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All-student production of 'Steel Magnolias' opens in Molalla

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Molalla High School Theatre Department's production runs Nov. 17-19


CONNER WILLIAMS - Senior London Chaffin (left) plays the lead role of Truvy Jones as she does the hair of senior Casey McGuire's character while they rehearse their lines.
Truvy, M’Lynn, Shelby, and the rest of the gang from “Steel Magnolias” are coming to Molalla next week in the Molalla High School Theatre department presents their adaptation of the classic work.

The completely student-run production crew has been hard at work the past couple of months in preparation for their fall performance that premiers nightly beginning Nov. 17, at 7 p.m. and continues through Nov. 19, with a matinee at 2 p.m. on that day as well. Tickets are $5 for students and $7 for adults.

“Steel Magnolias” is a comedy-drama play that premiered in 1987 about the lives of a group of women in Louisiana. It was adapted into a major motion-picture two years later, and effectively put several big-name actresses on the map, including Julia Roberts.

One could say that preparations for Molalla's play began over the summer, when junior London Chaffin, who is the green room supervisor, main costumer, and the lead role as Truvy, took on the task of cleaning up the green room with sophomore Corrine Eide, who is doing props for “Steel Magnolias.” They completely reorganized the whole room to make it more organized.

“When we were done, I cried,” Chaffin said. “It’s a lot more accessible and organized, and it makes a costumer’s life so much easier.”

The main set for the play is a salon in which the characters interact, and Chaffin said that building the set came with its fair share of challenges.

“Our main set designer, [sophomore] Calvin Golden, is amazing,” Chaffin said. “One of his biggest challenges is figuring out a way to get running water to the stage.”

Since the setting is a hair salon, the students have to make it look like one; that means water, blow driers, clippers, and everything else. Golden was tasked with routing a water line from outside the building into the set without anyone seeing anything, since Chaffin said they don’t like breaking their fourth wall.

When it comes to props for the show, Eide said she has had to do quite a bit of research and legwork to find vintage items to fit the ‘80s setting of the play.

“It’s kind of fascinating to find vintage items or trying to recreate them somehow, because we want to make it as accurate as possible,” Eide said.

Chaffin noted that in this regard, eBay and Goodwill have been their best friends to find items for the show.

And while the casting is all female, there are different social classes and situations occurring within the characters’ social lives. Chaffin noted that while the time period is in the ‘80s, it isn’t the “rocking hair band” ‘80s, it’s the softer pastel country of Louisiana.

“It’s really hard to find things that match the age and the personality of the characters, but it helps when you’re in the play in that you know the characters a bit more and what everyone else is doing for their character that they’re creating,” Chaffin said.

In addition to costume designing, acting, vintage prop finding, and all of their other responsibilities, the students also build most of their sets from scratch and have to become handy with an assortment of different tools and appliances.

Over Halloween weekend, a significant amount of set construction was completed.

“I learned how to use tons of different tools confidently and without supervision,” Chaffin said. “I know how to use a jigsaw, chop saw, I can operate different kinds of drills.”

So when theater tech/drama teacher Clyde Berry said that the whole thing was student-ran, he really wasn’t kidding.

“It’s up to us to meet every deadline, and without us there isn’t a department, and we take care of everything while he pushes us along,” Chaffin said. “It’s really cool to see everybody joining together and learning so many new things because people sometimes get the perception that theater is just acting, and that the backstage things don’t happen, but they are so important.”

“You might think that wigs and makeup aren’t a big part of it, but they really are; it really affects the characters,” Eide said.

Chaffin said that she has had to put in a ton of time and effort into diving into her character’s personality so that she can accurately portray her.

“Personally, I think the most important thing for me to display on stage is to become a peacemaker, and I am naturally a very straightforward and aggressive person, and Truvy is the exact opposite of me,” Chaffin said.

As part of their preparation, the actors are required to stay in character whenever they’re around other members of the play throughout school, which can draw some odd looks from other students at times. But it helps promote the play and gives them practice time while not in rehearsal, they said.

“Honey, I can tell you right now that we have to use our accents everywhere,” Chaffin said in her near-perfect southern drawl.

“There’s a tendency for the actors to start to show bits of themselves into the character, and vice versa, and that happens with every single show; people take something from their character and they learn from it,” Eide said.

Senior Sammy Hestor, who serves as the wig manager, said whenever actors are in the theater, they have to stay in character at all times, and that while out in the hallway during school, anyone involved in the play has to say one of their lines or something that relates to their job in voice.