The latest production at Allen Contemporary Theatre tells the story of a group of middle-aged women who set out to raise money for leukemia research after the death of a loved one. Their efforts soon lead them to newfound fame thanks to the fundraiser’s rather unique hook, the sale of an “alternative” calendar where each woman poses nude.
The heartfelt and humorous tale of “Calendar Girls” goes far beyond any attention-grabbing gimmicks, however, as the poignant production promises to speak to themes of love, loss, friendship and much more when it opens on Jan. 26.
“For me, when I read this play, I was struck by the relationship and the support between these six women and the friendships that they developed,” Director Kathleen Vaught said of the show, which is based on the 2003 movie that fictionalized the real-life story of the women who actually created the fundraiser years ago.
Vaught sought to capture the script’s chemistry when casting for the production.
She described “Calendar Girls” as “extremely challenging to cast because we have so many talented women in the area.” Nonetheless, she eventually landed on a cast that’s already forged strong bonds of trust and friendship between one another over the course of rehearsals.
Jenny Wood, who plays Celia in the show, compared her excitement for working with this talented group of women to tell a story they all believed in with the characters’ efforts to support one another throughout the show.
“We’ve all shown up to tell a story and spend time with each other doing something we love, and that’s what the women in the story are doing,” Wood said. “I think there’s a lot of stuff written and produced around town that doesn’t have that kind of female character representation, whereas this (play) does, and we’re seeing how maybe that really is the natural course of women coming together to do something that they care about, whether we’ve known each other for years or two weeks.”
The unique opportunity presented by “Calendar Girls” to star in a female-focused production appealed to many in the cast, including the show’s Ruth, Gena Graham. She highlighted her enthusiasm for having the opportunity to experience the “camaraderie and the relationships as an actress” that come with getting to work with fellow actresses.
“We laugh a lot,” Molly Bowers, who plays Annie in the show, said of working with her fellow castmates. “Because there are such poignant, serious moments in this show, I think we’ve relied on the funny moments to draw us together…and to me, that’s been one of the highlights, the laughing together.”
“When I moved here to Allen, I jumped online and looked up theater and found this absolutely wonderful space, auditioned, and was lucky enough to join the cast,” Terry Ann Watts, the production’s Jessie, added. “The cast, all of the ladies, the crew (and) the director have just truly embraced me, so it was very easy for me to find closeness working with basically strangers.”
Watts said she’s already felt like she’s known the rest of the production team for years, calling working with Allen Contemporary Theatre “a delight.”
It’s that kind of trust and bond between the cast and crew that comes through not only in the relationships on stage between characters but also in the vulnerable moments for the cast in scenes like the calendar photoshoot.
“This is a very vulnerable play for an actor and there is a scene…where these women have to be safe. They have to trust in their other actors on stage. They have to trust in their crew,” Vaught said of the calendar photoshoot scene. “We have the appearance of nudity on stage, and it was very important to me that whomever we cast understood the importance of what we were doing and also knew that our top priority as a design and production team is their personal safety.
Vaught explained that each actor is “completely covered in the right areas, so it is the appearance to the audience” of nudity. She highlighted the work of the show’s intimacy director, Claire Fountain, and stage manager, Alisha Fowler-Borton, in helping make the cast feel protected during the scene.
“There is some strategic trickery, I might say. There are some lighting design (elements) that we’ve got, strategic placement of photographic reflector shields, poinsettia plants, iced cherry buns, large balls of yarn, everything is strategically placed based on the script, which is what makes it funny,” Vaught said, also praising the “vulnerability and strength” of the women on stage during the scene.
It’s the characters’ strength and vulnerability that the cast hopes audiences leave “Calendar Girls” remembering.
“The strength that they need for that short scene is displayed throughout in the loss that one of the characters has,” Vaught said, describing how the play’s glimpse at how cancer affects those around us is a viewpoint that so many audience members will be able to relate to. It’s led the theater to offer the chance to donate to the local Collin County Cancer Support Community at the shows as well.
“I think each one of these characters has a beautiful character arc,” Gena Graham said, detailing how different characters in the show address topics like cancer, domestic violences, the influence of families on relationships and simply moving your life for the love of someone else.
Putting on a production that has the opportunity to touch so many people in the local community is a highlight of working on the production for Vaught, along with having the opportunity to work with such an amazing cast.
“You work all day at a regular job, super tired, but it doesn’t matter because come 6:30, I’m at the theater, and then I get to work with this group of amazing people telling a story for our community,” Vaught said.
“Calendar Girls” runs from Jan. 26 to Feb. 11 at Allen Contemporary Theatre. For more information about the show, including how to purchase tickets, visit https://allencontemporarytheatre.net/. These interviews have been edited for clarity.