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.


“Goodnight Moon: The Magical Musical” Returns to the Hollins Theatre Stage

Hollins Theatre is opening its 2015-16 season with a revival of Goodnight Moon: The Magical Musical. The show, which is intended for children of all ages, runs October 10 – 18.

Goodnight Moon is based on the beloved children’s book by Margaret Wise Brown, a member of Hollins’ class of 1932. The classic story of a bunny who won’t go to sleep was first published in 1945 and went on to sell millions of copies around the world.  The musical adaptation by Chad Henry first appeared on the Hollins Theatre stage in 2011 as the inaugural production of the Hollins Legacy Series, which was created to bring the work of Hollins writers to the stage.

“When this tale was received with such tremendous enthusiasm, we decided to turn it into a Hollins tradition, with multiple productions over years to come,” said Ernie Zulia, director of the Hollins Theatre Institute. “It is our hope that each new crop of youngsters in the Roanoke Valley will bring their favorite grownups to Hollins Theatre for an experience they will long remember.”

Zulia estimated that about 4,000 school children, families, “and people of all conceivable demographics” saw Goodnight Moon during its 2011 run. “Add that number to what we hope will be thousands in the years to come, and it makes us mighty proud to play our part in this phenomenal math equation that illustrates how one author can affect the lives of so many.”

Zulia noted that there are currently over 14 million copies of Goodnight Moon in print in multiple languages around the globe. “Consider the number of times a single owner of a copy has urged a parent or loving adult to read and re-read the bedtime story aloud, and then multiply that by 14 million. Add to that the number of times the book has been opened by a child who can recite it from memory while gazing at Clement Hurd’s iconic illustrations, not to mention the number of children who reach for their favorite book as a reading primer over and over and over, and you can easily imagine a number that reaches far into the billions. That’s how often this simple little story has come alive in the world.”

Goodnight Moon: The Magical Musical will be presented on Hollins Theatre’s main stage on Saturday, October 10, at 11 a.m.; Thursday and Friday, October 15 and 16, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, October 17, at 11 a.m. and 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday, October 18, at 2 p.m. Tickets are $5 for children, $10 for adults. Current Hollins students, faculty, and staff will receive one free ticket. For online ticket sales and more information, visit www.hollins.edu/theatre. Or, call the Hollins Theatre box office at (540) 362-6517 for more information.

 


Hollins Featured in “The Best 380 Colleges”; Theatre Program Is Ranked Among the Nation’s 20 Best

The Princeton Review has named Hollins University one of the nation’s best institutions for undergraduate education.

Hollins is included in the new 2016 edition of the education services company’s flagship college guide, The Best 380 Colleges. In addition, the publication ranks the university 19th in the country in the category, “Best College Theater.”

According to The Princeton Review, only about 15% of America’s 2,500 four-year colleges and only four colleges outside the U.S. are profiled in the book. Published annually since 1992, it includes detailed profiles of the colleges with rating scores for all schools in eight categories, plus ranking lists of top 20 schools in the book in 62 categories based on The Princeton Review’s surveys of students attending the colleges.

“Hollins’ outstanding academics are the chief reason we chose it for this book and we strongly recommend it to applicants,” says Robert Franek, Princeton Review’s Senior VP-Publisher and author of The Best 380 Colleges.  “We make our selections primarily based on data we collect through our annual surveys of administrators at several hundred four-year colleges. Additionally, we give considerable weight to observations from our school visits, opinions of our staff and our 23-member National College Counselor Advisory Board, and an unparalleled amount of feedback we get from our surveys of students attending these schools. We also keep a wide representation of colleges in the book by region, size, selectivity and character.”

In its profile of Hollins, The Princeton Review notes, “Students at Hollins ‘adore the school.’ The women of Hollins describe themselves as ‘empowered, enthusiastic,’ ‘worldly, aware,’ ‘strong, and confident.’” Underscoring Hollins Theatre’s high national ranking in The Best 380 Colleges, the profile quotes students as stating that the program “is excellent, and the shows are always worth going to.”

The Princeton Review does not rank the colleges from 1 to 380 in any category.  Instead it uses students’ ratings of their schools to compile 62 ranking lists of top 20 colleges in the book in various categories. The lists in this edition are entirely based on The Princeton Review’s survey of 136,000 students (about 358 per campus on average) attending the colleges. The 80-question survey asks students to rate their schools on several topics and report on their campus experiences. Topics range from their assessments of their professors as teachers to opinions about their school’s library, career services, and student body’s political leanings. The Princeton Review explains the basis for each ranking list at http://www.princetonreview.com/college-rankings/ranking-methodology.

The Best 380 Colleges is the 24th edition of The Princeton Review’s annual Best Colleges book.

 


Hollins Welcomes $6.5 Million Pledge to Support Science, Theatre, and Playwriting Programs

Hollins University has received a financial commitment of $6.5 million from Mr. and Mrs. James McDonnell III to fund renovations to the university’s Dana Science Building and Hollins Theatre, and expand the number of faculty in the theatre and playwriting programs.

Pledge payments will begin in fiscal year 2015-16.

Of the total gift commitment, $4 million is earmarked to upgrade classroom furniture, research equipment, projector systems, teaching laboratories, and technology in Dana, which is home to Hollins’ biology, chemistry, mathematics/statistics, physics, and psychology departments.

“This investment gives our outstanding faculty the tools they need to continue facilitating the serious study of the sciences in a comfortable and inviting environment,” said Hollins President Nancy Gray. “We are proud of our record of preparing women for graduate school and careers in this field. These funds help make certain we can offer quality education in the sciences for many years to come.”

The remaining $2.5 million is allocated to endow a faculty chair in the theatre program ($1,000,000); endow visiting professional artist positions in the theatre program and the graduate Playwright’s Lab at Hollins University ($600,000 and $500,000, respectively); and to make capital improvements to the Hollins Theatre facility ($400,000). The latter includes ADA compliance for the theatre’s annex and the installation of a new wooden floor for rehearsal space.

“The Hollins Theatre is already a jewel in the crown of the university and is poised to become a highly competitive player in the world of academic theatres,” Gray explained. “This funding will ensure our position and continued success for our undergraduate and graduate programs.”

Gray added that the Playwright’s Lab’s first visiting artist will be Bob Moss, whom she described as “a giant in American theatre. He has over 50 years of directing experience and founded Playwrights Horizons, which produced over 150 new plays during his tenure. He has served as the artistic director of Edward Albee’s Playwrights’ Unit and has served on the faculty of Syracuse University and Ithaca College. A theatre in New York was recently named in his honor.”

Gray said that in addition to teaching and directing in the Playwright’s Lab, Moss would introduce Hollins students to top literary managers and facilitate student play readings in New York.

The McDonnells’ gift commitment continues their legacy of generosity to Hollins. In 2009, they pledged $3 million to transform and update the theatre space. Three years later, the Hollins Theatre was dedicated in their honor.