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GHS brings ‘Steel Magnolias’ to stage this weekend

The path to a top-notch stage production is never easy, and a pandemic doesn’t make it any easier.

But even COVID-19 and quarantines have not stopped Lexi Tippett, Greenville High School’s new theatre arts instructor, and her dedicated young actors and crew members from giving their all—and learning and laughing a lot along the way—as they come together to make the GHS Theatre Arts Guild’s premiere production memorable for all the right reasons.

“Steel Magnolias,” Robert Harling’s acclaimed 1987 play turned hit movie, is coming to the GHS auditorium this Friday night, March 12, and Saturday afternoon, March 13. Students from grades 7-12 are involved as both cast and crew for the upcoming production.

Choosing the much-loved comedy-drama as the first show for the new theater group was a no-brainer, Tippett says.

“Steel Magnolias is a beautiful story of love and friendship. Being raised in the south, I grew up watching Steel Magnolias, and I know it’s a story that many people recognize and can relate to,” she explained.

“I chose this play as the first for GHS Theatre Arts Guild because it’s a play that speaks about how the people around us are fighting battles that we may not know anything about. I want our students to continue to grow into empathetic people who can find peace even while speaking on hard topics.”

It was no small feat to make the play happen. Sometimes rehearsals to run lines had to be held via Zoom due to quarantined cast members. For three-and-half consecutive weeks, only one or two actors were able to rehearse in person, Tippett says.

“We wondered at times if this might not come together. But we’ve had a great deal of help from some parents and other teachers. Without them, we couldn’t have done it under these conditions,” Tippett said.

Rehearsals have taken place in masks and some stage blocking has been adapted to allow for a degree of social distancing—no small feat with this particular production.

“This is an extremely intimate play because these characters are such great friends that they are basically family,” Tippett said.

“We wanted to make sure that while we were taking precautions, we were also still capturing the story as honestly as possible.”

Abrianna Burt (Ouiser), Dalayna Burt ( Annelle), Vivian Gates (Truvy), Katie Nimmer (Shelby), Ruth Nimmer (Clairee), Whitney Veazey (M’Lynn), and Jessica Veazey (Clairee understudy) make up the cast of the play, which takes place in Truvy’s hair salon.

Cast member Vivian Gates, who plays Truvy, the play’s witty peacemaker with a penchant for gossip and a good romance, says the pandemic hit cast and crew hard after starting rehearsals in late January.

“With half of us being quarantined and losing over two weeks of rehearsal time, it slowed us down a bit,” Gates, a sophomore, admitted.

“However, we are all caught up and so eager to perform.”

And it hasn’t all been about overcoming quarantines and COVID.

Honestly, I think our biggest challenge has been the accents,” Gates said.

“Although we all have southern drawls, we have definitely struggled to adapt our Alabama accents to these northern Louisiana southern belles we are playing.”

GHS senior Ruth Anne Nimmer, who plays Clairee, an often sharp-tongued widow of 60, says she finds her character’s sense of humor one of Clairee’s most appealing traits. The teen admits the character offers her some challenges, too.

“Clairee is a very classy lady and she carries herself differently than I do . . . so I have worked on being proper,” Nimmer said.

Nimmer is finding performing opposite her younger sister, Katie, both a joy and a challenge.

“We were both happy to be able to do something together before I graduate. The age gap between us has always prevented that,” Nimmer explained. “It can be challenging because we’ll crack up when either of us are trying to be serious—but it’s been really fun.”

For Gates, a long-time dance student of Susan Andrews and one of the Greenville Area Arts Council’s Ritz Players since her elementary school days, the opportunity to perform on stage is irresistible.

“With Greenville High School’s theater program being inactive for almost ten years, so many people have missed out on the joy of live theater,” Gates said.

“And now, thanks to the safety precautions and one incredible director, our program is being renewed at GHS.”

Both Gates and Nimmer laud their director for all her hard work in making “Steel Magnolias” a reality.

“ Ms. Tippet has given all of her students the opportunity to help in several parts of the show, like building the set or working backstage. The majority of the students have never participated in anything like this,” said Gates.

“She has proved that working in theater can be for everyone, whether you’re acting on stage, or doing the many important and often overlooked positions like lighting, sound, props, set and costume design.”

As for Tippett, she says seeing how much her students have learned and grown during the fledgling year of GHS’s new drama program is a real joy.

“It’s so exciting to see what we’ve accomplished together. These students’ hard work during this extremely difficult year is worth supporting and even celebrating,” Tippett said.

“They have persevered through so many obstacles to get to share this story with all of you, and we would love to see you at GHS this weekend.”

The curtain rises on “Steel Magnolias” at 7 p.m. Friday, March 12, with doors opening at 6:30 p.m. On Saturday, the doors open at 1:30 p.m. with the matinee performance set for 2 p.m.

“There are a very limited number of tickets due to CDC regulations, and masks must be worn inside at all times,” said Tippett.

Tickets are $10 and will be sold in front of GHS from 3:30 to 4:30 pm on Tuesday, March 9, and Thursday, March 11 as long as they are available.

There are plans to live stream “Steel Magnolias” this spring for those unable to attend due to sold-out shows or COVID concerns.

“We want to make sure everyone gets to see the show,” Tippett said.