STAUNTON — Students from Waynesboro, Augusta County and Staunton are collaborating to put on the plays of two contemporary female playwrights: “Sense and Sensibility” and “Silent Sky.” The plays, performed by made up of Shenandoah Valley Governor’s School students, will run Thursday through Sunday.
This year, the SVGS theatre program is putting on not one, but two productions.
Cassy Maxton-Whitacre, theatre department coordinator and instructor, said it’s not uncommon for them to do two shows. When SVGS doesn’t put on a musical, they typically do two plays.
“It's very hard to find meaningful roles for 20 plus talented actors in just one show, so we usually find two with medium-sized casts,” she said. “It is challenging to coordinate rehearsals for two different casts and to figure out how both shows can use the same set as much as possible.”
The two plays do not overlap cast members.
“Sense and Sensibility” shares the story of the Dashwood sisters, Marianne and Elinor, as they try to find love under the watchful eyes of their Regency-era society. Gossip, heartbreak, scandal and romance ensue as the ladies attempt to satisfy both their desires for happiness and the expectations of their peers, a press release described the show. “Sense and Sensibility” has about 20 SVGS students in it.
Written by playwright Kate Hamill, the show is based upon the novel by Jane Austen, and directed by Maxton-Whitacre. The lead roles are portrayed by Augusta Nafziger, Taeghan Duncan, Kyle Fainter, Jake Morris and Gabe Sheetsand.
“I’m playing Elinor,” Augusta Nafziger senior at Fort Defiance High School, said. “She’s a stoic, intelligent character. She’s the sense part of the play whereas Marianne is the sensibility.”
Nafziger enjoyed working with the cast made up of students from different schools.
“[The audience] will enjoy ‘Sense and Sensibility,’” she said. “It’s different than a lot of what you see on the screen. You’re meant to see the theatrical part of it. There are a lot of historical elements and it’s funny if you enjoy passive aggressive humor. It’s a funny love story.”
“Sense and Sensibility” runs Thursday Jan. 17 and Saturday Jan. 19, at 7 p.m.
“Silent Sky” tells the true story of Henrietta Leavitt, who built the foundation for modern astronomy through her work at Harvard College Observatory in the early 1900s, a SVGS press release explained of the plot. Leavitt’s observations soon lead her to the groundbreaking discovery of how to measure the distance to faraway galaxies. The story follows Leavitt as she attempts to balance her dedication to science with family and the chance for romance.
Diane Cale Stewart directs “Silent Sky,” written by Lauren Gunderson. SVGS students include: Trinity Obaugh as Henrietta, Alice Cormier, Alex Heller, Emma Houseknecht and Mattie Tindall.
“I think ‘Silent Sky’ is such a beautiful show,” Trinity Obaugh, RHS senior, said. “It shows a woman struggle to balance family, love and discovery.”
Like Nafziger, Obaugh enjoyed working with the SVGS cast.
“Since we all go to different schools, it’s nice to have this time to all be together,” she said. “It’s a great experience. It’s amazing to watch them as they develop their characters.”
“Silent Sky” runs Friday, Jan. 18, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Jan. 20, at 3 p.m.
Maxton-Whitacre raved about the talent of the theatre students.
“The Governor's School talent is broad and deep,” she said. “Each actor has brought his or her own ideas and perspectives to the characters and thus made them richer and more compelling. That's why we searched so hard before landing on these two scripts: we wanted to find material that was fresh and interesting and well written but also that would showcase the variety of talent we have at SVGS.”
Maxton-Whitacre said she gravitated to the female playwrights due to having a lot of women to cast.
“They tell women's stories in an effective and compelling fashion,” she said. “They also tend to include a wider variety of female characters, which provides good challenges for our actresses. Contemporary material often offers the opportunity for creative staging, which suits our space and rehearsal schedule well. It's nice to hear these fresh young women's voices [playwrights Kate Hamill and Lauren Gunderson] rather than the same old high school cannon of Thornton Wilder and Neil Simon.”
Both shows are recommended for audiences ages 10 and up. Tickets are $10 for all seats or $15 for a two-show package.
All performances will be held at ShenanArts, 300 Churchville Ave., Staunton.
Tickets are available at ShenanArts.org and at the door.