Senior JoBeth Hilton learns to “give a little grace to get a little grace” throughout her time in Lees-McRae Theatre Arts

Friendship, found family, and the notion that those you love never truly leave you are a few of the important themes of the most recent Lees-McRae Theatre Arts production, “James and the Giant Peach: The Musical,” but these lessons are not just for the audience. Senior Musical Theatre major JoBeth Hilton said that these themes are also extremely personally salient as the show marks the end of her four-year journey in mainstage Lees-McRae theatre productions.

“I played the ladybug in ‘James,’ and she’s kind of the maternal one. She, along with the other insects, sings what is almost a lullaby to James called ‘Everywhere That You Are,’ and it talks about how even though people aren’t with you all the time, they’re in the little things. They’re in the wind that blows, and the moon,” Hilton said, mentioning that the group struggled to get through rehearsals of the song without real emotions rising to the surface and tears being shed. “It’s just a group of us that are already close, so it’s very, very emotional. You take a moment of reflection to really appreciate the little things around you.”

Although “James and the Giant Peach” marks Hilton’s final main stage production with the department, it is just the finishing touch on her impressive Lees-McRae resume. For this production she took on a leadership role on the crew as co-costume designer alongside Costume Shop Supervisor and Designer Matthew Brown for the first time, an experience she said has given her an entirely new perspective on storytelling in the theater. As both an actor in a principal role and a leader on the production side, Hilton has had the opportunity to be involved in the theatrical process in a way other performers may not experience.

“I really love that in costuming you’re telling the story through clothing as well as on stage, and it’s so unique that you would get to do that,” Hilton said. “I don’t know if I’ll ever get that opportunity again because this is such a unique situation. It has been really wonderful to create the story in a new way.”

Over the last four years Hilton has had experience with costume construction, directing, makeup design, and even set and prop building in addition to being a performer. Although she admits she and a screw gun are not best friends, Hilton said that she is incredibly grateful for the variation in experience she has been able to gain at Lees-McRae. Not only has this variety made Hilton a more well-rounded theater professional, but she said it will also make her a better performer thanks to a more in-depth understanding of all the moving parts required to bring a show to life.

Behind The Scenes | Costume Design for James and the Giant Peach

While Hilton─who began dance classes when she was three years old and started participating in competitive dance not long after─said she has always considered herself a performer first, she now knows she will leave Lees-McRae with a much wider view of her career opportunities within the theatre discipline. Directing and teaching, two previously unexplored theatre arts career paths, are now budding passions of hers that she said she can see herself pursuing following graduation.

This knowledge has also changed her perspective when it comes to her personal post-graduate goals. Her senior year in particular has given her a greater appreciation for theatre of all kinds regardless of place, budget, or buzz.

“In college, one of the big things for me was learning that Broadway is not the end-all, be-all. It can always be a goal, and I think in every little theatre kid there’s always a part of them that wants to be on Broadway, and that’s great, but it’s important to know in your heart that there are all kinds of beautiful theatre created that’s not in Times Square,” Hilton said. “Theatre in all capacities is important, and when I was 18, I just didn’t really understand that as much. I do now, and I’m so glad I know that, because otherwise it’s almost like you’re doing it for the wrong reasons. Lees-McRae really flipped that coin for me to what I think is the right side of things, which is that creating art is beautiful and should be appreciated regardless of the place, or commercialism, or what have you.”

Hilton on stage during a dress rehearsal for the Lees-McRae Theatre Arts production of "9 to 5: The Musical." Hilton played Doralee Rhodes in the show, the part originally portrayed by one of her idols, Dolly Parton.

Hilton on stage during the Lees-McRae Summer Theater production of "Matilda the Musical." In the show Hilton played Matilda's mother Mrs. Wormwood.

For now, Hilton is focused on getting some additional experience under her belt before she decides to make the big-city move. In March she, along with the rest of the department, will attend the Southeastern Theatre Conference (SETC) where she will participate in intensive workshops and audition for dozens of theatre and performance companies across the country.

When thinking about the things she will take away from her time at Lees-McRae, Hilton references the many skills and lessons she learned on and off the stage and the meaningful relationships with professors and peers she says will stretch long past her time as a student. One phrase, however, seems to rise to the top: “You’ve got to give a little grace to get a little grace.”

Hilton said that this idea of understanding others and giving them the space needed to make mistakes, learn from them, and grow, is the best way to get the same grace back. That grace has been essential to Hilton’s experience and success at Lees-McRae, and it is a philosophy she said she will take with her into the rest of her life and career whether she finds herself teaching in a classroom, directing on the stage, or performing in front of thousands of people.

“There are a lot of times where everything gets overwhelming and you just have to take a moment and breathe. Everything is not crashing down around you, the show will go up, the magic will happen, you will know your lines, the note will happen in some capacity. Getting all worked up about it doesn’t help you or the production quality, so just take that step back and appreciate the work you’ve done,” Hilton said. “Everyone’s important, everybody that will come and everybody that has already been here has made some impact. You are you, the bad and the good, and the theatre community wants all of it.”

By Maya JarrellMarch 09, 2023