Hollins Enjoys Double Presence at Women’s Theatre Festival

The works of two Hollins playwrights were recently showcased at an event that champions gender parity, diversity, and inclusion in the American theatre.

She Made Space, written and performed by Meredith Cope-Levy ’12, M.F.A. ’18, and And Then the Moon Swallowed the Sky by Rachel Nelson ’07 were featured at the 2019 Women’s Theatre Festival (WTF), held July 12 – 14 in Raleigh, North Carolina. The WTF stages productions and readings that are written and directed by women and feature casts and crews that are at least 50 percent women.

She Made Space is an honest and touching story spotlighting a twenty-something intellectual American lesbian tourist who arrives in Paris at the turn of the 20th century. “The play traces the steps she has taken to get there in consideration of the occupation of space – both inside, and outside, of herself,” Cope-Levy explains.

“There was something incredibly gratifying about performing She Made Space, a show that celebrates queer communities and identity, in a queer-centric space,” she says. “The intimacy of it allowed the audience to interact with me in a way that has never really happened before. This is the first time I think this show has ever seen a predominantly female and queer audience. Having not performed the show myself since we workshopped it in 2016, it was also meaningful for me personally to put this character back on and share my words in such a physically personal way.”

And Then the Moon Swallowed the Sky
Actors perform “And Then the Moon Swallowed the Sky” at the Women’s Theatre Festival.

A powerfully poignant play, And Then the Moon Swallowed the Sky explores moving through grief, together and alone. “On the eve of a total eclipse of the sun, three women throughout history each contemplate the things and people they have lost,” Nelson says. “As the light begins to fade, their stories become deeply intertwined in unexpected ways.”

She adds that crucial work was done with the production last winter in order to prepare it for venues such as the WTF. “This show was in residence at Hollins in January of this year, and that residency gave us incredible clarity about rewrites, which really paid off in this production. It also generated support with the students – after having seen it through multiple drafts, they really care about this show and have a vested interest in where it goes next.”

The staging of each play was made possible by all-Hollins casts and crews. She Made Space was directed by Lauren B. Ellis M.F.A. ’20 and stage managed by Shelby Love M.F.A. ’20. “Lauren has done such a brilliant job directing this production and this show is a true labor of love for us both,” Cope-Levy says. “We are hoping to take it back on the road to other fringe festivals.”

And because of the efforts of Susie Young ’10, Natalie Pendergast ’17, Kendall Comolli ’20, and Megan Gilbert ‘20, the production of And Then the Moon Swallowed the Sky persevered despite a significant setback.

“I had to evacuate my home in New Orleans due to Hurricane Barry the day before the festival, so I could only contribute long distance,” Nelson says, “and the team really had to rally at the last second. Susie stepped up as a director and performer, and her genius and fortitude really made this happen. She and I have been working on this play for three years now, and even though I wrote it, it’s based on a lot of conversations and explorations that we did together into grief. In so many ways she’s the heart of this project.

“I also want to thank Natalie for her performance; Kendall (the show’s original stage manager), who filled in as an actor; and Megan, who took over as stage manager. I am incredibly proud of all of them.”

“Of course we were bummed to not have Rachel with us,” Cope-Levy adds, “but her team demonstrated how important it is for theatre artists to be interdisciplinary – and how well Hollins prepares us for that.”

The Artistic Home, an entity designed by Nelson and Hollins Theatre Chair Ernie Zulia, is a major force behind the success of the two plays. “It supports recent Hollins grads through their first years in the professional theatre community by offering them connections with more established alumnae and current students. At the same time, they make exciting new theatre,” Nelson explains. “The WTF is a perfect example of the kind of work The Artistic Home does. There were several generations of Hollins family in collaboration – current Hollins students worked alongside Hollins professors and alumnae of the theatre program. This kind of cross-generation pollinating creates a team that mutually supports the growth of our young professional alumnae and enriches the education and professional experience of current Hollins students.”

“I physically felt my heart burst in witnessing The Artistic Home’s manifestation in these two back-to-back productions,” Cope-Levy says. “I also want to acknowledge the Playwright’s Lab at Hollins for its ardent support of She Made Space from our early workshops all the way through to this fringe festival tour.”

Nelson notes that “writing a play is often an isolating experience,” but her ties to Hollins ensure she doesn’t feel alone during the process. “I know I have the support of a community, and that I’m not writing into a vacuum. Events like this festival always remind me that the Hollins community is so much bigger than just the campus. It really does stretch around the world.”

 

Top Photo: Meredith Cope-Levy ’12, M.F.A. ’18 performs She Made Space, which she wrote. 


Hollins Honored For Best Undergraduate Theatre Program in Virginia

One of the world’s most-read theatre websites has named Hollins Theatre as the top undergraduate theatre program in Virginia.

OnStage Blog, which covers theatre on an international level, features Hollins in the 2019 edition of “The Best Undergraduate Theatre Programs in Each State.”

“Every year, OnStage Blog deep dives into college theatre programs to find what we feel are some of the best in the nation,” the website explains. “While the perfect program is the one that fits best with the student, schools can become that fit with fantastic facilities, strong faculty, [and] multiple performance opportunities, among other things. In truth, there are some schools that do that better than others and should be recognized for it.”

“There are some really terrific programs in our state, so this is quite an honor,” said Ernie Zulia, artistic director and chair of the Hollins theatre department. “I thank our incredible theatre faculty and staff for their brilliance and hard work. They are what makes us shine.”

In its review, OnStage Blog touts Hollins for the internship opportunities it offers “at some of the country’s most prestigious professional theatres, including: Cleveland Play House, Houston’s Alley Theatre, Washington D.C.’s Arena Stage, New York’s Amas Musical Theatre, and Roanoke’s Mill Mountain Theatre. Other internships are being arranged at theatres around the country on a regular basis.”


Hollins Theatre’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” Brings Immersive Experience to Shakespeare’s Crowd-Pleaser, Nov. 28 – Dec. 1

Hollins Theatre is presenting a lively and novel production of one of William Shakespeare’s most beloved comedies.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream…in Motion!, a 60-minute express version of the play that has been charming audiences for more than 420 years, will be staged as an immersive theatre experience in multiple locations throughout the Hollins campus, November 28 – December 1.

“If you think you might enjoy running through the library stacks as if you were in the woods outside Athens chasing fairies, mechanicals, and young lovers, you may want to grab a ticket for this unique theatrical experience,” says Ernie Zulia, chair of the Hollins University theatre department, referencing the final two evenings of the show’s run at Hollins’ Wyndham Robertson Library. “Shakespeare holds a very sacred place on the Hollins campus.”

Jim Warren, distinguished visiting faculty and founding artistic director of the renowned American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, Va., adapted and directs the production “Getting to work with these remarkable Hollins women has been a delight for me. Together we navigated the pleasure of Tinker Day, Ring Night, and a million other commitments that make college life at Hollins such enchanting chaos. Getting to work on this play, with this cast, in this place, and making it a movable feast of the imagination has been an honor and a privilege.”

“What a joy it has been to host this terrific Shakespearean artist here at Hollins,” Zulia adds.

Midsummer will be performed at campus locations on the following dates and times:

Wednesday, November 28, 7:30 p.m.: Upstairs Studio Theatre (must be able to climb stairs)

Thursday, November 29, 7:30 p.m.: Botetourt Reading Room

Friday, November 30, 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.: Wyndham Robertson Library (SOLD OUT)

Saturday, December 1, 4:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.: Wyndham Robertson Library (SOLD OUT)

Admission is $10 general public, and Hollins students, faculty, and staff can obtain one free ticket each. For more information, call the Hollins Theatre Box Office at 362-6517.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Hollins Connections Highlight Special Stage Event at Mill Mt. Theatre

Roanoke’s Mill Mountain Theatre (MMT) is paying tribute to a member of the Hollins University graduate program faculty by staging one of her acclaimed works for a special fundraising event.

On Saturday, November 10, MMT is presenting the play A Simple Gift by Nancy Ruth Patterson, who teaches in Hollins’ M.F.A. program in children’s book writing and illustrating and is celebrated for her creativity and devotion to her community. The goal of the fundraiser is to supplement generous grants from the Fishburn Foundation and the Helen S. and Charles G. Patterson, Jr. Charitable Foundation Trust to renovate MMT’s Waldron Stage into a “green space” venue. Tickets are $100 per person and can only be purchased in advance by contacting events@millmountain.org. A portion of the ticket price will be a tax-exempt charitable gift to MMT.

A Simple Gift earned recognition as “A love song to the theatre…a love song to life” when it was first produced at MMT nearly a decade ago. The play is the story of two former residents of fictional Brownsville, North Carolina – one who found fame on Broadway and the other who became a children’s writer – who accept an invitation from an old teacher to return to their hometown to put on a performance as a gift to the place that raised them both.

Hollins President Emerita Nancy Gray is among the prominent Roanoke citizens who will be appearing in the play alongside some of MMT’s top veteran actors and several young local actors who are starting their careers.

The one-night-only performance of A Simple Gift will be preceded by a supper of favorites from Chanticleer Catering and an open bar beginning at 6:30 p.m. in the Atrium of Center in the Square.

 


Hollins Theatre Brings Back the “Razzle Dazzle” with “Chicago” Revival

After nine years, Hollins Theatre is returning to the scene of the crime with a revival of one of Broadway’s most celebrated musicals.

Hollins University’s theatre department is presenting a new production of the Tony Award-winning hit Chicago, April 12 – 15 and April 18 – 21. Tickets are $10 general admission, with one free ticket available to current Hollins students, faculty, and staff.

Director Ernie Zulia, Hollins Theatre’s artistic director and chair, believes Chicago’s tale of murder, greed, corruption, treachery, and show biz during the Roaring Twenties is more relevant to audiences than ever before. “Aside from being fantastic entertainment, the show has an even stronger resonance now because it shines such a powerful spotlight on manipulation of the media, fake news, spin, alternative facts, and a public that is hungry for the truth,” he explains. “Not that we are seeing any of that in the world today!”

Chicago also boasts strong connections to southwest Virginia. Two current Hollins students who are also residents of Roanoke play featured roles: senior Emma Sala portrays Velma Kelly, and Anna Holland, a junior, is cast as Roxie Hart. In addition, guest artist Kendall Payne, who plays Billy Flynn, is a professional actor originally from Pulaski. He is the nephew of local jazz legend William Penn.

Zulia says the show is a tribute to John Sailer, who was Hollins Theatre’s resident scenery and lighting designer for ten years and passed away suddenly in 2015.

“We have recreated his original design for Chicago, which was one of his best ever,” Zulia notes.

Featuring such hit songs as “All That Jazz” and “Razzle Dazzle,” Chicago is based on the play by Maurine Dallas Watkins. The show is not recommended for children.

For tickets and show times, visit hollins.edu/theatre or call (540) 362-6517.


Hollins Theatre Hilariously Shows How Peter Pan Became an Ageless Hero

Hollins Theatre is presenting the inventive and uproarious prequel to the classic story of the boy who refused to grow up: The Tony Award-winning play Peter and the Starcatcher will be featured October 19 – 22 at 7:30 p.m., and October 22 – 23 at 2 p.m., on the Hollins University Theatre Main Stage.

Based on the bestselling novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, Peter and the Starcatcher is the story of a 13-year-old apprentice starcatcher named Molly, who navigates a world of pirates and sailors, orphans, and savages while Peter Pan learns to fly.

According to Ernie Zulia, director of the Hollins Theatre Institute, “The play by Rick Elise was created with adult audiences in mind, but clever children have also been spotted enjoying its delightful charms.”

Tickets are $10 general admission, with one free ticket available to current Hollins students, faculty, and staff. For more information, call the Hollins Theatre Box Office at (540) 362-6517 or visit www.hollins.edu/theatre.


Veteran TV and Stage Actress Dawn Wells to Headline Starcropolis: Theatre Under the Star

Dawn Wells, best known as “Mary Ann” on the classic ‘60s sitcom Gilligan’s Island, will be one of the featured performers at the first-ever Starcropolis, an evening of live theatre on Mill Mountain beneath the Roanoke Star, on Sunday evening, September 4.

The event is sponsored by Hollins University, the City of Roanoke, Mill Mountain Theatre, and Roanoke Public Libraries.

Wells joins more than 50 of the region’s best professional, amateur, and high school actors, including performers from Big Lick Conspiracy, Showtimers, Off the Rails Theatre, Attic Productions, Salem High School, Patrick Henry Players, and Mill Mountain Theatre Conservatory, who will bring to life a series of short plays created specifically for the event. Playwrights from the Playwrights Lab at Hollins University, some of the area’s best-known writers, and New York Times bestselling authors will draw inspiration from “Star Stories.” These narratives, funny moments, and deeply human events, planned or unplanned, that have occurred at the Star have been gathered by Roanoke Public Libraries in conjunction with Starcropolis.

“Dawn will be taking on quite a departure from her familiar persona as a wholesome girl-next-door,” said Ernie Zulia, artistic director and chair of the Hollins University theatre department. “She will be sharing her broad range as a stage actress to play the role of a homeless woman who climbed the mountain every summer to eavesdrop on opening night performances at Mill Mountain Playhouse.”

Zulia noted that Wells’ participation in Starcropolis is an outgrowth of the deep affection she has developed for Roanoke over the years. “Dawn’s manager, Leonard Carter, is a native Roanoker and a well-known filmmaker and photographer. He connected her with local writer and cartoonist Steve Stinson, who would go on to co-author Dawn’s 2014 book, What Would Mary Ann Do? A Guide to Life. Leonard also introduced Dawn to the unique charms of our region, which prompted her to share her enthusiasm for the Star City and lend her enormous talents to Starcropolis.”

Wells was already a seasoned television actress before she joined the cast of Gilligan’s Island in 1964, having appeared on such series as 77 Sunset Strip, Cheyenne, Maverick, and Bonanza. After Gilligan’s Island ended, she embarked on a theatre career, appearing in nearly 100 productions and starring in a one-woman show at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. Today, she lives in Los Angeles and runs Wishing Wells Productions in Idaho, which makes clothing for people with limited mobility. She is also the founder of the Idaho Film and Television Institute.

In addition to Wells, Starcropolis will showcase New York actor Jasper McGruder, who is familiar to regional audiences in leading roles at the Barter Theatre and Triad Stage. He will portray Andrew Moore, who swept the old road that at one time provided the only access to the top of Mill Mountain. The story is written by acclaimed author and Hollins alumna Beth Macy and her husband, Tom Landon.

“When you add in the directors, designers, and technicians, over 100 people will be working to make this unique and exciting theatre event take place,” Zulia said. “Starcropolis isn’t just a one-night show, it’s a celebration of the rich world of live theatre in the Roanoke Valley.”

 


Celebrating a Beloved Roanoke Landmark, Starcropolis Brings Live Theatre Back to Mill Mountain

Hollins University, the City of Roanoke, Mill Mountain Theatre, and Roanoke Public Libraries are joining forces this Labor Day Weekend to present the first-ever Starcropolis, an evening of live theatre beneath the Roanoke Star.

The event kicks off during the late afternoon of Sunday, September 4, and continues past nightfall. Tickets are $15 and will be available for purchase online later this summer.

Starcropolis is inspired by the citizens of ancient Greece, who would gather for theatre festivals at the acropolis, the highest point in any city, “to be entertained, to be inspired, to feel connected,” says Ernie Zulia, artistic director and chair of the Hollins theatre department. “The glorious backdrop for the show was the spectacular view. It offered a breathtaking perspective on the place they called ‘home.’”

Mill Mountain is “our acropolis,” adds Zulia, and “our wacky and wonderful neon Parthenon” is the Roanoke Star.

Starcropolis’ main-stage event will feature a series of short plays created specifically for the festival. Scripts and stories will be written by playwrights from the Playwright’s Lab at Hollins University, along with some of the region’s best-known writers. Local actors and guest performers from around the country “will weave a rich theatrical tapestry especially for Roanoke,” Zulia says.

In conjunction with the event, Roanoke Public Libraries has launched “Star Stories,” nicknamed “Starry Corps.” Library staff and volunteers are gathering, recording, and archiving stories, funny moments, and deeply human events, planned or unplanned, that have occurred at the Star.

“These ‘Star Stories’ – our stories – will provide inspiration for the playwrights, storytellers, and writers for Starcropolis,” Zulia explains. “They will also be available through the library for the interest and delight of the public.”

People can share a Star Story by calling (540) 632-2203, emailing virginiaroom@gmail.com, or visiting http://roanokeva.gov/1246/Virginia-Room.

Starcropolis attendees, dubbed “Starcatchers,” will park at the city garage across from Elmwood Park and catch the Starline Trolley to ride to the top of Mill Mountain. While waiting, they will be treated to storytelling and music at a mini star stage. After boarding the trolley, Starcatchers will be entertained by actors during their ride up the mountain. When they arrive at the Adventure Center on Mill Mountain, Starcatchers will walk along the Star Trail to the Roanoke Star. The walk will be a performance unto itself, featuring Starbursts – mini performances staged by actors, singers, storytellers, and circus performers along the way.

The main-stage event will begin at sundown on a temporary stage under a huge tent that will seat every Starcatcher who arrives at the top.  During the two hours leading up to the main-stage event, community theatres and high schools from the Roanoke area will be invited to perform short Star Stories on two smaller satellite stages.

Other elements of the festival include:

  • Starry Starry Shakespeare, featuring a collection of characters, scenes, and sonnets from the world’s greatest playwright.
  • Star Slam, where young slam poets will shake up the festival with original poetry.
  • Starry-okee, featuring karaoke versions of songs with “star” in them.
  • Star History Stop, where a local historian will share interesting and colorful information and stories about the Star, including how it came to be and how it grew to its height of fame.

“In this fast-paced world where we are all trapped in front of one kind of electronic screen or other, the live theatre event is more valuable than ever,” Zulia says. “It brings us together in one place at the same time to share a laugh, shed a tear, and experience the power of great stories – our stories.

“Along with a huge dose of fun, it is our hope that Starcropolis will illuminate, galvanize, and inspire our community in a way that only live theatre can.”

Zulia, Roanoke City Manager Chris Morrill, and event co-organizer Katherine Fralin Walker talk about the genesis of Starcropolis in this video.


Overnight Sensations: Roanoke’s Favorite Micro-Brewed Play Festival Returns July 9

Mill Mountain Theatre’s Trinkle Main Stage will host Overnight Sensations, one of Roanoke’s most popular summer traditions, on Saturday, July 9, at 8 p.m. Admission is free and open to the public.

On Friday night, July 8, six playwrights will be randomly paired with six directors, who then randomly draw from a hat a variety of writing prompts and a pre-selected cast of six actors each. By 8 a.m. Saturday morning, each playwright has to write a ten-minute play incorporating the prompts. Last-minute changes are made in collaboration with the directors over breakfast, and the actors arrive at 11 a.m. to begin rehearsals. The curtain goes up at 8 p.m. Saturday night.

Todd Ristau, director of the Playwright’s Lab at Hollins University, created Overnight Sensations while serving as Mill Mountain Theatre’s literary associate in 2006. The Playwright’s Lab began co-producing the event the following year.

“The Hollins connection makes it possible for local writers and performers to share the stage with famous theatre artists from around the world as well as student playwrights pursuing their graduate degrees at the university,” Ristau explained.

This year’s playwrights include three members of the Playwright’s Lab: faculty member Megan Gogerty and M.F.A. students Eric Eidson and Lydia Stewart. Roanoke’s own Dwayne Yancey and local favorites Ben R. Williams and Samantha Macher round out the playwriting roster.

Special guest directors for Overnight Sensations are Bonnie Metzgar, interim director of Chicago’s American Theatre Company, and Bob Moss, who was recently honored as a “Living Legend” by the Off-Broadway Association. Patrick Kennerly, Lauren B. Ellis, Susie Young, and Maura Campbell, all students in the Playwright’s Lab’s Certificate Program in New Play Directing, will also serve as directors.

For more information, contact the Mill Mountain Theatre box office at (540) 342-5730.

 


Kennedy Center Honors Hollins Playwright, Director

The national committee of The Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival (KCACTF) has recognized the play Coupler by Meredith Dayna Levy ’12 with its “Distinguished Production of New or Devised Work” award.

Levy is currently pursuing her Master of Fine Arts degree in the Playwright’s Lab at Hollins. This is not the first time the KCACTF has acknowledged her achievements: In 2013, she won the National Partners of the American Theatre Playwriting Award, considered a gold medal, and the regional David Shelton Award for her original script, Decision Height. The following year, she received the Mimi and Harold Steinberg National Student Playwriting Award, which encourages college students to write for the stage by providing the opportunity for them to collaborate with actors, directors, and others through all stages of production, including rehearsals and performances.

Described as “whimsical comedy,” Coupler takes place in the London Underground, where the occupants of the last car on the Northern Line have lost parents, partners, and possibly themselves. They criss-cross through the heart of the Underground, holding on to what was and hoping for what might be.

The award also honors Playwright’s Lab Director Todd Ristau, who directed the production.

Coupler was staged during the 2016 Hollins-Mill Mountain Theatre Winter Festival of New Works, held in January.

Established in 1969, the KCACTF is a national theater program involving 18,000 students from colleges and universities nationwide. It serves as a catalyst in improving the quality of college theatre in the United States. The KCACTF has grown into a network of more than 600 academic institutions throughout the country, where theatre departments and student artists showcase their work.