It will be a rollicking couple of weeks at the Nittany Theatre at the Barn when “Calendar Girls” unveils itself to Centre County starting Aug. 2. Running through Aug. 20, the endearing true story, which was inspired by the 2003 film of the same name, details a group of British women whose risqué fundraising approach turns them into international celebrities.
After the death of her close friend’s husband from leukemia, Chris Harper, played by Marci Chamberlain, wants to purchase a single sofa and donate it to the hospital where he received his treatment. Every year for charity, her Women’s Institute group produces a calendar that typically results in the most tepid of sales. With hardly any product being moved, and that sofa silently mocking their cause, Harper concocts a new idea to spark sales: she and her fellow Women’s Institute friends will strip down and pose nude for the next printing.
The release ignites an explosion of publicity, and the surrounding hoopla forges unbreakable bonds between the women.
“This story gave me chills the first time I read it,” said Samantha Faller, who acts as Miss July. “Plays usually emulate real life, but this one actually captures the very meaning of being alive. It contains everything that we are able to understand as human beings — the good, the bad, the funny and the sad.”
“There are no more powerful themes than love and the death of one party in a relationship,” added Priscilla McFerren, who plays Miss January. “It moves us to examine our own relationships and to identify with the loss. The fact that the friends then take a rather unconventional route to deal with that loss causes us to pull for them all the while we’re laughing and wondering if we would have taken such a risk.”
The award-winning script from English screenwriter Tim Firth highlights the vast array of human emotions. Cast members agreed that making the production entirely relatable for both those on stage and in the seats is an incredible accomplishment.
“The friendship these women share is another key component that resonates with audiences,” McFerren said. “These women give and get strength, respect, validation and a sense of family from each other. They are so very different from each other, but have found a way to accommodate those differences.”
“This story has a way of keeping audiences engaged because we have all lived these similar experiences in some way, maybe not posing for a calendar like this but nonetheless we empathize with why the women are doing what they are doing,” Faller noted.
After being released in September 2003, the film quickly became a sleeper hit, making more than $86 million on a fairly small budget. With play director Dave Saxe remaining faithful to the original script, the actors said they’re up for the challenge and are excited to take these roles and make them their own.
“The exposure of ‘Calendar Girls’ to audiences as a movie will certainly help the audience understand what we are trying to create here,” Faller said. “The play is written much differently than the movie, but the same English values and overall themes are still very present. I watched the movie the instant I was cast, and I believe audiences will enjoy the live creation just as much or even more than the film itself.”
“I’m sure that those who know the film will be curious to see just what Nittany Theatre at the Barn is going to ‘show’ them,” McFerren said.
In more ways than one, the actors in “Calendar Girls” will be baring it all on stage. Having them open up on such a physical and emotional level provides this production with an unparalleled sense of verisimilitude that will strongly connects with audiences.
“This isn’t an easy show to do because there is a sense of vulnerability each actor has to come to terms with,” Faller said. “This sense of vulnerability is empowering because it allows the actors to be truthful to not only ourselves, but to the women that we are portraying. From feminism to cancer, these are real issues and values that we are addressing on stage, issues the audience will be able to address themselves and empower themselves with as well.”
IF YOU GO
- What: Nittany Theatre at the Barn’s “Calendar Girls”
- When: Aug. 2-20
- Where: Nittany Theatre at the Barn, 300 Old Boalsburg Road, Boalsburg
- Info: www.nittanytheatre .org