The Hamilton Players are presenting Steel Magnolias as live-streamed quality theatre performance August 8-9, 14-16 and 21-23, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It's a new and confusing time for the arts, but we are doing our best to adapt and move forward,” said Denise Rose, executive director of the Hamilton Playhouse. “The decision to move to a streaming platform was not made lightly.”
Rose said the Hamilton Players is closing this production to live audiences and understands that not everyone agrees that COVID precautions are necessary.
“But as an organization with 50% of its core patrons in an identified high risk category and greater than 50% of its volunteers in an identified high risk category, we will do everything in our power to stay open and protect our community,” she said.
Steel Magnolias is a dramatic comedy about the bonds of friendship of an intense group of women in Louisiana. M’lynn, Truvy, Ouiser, Claree, Shelby and Annelle gossip their way through life, love and death at the local beauty shop.
Sommers stars as M'Lynn but in 1997, when it was last performed at the playhouse, Summers (then Johnson) was the director. She said the production was a great early experience for her as a Hamilton Player and she made life-long friends with the cast and crew.
“The first time we did [Steel Magnolias] was the opening of the Playhouse, it was a huge success and a great way to start the Playhouse,” she said. “The Hamilton Players have been players since before the playhouse was even built, it was a group in the 1970s and this show is very important because it is going to keep the doors open. You should buy that ticket, then donate, donate, donate.”
She said due to the COVID pandemic live theatre is struggling to keep the doors open.
“That’s one of the reasons I wanted to do the show, there is a huge chunk of my heart here,” she said.
She is excited that the performances being online can be seen by former Hamilton Player participants and graduates across the nation.
“I’m hoping this will raise more money than a regular production because you can donate,” Sommers said. “This is a great example that the show must go on but we’re very cautious, doing it in a safe way. The show must go on, but not if anyone gets hurt. You’ll always remember the show that was produced during the COVID pandemic.”
Safety for rehearsals has included rehearsing just a few days a week, setting blocking for social distancing as much as possible, using air purifiers and taking extra breaks to let volunteers open the doors or go outside for fresh air. Actors have their temperatures checked before entering, wash their hands upon arrival and wear masks. The props, set and common areas are disinfected after every rehearsal.
Sommers called Steel Magnolias a “wonderful relationship piece.”
“It’s about family and friends and right now so many of us are missing family and friends, so this will be a beautiful experience to watch,” she said. “This shows how the bonds of friendship really gets us through.”
She said the production has strong actors with well-developed characters.
Sommers described her character, M'Lynn, as having a strong personality.
“Steel Magnolias is a great piece about mother, daughter relationship and the challenges of having a child with struggles,” Sommers said. “I’m a mother of adult children and this wasn’t difficult for me to go there. This is probably the first time I did a show where I’ve played someone my age and related to the character. M'Lynn really relies on her friendships, they are her big support system.”
Rose said the production shows the relationship of women within family, friendships, mentorships and generationally.
“It is just really beautiful,” Rose said. “It isn’t always happy, they don’t always get along and there isn’t always a happy ending. It is a mirror of life. It is a little dated, set in the 80s which makes it fun, but there are some statements and references that aren’t as politically correct as they could be. But it is very genuine.”
Rose said this production has had big challenges including cast changes due to COVID decisions and safely rehearsing during a pandemic. The cast of six has had three replacements due to family commitments and worries about COVID.
“While that was disappointing for everyone, the cast is amazing. I applaud and their respect and care for their castmates,” Rose said. “It's time consuming and somewhat complicated, but we are doing all we can to keep the actors safe and still do a show.”
Crew for Steel Magnolias is Marla Wallace - Lights and Sound Board, Dave Heckeroth, Vonni Gulli - set construction crew, Jason Roth - Set artist and Laura Pieri, Marla Wallace - set painting.
Rose credits Heckeroth and Gulli's “selfless contribution” to making the show possible. She also thanked the Hamilton Players’ season sponsor Rob & Terry Ryan, Roaring Lion Ranch and the Montana Cultural Trust; and the tech knowledge of Austin Athman and John Walker who made the live-stream possible.
“I am so very thankful for the support Hamilton Players gets from this community,” Rose said. “This production can be seen in your own home. You can order take out and have food, even have a three-course meal if you want to. It doesn’t take the place of live theatre, but it’s a possibility.”
Rose said doing a show right now is a test for their safety measures for when the theater opens back up to a live audience.
“We are hoping to resume live shows in October for Clue on stage,” Rose said.
Show times and dates for Steel Magnolias are at 8 p.m. on Thursdays, Friday, and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays, August 8-9, 13-16 and 20-23.
To view the live-streamed production, purchase a ticket online at hamiltonplayers.com, a link and password will be sent to patrons and box office offer customer support is available by phone during box office hours at 406-375-9050 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Licensing restrictions require that the production is streamed only on the dates in the license and to a maximum of 168 ticket purchasers, the seating capacity in the playhouse.
Get local news delivered to your inbox!
Subscribe to our Daily Headlines newsletter.