2021 Theatre Season

Women’s stories take center stage during the 2021–22 Theatre Arts season

The Lees-McRae Theatre Arts program welcomes back audiences this academic year with three productions that examine women’s experiences and place in society in three distinct eras. 

First, from Nov. 10–13, audiences will travel back to the 1100s with the one-act musical "In the Green." From Feb. 10–13, the Tony Award-winning play “Proof” will looks at family relationships and academic sexism in the present. Finally, the hit musical "9 to 5," featuring music by Dolly Parton, will grace the stage April 6–9. 

“The Theatre Arts program is 70% women,” said Josh Yoder, the director of Theatre Arts. “We want to give our students stories that reflect the population.”  

"In the Green" was brought to the search committee's attention by a student during the selection process last year.  

“We’d never even heard of it,” said Associate Professor Michael Hannah. “It’s very new and very avant-garde.” 

The musical tells the story of Hildegard von Bingen, a German Benedictine abbess and Catholic saint who was born around 1098.  She joined a monastery as either a child or teenager and spent her life studying natural history and medicine in the monastery’s garden and infirmary, composing music, writing plays, developing constructed languages, and recording her many visions. The musical, however, focuses on the time in Hildegard’s life when she was living in a one-room hermitage with her mentor, Jutta.  

The character of Hildegard is portrayed by three different actresses holding puppets that represent her eye, mouth, and hand, symbolizing Hildegard’s apparent brokenness. With Jutta, Hildegard spends most of the show trying to become “whole” while reflecting on life, death, desire, trauma, and freedom.  

“The show is talking about how she sees her world,” Hannah explained. “It’s a very different kind of world from ours, but she’s dealing with the same kind of issues. If you’re a history major and you know music history, Hildegard is one of the few female composers of that time who made a lasting impact. She was doing stuff that women weren’t supposed to do.”  

Because the characters spend the entire play, which spans decades, in a single room, Yoder drew comparisons to the isolation many experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although Hildegard’s life and experiences are far removed from modern life, her quest to understand her place in the world and her struggles to self-actualize will likely resonate with many.  

Grace McLean wrote the book, music, and lyrics for “In the Green,” and the musical premiered Off-Broadway in 2019. Several songs written by Hildegard are featured in the score and integrated into the indie-rock sensibilities of the rest of the music. 

In February, the department will put on a quiet, intimate drama that meditates on grief and mental illness. The main character of “Proof” is Catherine, a young woman who gave up her own dreams to care for her sick but brilliant father. After his death, she is faced with her own lack of demonstrated success compared to her father’s legacy, her fear that she has inherited his mental illness, and the question of authorship of a mathematical proof found in her father’s possessions. Aside from Catherine, there are only three other characters in the play.  

“Proof,” which was written by David Auburn, makes for a great college production because it pushes the actors to explore deep emotions in a subdued setting. Yoder explained, “There are strong wants and needs for each character. You get really invested in what each character is fighting for.”  

As an academic program, the Theatre Arts department chooses productions that will introduce students to different genres, themes, and acting challenges as preparation for their future careers. “Proof,” according to Yoder, is “a good study in modern realism.” It debuted on Broadway in 2000 and subsequently won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the 2001 Tony Award for Best Play.   

The final show of the 2021–22 academic year will be “9 to 5: The Musical,” a 2009 show based on the 1980 film of the same name. 

Yoder said the students are excited to do another musical, especially “9 to 5.” Singer Dolly Parton, who starred in the original movie and wrote the music and lyrics for the musical, is originally from Eastern Tennessee, and has invested millions of dollars back into the economy of her home state. While her charitable contributions to numerous causes, including the Dolly Parton COVID-19 Research Fund and the book-gifting program Imagination Library, have made her an icon across the country, she is especially beloved in the southeastern mountains.  

“Dolly is like a saint,” said Hannah. “And you can listen to the songs and tell that they’re Dolly.” 

“9 to 5: The Musical” centers on three women employed by a chauvinistic male boss whose behavior and policies make life miserable for his employees. Through a series of mishaps, the women end up essentially in charge of the company and start making changes that benefit everyone. The book for the musical was written by Patricia Resnick, who also wrote the film’s screenplay. 

“This is one of the original women’s empowerment movies,” said Hannah. “The whole thing was ahead of its time.” 

“It’s a little campy, but it’s fun,” Yoder added. “It’s one of those shows that people will know the music from, especially the title track. And it’s not been done in this area before.” 

Tickets can be purchased online at lmc.edu/theatreshows. General admission is $12, and $5 for any non-Lees-McRae student. Students, faculty, and staff of Lees-McRae can attend the shows for free.  

Unlike in previous years, there will be no Saturday evening or Sunday performances. Instead, the shows will open on Wednesday night for special student-focused performances.    

Visit the Theatre Arts performance calendar for more information

By Emily WebbAugust 16, 2021