Circle Players’ Steel Magnolias (on stage at Z. Alexander Looby Theatre, 2301 Rosa L Parks Blvd, Nashville, TN 37228) opened its three-week run last weekend and continues through Sunday, April 8. After giving the ladies who frequent Truvy’s Beauty Spot in Chinquapin, Louisiana time for their 80s hairstyles to set, I recently sat down with all six stars of Circle’s Steel Magnolias for the latest entry in my recurring interview feature, Rapid Fire 20 Q.
RAPID FIRE 20 Q WITH THE CAST OF CIRCLE PLAYERS’ STEEL MAGNOLIAS
JONATHAN PINKERTON: I understand this is your first time to be in a Circle Players show. How has the experience been so far?
PAT STREET: It has been absolutely wonderful. Of course, I have worked with Melissa before and knew everything would be well organized and go smoothly, but I have also been very impressed with the number of talented and dedicated volunteers involved behind the scenes in the technical areas, publicity, ticket sales, etc. I truly haven’t had one negative experience, and I have made some valued new friends.
JP: You play M’Lynn. What’s your favorite aspect of the character?
PAT STREET: The range she gets to go through. When we are first introduced to her, she is unflappable, used to being in control, and somewhat wry. During the course of the show we get to see her go through every possible emotion. It’s truly a dream role.
JP: While all the characters run the gamut of emotions, M’Lynn, because of the storyline, seems to bear the brunt. How do you tap into those extreme feelings to give your portrayal of her authenticity?
PAT STREET: Fortunately or unfortunately, I have a lot to draw on, lots of LOSS of different kinds. I also have four children, the youngest of whom is a daughter with Down syndrome, severe autism, and congenital heart defects who had multiple surgeries and at one point was not expected to live to be an adult. My feelings about Shelby in the show come from a combination of my relationship with this daughter and with my oldest daughter, now married and in California, who Hannah reminds me of very much.
JP: If you could play any other character in Steel Magnolias, regardless of whether you ‘fit the type’, which one would it be and why?
PAT STREET: Ouiser for sure. I could definitely bring something to that from my “grumpy old woman” side!
JP: According to Circle’s website, like your co-star, Pat, you’re also making your Circle Players debut, but there’s more…being cast as Shelby in Circle’s production of Steel Magnolias also marks your community theatre debut. That being said, what’s it like making your debut with Nashville’s longest-continuing community theater company?
HANNAH REYNOLDS: In a word, delightful! Since day one, I have been in awe of the community at Circle. From the support and involvement of the Board, to the commitment of volunteers in costuming, set design, production, and props–the Circle family has made magic happen every single day, and has welcomed me with open arms. You can feel the history in the company; I have loved hearing stories of Circle’s early days and seeing relics from past shows. It has been a very special experience, and I am so honored to be a part of it.
JP: As Shelby, you play a character with some very serious health issues. Did you research diabetes and it’s affects on young women in order to play the role?
HANNAH REYNOLDS: I certainly did! I started by talking to friends I know who have diabetes; I wanted to know how this disease impacted them mentally, physically, and emotionally. Their openness and honesty helped me to understand how a chronic illness like diabetes would impact Shelby. I am also eternally grateful for the kindness of strangers on YouTube who filmed their loved ones during diabetic seizures to educate the public about the signs and symptoms of a diabetic seizure.
JP: I always find it interesting when speaking with actors about their approach, especially when I learn that actors frequently invent their own backstories or details to their characters just for fun. So…As you have played her and gotten to know her, or at least your version of her, is there something about Shelby that isn’t necessarily written in the play that you’ve created and keep in the back of your mind as you play her?
HANNAH REYNOLDS: I think Shelby lives with a constant awareness of how precious life is. She has never had the luxury of assuming her life would be long and easy because she has diabetes at a time before technology exists to manage it like we can today. Because of this, she leans into life hard. Like, why twirl regular batons when you can twirl fire batons?! She isn’t afraid of death–she’s afraid of not experiencing the life she is given to the fullest.
JP: How has it been to work with Melissa Williams as a director?
HANNAH REYNOLDS: At our first rehearsal, someone said that Melissa has an uncanny ability to give directions that are a sentence or two, but are exactly what you need to understand your character. I found this to be true over and over when working with her. She is kind, efficient, thoroughly researched, and funny as hell. She is a treasure, and I feel very fortunate to have worked with her.
JP: What’s one aspect of Truvy’s personality that you just might let leak into your own after the show is over?
KATHLEEN JAFFE: Truvy’s confidence is positively boundless, and I sure wouldn’t mind picking that up for myself!
JP: Thanks to playwright, Robert Harling, all the ladies of Steel Magnolias have some of the best lines ever uttered on the stage. Do you have a favorite from Truvy, or anyone else?
KATHLEEN JAFFE: This is like asking me to choose a favorite Mel Brooks film – impossible! But if I have to choose, my favorite funny line of Truvy’s is “Ever since Mardi Gras” in response to Shelby asking when Annelle started praying all the time. It’s such a quiet, subtle joke that could easily be missed, and I love that. My favorite serious line of Truvy’s is “Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion,” because it hits on the reality of life – even in the worst circumstances, it’s possible to find little moments of joy and humor. My favorite line in the entire show belongs to Ouiser, and I’m guessing it’s the overwhelming crowd favorite: “I’m not crazy. I’ve just been in a very bad mood for forty years.” It tickles me every time.
JP: I’ve always found the differences in the stage version vs the film interesting. Among the many differences, there’s no male characters seen in the original stage version and while the film action takes place all over the fictional town of Cinquapin, Louisiana, the stage action takes place entirely at Truvy’s Beauty Spot. Why do think these two elements…a small, all-female cast & the single set of Truvy’s make the stage version so impactful?
KATHLEEN JAFFE: To me, both the single set and the all-female cast in the stage version serve the same function: they keep the audience’s attention focused on what’s important, and that’s the relationships between these women, and the importance of this place in their lives. Of course, their husbands are important to the characters, but that’s not the story. And of course, their homes are important to the characters, but that’s not the story, either. The story is that, for these women, Truvy’s salon is where they come to let their hair down (pun intended) and get the support of their friends to deal with the realities of life. The film – while a gem – dilutes that a bit, I think.
JP: You may be the youngest cast member, but a quick peek at your bio reveals you’ve been performing since a very early age. What’s one of your earliest ‘theater’ memories?
KAMRYN BOYD: One of my earliest Theatre memories was in fifth grade. I attended a high school that was K through 12. The drama class was holding auditions for Thoroughly Modern Millie and I studied the music for weeks to prepare. At the time, I had no idea how auditions were conducted and assumed anyone could go for the leading role. During the auditions, I clearly recall being the only fifth grader in a sea of high school juniors and seniors auditioning for the role of Millie. Imagine my disappointment when I discovered that only upperclassman were cast in leading roles. But looking back, I’m so grateful that my drama teacher, Mrs. Stephanie Bastin, gave me the opportunity to step up and give it my all. That’s where my journey began.
JP: While very innocent and naive, the role of Annelle is typically played by actresses who are at least in their twenties. You, yourself are still in high school. Do you think your youth has aided in bringing Annelle’s innocence to the stage?
KAMRYN BOYD: As the youngest cast member, I feel my youth has definitely helped me to portray the innocence in the role of Annelle. I have been a fan of this film for many years and I was familiar with the way Annelle evolves throughout the storyline. However, while studying her character for the stage, I became aware that I was in fact naïve to the more adult situations of Annelle’s life. I was challenged to draw from the life experiences of friends and family in order to relate to her circumstances.
JP: What’s been the most challenging aspect of embodying Annelle?
KAMRYN BOYD: The most challenging aspect of embodying Annelle is the fact that her character is ever-changing. In a way, Annelle is four different characters throughout this play. In order to show Annelle in her true light, I wanted to convey each change authentically. It is important to me that the audience can experience the evolution of her character.
JP: I understand that the show’s original Ouiser, Janet Coscarelli had to drop out due to illness, so as the show’s director, you’ve stepped into the role. Gotta ask…how does one direct ones self?
MELISSA WILLIAMS: Well, the help of another director to watch a coupe of runs was my first step. Having a defined idea of the character and the confidence the other actors have embraced their characters is all I know to do. We will find out if I accepted the director’s guidance.
JP: Good or bad, I think everyone possesses a little Ouiser in them. What aspects of Ouiser’s character do you identify with the most and why?
MELISSA WILLIAMS: Ouiser has gotten to that point in life she has experienced a lot of changes. Some are ok, but a lot are a little irritating. In my experience those irritated attitudes loose their filter as one ages and they seem to have to express or explode. I especially relate to those feelings while driving in Nashville. As I hear myself communicate aloud to those other drivers, I hear Ouiser and smile. Then I try to rise above it.
JP: As Ouiser, you share a lot of your on-stage time with Linda Speir’s Clairee. You might say your two characters were theatre’s original frenemies. What’s Linda like as a scene partner?
MELISSA WILLIAMS: Linda is a longtime friend, so any time with her is always fun. But I can assure you from past work with her, she will always be a prepared and supportive actor to all cast members and provide a schedule for running lines.
JP: You appeared in Circle Players’ Summer and Smoke nearly 30 years ago, now you’re back as Clairee in their production of Steel Magnolias. While the players and behind-the-scenes folks have changed, what do you think it is about Circle that keeps it going as Nashville’s oldest-continuing theatrical company?
LINDA SPEIR: I love working with Circle. Every Circle volunteer has been extremely helpful in every aspect of getting this show on its feet. Each individual knows exactly what to do and how to get it done.Highly organized theatre company.
JP: On the subject of returning, this production also marks your return to the role of Clairee, having played her just last year in The Roxy Regional’s production. Does playing the role under a different director, at a different theatre company and with a different cast alter your interpretation of the character?
LINDA SPEIR: Clairee has some basic qualities which will not change but how they are portrayed has changed. Working with a different cast and their interpretation of their characters affects my interpretation. I have discovered things about Clairee that simply add to her personality. The energy of this cast is wonderful and the relationships are close. I feed into their energy and personalities in order to make Clairee come alive. The addition of Melissa Williams as Ouiser has made a huge difference in such a good way. I love being Clairee to her Ouiser.
JP: Every time I see Steel Magnolias, whether on-stage or the film adaptation, I can’t help but think of the Steel Magnolias in my own life. In your portrayal of Clairee, do you include any real-life Steel Magnolias from your past?
LINDA SPEIR: Growing up, my main Steel Magnolia was my mother. She did ladies hair out of our home (in addition to other jobs she had) in order for us to have things we needed. I have also incorporated some of the mannerisms of her customers into Clairee. My mother remains my inspiration for all that I do. Hardships in my life have been dealt with much in the way my mother deal with hers in her life. Meet them head on, figure out how to cope, take action and move on.
With that, my conversations with Circle Players’ Steel Magnolias came to an end, but the ladies of Chinquapin Parish are just getting started. Steel Magnolias continues its three-week run with Thursday-Sunday performances through April 8 at the Looby Theatre (2301 Rosa Parks Blvd.,Nashville). Remaining performances are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., with a final performance Sunday, April 8 at 3 p.m. (There will be no performance Sunday, April 1, as you can imagine, the ladies of Truvy’s Beauty Spot will be showing off their hairdos at church on Easter Sunday.) Tickets are $15 each, except for $10 Thursdays when tickets are…well…$10. Click Here to order tickets, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Up next, Circle Players will close out their current season with Disney’s Beauty and the Beast directed by Katharine Boettcher with performances June 1-June 17. Click Here for tickets. Don’t forget to follow Circle Players on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
If you’ve enjoyed this latest installment of my recurring interview feature, Rapid Fire 20 Q, click to check out previous conversations with members of Nashville and Broadway’s most creative artists. Be sure and subscribe to Nashville Arts Critic by entering your email address in the “Subscribe” section to the right of this article. You can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Tumbler.