Weakley Playhouse Summer Production

Weakley Playhouse Closes Successful Summer Run
Posted on 07/26/2021
This is the image for the news article titled Weakley Playhouse Closes Successful Summer RunThe temperatures on Prince Edward Island, Canada, this weekend were in the mid-70s. In Martin and Gleason, where Weakley Playhouse transformed outdoor stages into the quaint Canadian village setting of Anne of Green Gables, they climbed to the mid-90s. Still the Cuthberts’ pragmatism collided with “Anne with an e’s” exuberance; love was born, rebuked, and blossomed; and a family was forged as the three evenings of theater under the stars concluded with enthusiastic applause from the appreciative communities.

The first-ever summer theater run for Weakley Playhouse, the countywide drama experience directed by Westview teacher Martin Kane and offered to all schools in every community, involved 23 students from three middle and high schools.

“I’m not sure they knew what they were signing up for,” confessed Kane after spending several hours with cast, crew, and local volunteers (including Mayor Charles Anderson) relocating the set and ensuring lights and sound were in place for the final performance in Gleason on Saturday evening. “They signed up for a play and got hard work in the sun! But they kept showing up, put in the work in the blistering heat, and delivered incredible performances.”

Among those behind the scenes were stage managers Abby Arredondo and Gloria Hogan. Handling props, painting the backdrops, and working on costumes and makeup were a crew of Abby Collie, Lizzie Ostenson, Lydia Thorsen, Zowie Tipton, Jonathon Vandergriff, Ellie Dodson, Zoe Hogan, Hannah Harrell, and Emily Kelley.

“It’s been a lot of work for sure,” noted Thorsen of the experience that began with auditions in May. “But it is a show of loyalty and endurance, and somehow we got through it.”

Guarding against heat-related fatigue and dehydration meant when the time came for the outdoor rehearsals, they were grateful for the shade in Martin’s Weldon Park where the first two performances were staged.

“The biggest challenge was definitely the heat,” agreed Jeremiah Britt, who played Anne’s romantic interest Gilbert Blythe and had to carry off quite a bit of physical comedy in the schoolroom scenes. “Loading, unloading, reloading, and then scheduling around work were issues we had to overcome. But the reward was the happy faces of the audience and hanging out with other actors and actresses.”

Britt, a 10th grader and now veteran in his fourth Weakley Playhouse production, was joined on stage by Emily Kelley, Betsy Mantooth, Zanda Tipton, Zach Whiteman, Cole Dickson, Matthew Moon, Scarlett Newsome, Abbey Buchanan, Hayden Swaim, Jack Mantooth, Nathan Reese, Cole Dickson, Taylor Longacre, Scarlett Newsome, and Alina Vo.

Vo, entering the eighth grade, won her part when Kane extended the invitation to county middle schoolers.
“It’s been fun. I learned a lot of new things like how to express myself onstage, stage direction and I’ve improved my acting skills,” she said. She also expressed gratitude for her castmates, “They’ve been taking care of me.”

Westview’s Betsy Mantooth and graduate Zach Whiteman took on the stoic lead roles of Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, the brother and sister who had anticipated receiving an orphaned boy to help with the farm and instead discovered Anne waiting at the train station. The two mastered restraint, surprise and evolving love for the boisterous young Anne who ultimately transformed their lives and hearts.

The role of Anne, a favorite of readers for more than 100 years, was captured by Gleason native Zanda Tipton. Tipton’s portrayal of Anne’s flurry of words, joy and energy that often results in misadventures never waned in the three performances. Though the final night before her hometown crowd did elicit the description of “nerve wracking” as she acknowledged “more on the line” when presenting to familiar faces and city and county leaders like Mayor Anderson and Weakley County Schools Director Randy Frazier who attended as well.

The applause that night was not the only benefit, however.
“Anne is such an upbeat character. Playing her has brought more optimism back to my life after the pandemic,” she explained.

Kane invited audiences to return to the theater for the fall production of Peter/Wendy, a modern retelling of Peter Pan and Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet next spring. He also informed the crowds that the intent is to continue to expand the drama group with further inclusion of middle schoolers.
As far Stage Manager Hogan are concerned, the more the merrier.

“Extending the Playhouse countywide shortens the divide among the schools,” she noted. “We have less rivalries and more teamwork.”

“I’ve met a lot of people that I would not have known,” agreed Thorsen. “I’ve made lots of friends.”

Asked if they would attempt a second production in an outdoor venue, Thorsen probably summed up the overall feeling as she responded with a sly grin, “Yes! But maybe closer to winter.”

Frazier praised the obvious work and craftsmanship that went into the performance. “I commend the efforts of all involved and the communities that supported them by allowing for the space and attending,” he said. “I look forward to making it possible for perhaps future tours to our schools to introduce even more students to the opportunities the theater holds.”

Mark Swaim served as Production Sponsor for the performances. Fuller Partners, Jordan Plumbing, Color Shop Restoration, Martin W. and Margaret Kane, University of Tennessee at Martin’s departments of music and visual and theater arts, Martin Coffee and Bakery, Tennessee Tractor, Colorworks Salon, Greenfield Nutrition and Weakley County Motors also contributed as sponsors. To learn more about future sponsorship opportunities, visit www.weakleyplays.com.

cast
Posing in character for their first performance in Martin’s Weldon Park are (left to right) Alina Vo, Hayden Swaim, Abbey Buchanan, Taylor Longacre, Betsy Mantooth, Emily Kelley, Nathan Reese, Jeremiah Britt (sitting), Jack Mantooth, Zach Whiteman, Cole Dickson, Zanda Tipton, Matthew Moon, and Scarlett Newsome.

Gleason Mayor Charles Anderson, Zanda Tipton, Martin Kane
Weakley Playhouse Director Martin Kane praised the cast and crew who set up and struck sets and rehearsed in 90+ temps. He also expressed gratitude to Mayor Anderson, Carter Cook, Travis Kibbler, and Luke Hughes who worked throughout Saturday afternoon to ensure the Gleason stage had power for lights and sound. Mayor Anderson is seen here with Kane and Gleason native Zanda Tipton who claimed the title role of Anne of Green Gables.

crew
Ensuring that the stage was set, and props were ready were crew members such as Zowie Tipton, Lydia Thorsen, Stage Manager Gloria Hogan, and Lizzie Ostenson.

cast head shots
Posing in character: (top left to right) Alina Vo, Cole Dickson, Hayden Swaim, (bottom left to right) Matthew Moon, Nathan Reese, Abbey Buchanan, Emily Kelley.

cast headshots
Posing in character: (top left to right) Zach Whiteman, Zanda Tipton, Betsy Mantooth; (bottom left to right) Scarlett Newsome, Jack Mantooth, Taylor Longacre, Jeremiah Britt.