To Gillian on her 37th Birthday opens this Friday as the Theatre department’s winter play.
The show, written by Michael Brady, is about a woman named Gillian who dies on her 37th birthday. Her loved ones – including her husband, daughter, sister and brother-in-law – gather in Nantucket and struggle through the grief caused by Gillian’s death. The show is particularly special to the director, Dawne Meeks, because she felt profoundly impacted by the play when she saw it as a sophomore at ACU almost 20 years ago. She said several alumni who were involved in the production in the 90s are planning on coming back for opening weekend. Meeks said she was drawn to the play because Gillian is fearless in her faith in many ways.
“The part that I want the audience to walk away with is the statement of faith, of relationship, of renewal. What it means to walk through a profound loss, what home means – I say that in a broader sense of home and family, sense of security and self-identity,” said Meeks, associate professor in the department of theatre. “Those faith issues as you walk through those things. I feel like that is what is going to profoundly impact our audience, and I think each audience member will identify with one particular character or many of them.”
Meeks said it’s been a quick rehearsal process with three weeks of rehearsal and one week of dress rehearsals to put on the finishing touches before opening night. As the entire play is set in Nantucket, the set designers – Gary Varner and Savannah Ochran – created the beach in Culp Theatre with three tons of sand. The audience and stage are almost completely integrated, as the seats wrap around three sides of the set, which will place the audience intimately close to the action.
“I love that our patrons will walk in and be in Nantucket, they’ll be in that environmental world immediately,” Meeks said. “I think it’s such a beautiful show, it’s a show about the human heart, about loss and healing. It’s a faith story, it’s about human connection and I think about all of us, myself included, how we can get so caught up in our technical devices. We get so lost in that world and sort of lose sight of the human one-on-one.”
Though the rehearsal process has been short, Meeks said she’s proud of the cast and crew in the show and their willingness to engage in vulnerable ways. With such a small, intimate theatre, the cast has to be honest with emotional moments as they walk through the show right in front of the audience.
“I hope it will be a healing experience for our audience,” Meeks said. “I think that’s the beauty of theatre, is through our storytelling – it’s a vehicle that allows people to process things in ways that maybe they might not be able to walk through, but by experiencing that live stage version, even that can be a human to human experience, when you’re seeing that live for the first time. There’s something that’s so profoundly beautiful about that.”
The show will also be part of a showcase for the graduating seniors. For the past 12 years, the theatre department has worked with theatrical agents and casting directors from Los Angeles and New York to show the work of the seniors in the department, where they showcase monologues, songs and scenes in hopes of gaining representation once they start their career. Nancy Carson, who is the agent and owner of the Carson-Adler theatrical agency, has worked with the department for all 12 years and will be in town during opening weekend to support the students. Since showcase normally happens while the department is not doing a production, this will be a different way for Carson to see the students perform, Meeks said.
Performances include Feb. 10-11, 17-18 at 7:30 p.m. and Feb. 12 and 19 at 2 p.m. Students can get half price tickets in advance through the box office or 30 minutes before the start of the show. Students will also be able to receive one spiritual formation credit by attending one of the two Sunday matinee shows on either Feb. 12 or Feb. 19.