposeful and an ongoing indication to me that I am doing what I was put here to do- came into my office, flopped down on a chair, picked up a book and said; “Steel Magnolias? I thought this was a movie….” I instinctively knew, in that moment, that we would be doing Steel Magnolias in this season.
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Flash forward another year: I am in rehearsal for the production we are doing.  I find am using the same script that I used in 1988 when I helped Paul on his production in 1988.   A coincidence that I didn’t realize until the first read through and I came across notes that I had made when I was seventeen. I didn’t know I still had it!  That morning I  pulled a script off the shelf as all of our other copies were in use by others and went to our rehearsal room.   It was a delightfully sweet and surprising discovery to be confronted with my younger self in such an unexpected way.
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The cast assembled for this production is perfect.  I mean this literally.  They work together so effortlessly  that it is hard to believe sometimes that I am rehearsing a play.   We laugh a lot, and I consider my rehearsal time with this cast a privilege.  Sometimes it can take a cast a few weeks of rehearsal before they gel and settle into their roles and the show.  This cast has owned this play from the outset and I have no doubt about how audiences will respond to the show- the same way I have with laughter, tears, and a tinge of the bittersweet when it is over. These actors deserve a large audience.  No one will go home disappointed.
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I cannot think of a more ideal way to begin Parkway Playhouse’s season, our 70th- a season that is rich with great plays and good stories-than with this show.  I hope you will come to one of our performances of this play.  You deserve it.  Bring a friend!

Join us this weekend and enjoy one of the final two performances of Steel Magnolias in Parkway Playhouse’s 70th Anniversary Season!

CLICK HERE to buy tickets now!

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Parkway Playhouse, located in the Appalachian town of Burnsville, NC, is a haven of theatre talent. While people come to the mountains to get away, Parkway Playhouse is a natural gathering place to connect. Likewise, we are an extension of traditional mountain talents: singing, dancing, and, foremost, storytelling. By giving rise to energetic new voices and through a wide variety of plays and musicals, we invite our audience into experiences that are thought-provoking, adventurous, and entertaining. Together we reimagine the world in every live performance, creating dynamic conversations that last far beyond the curtain call. This blog is will feature stories, helpful information, insight and features about the performances.

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