Mina Sollars sums up UMW Theatre’s upcoming season in a single word: revival.
“Preparing for the first in-person performances on campus in more than a year is such an honor,” Sollars, a University of Mary Washington junior, said of the lineup, which kicks off tomorrow at 7:30 with a pay-what-you-can preview performance in duPont Hall’s Klein Theatre. “We’re so lucky to be able to act onstage together once again.”
After an 18-month hiatus, UMW Theatre students, faculty and staff are once again planning an in-person season, producing plays that will be performed in front of a live audience, with COVID protocols in place. Beginning with Joan Holden’s Nickel and Dimed, this year’s shows reflect the collective pandemic-era conversation that has revolved around society, culture and politics.
“There’s no question that this seems to be an extraordinary moment to engage in the dialogue inspired by Nickel and Dimed,” Department of Theatre and Dance Chair Gregg Stull said of the play, which spotlights those who are overworked and underpaid. “Never before have we thought so much about work and what it means to make a living.”
UMW Theatre will also present the Tony Award-winning drama The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and its revival of the beloved musical comedy The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Rounding out the season – and adhering to its theme – is Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. “It’s a provocative play about citizenry, leadership and the values that drive our society,” Stull said.
Based on the bestselling book by Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed traces the author’s experiences working and living on minimum wage for a year. The physically demanding labor takes a toll on her aging body, but the people she meets along the way open her mind to the struggles of the working class and reveal how truly difficult it can be to get by in America.
Senior Shannon Hardy, who plays Barbara, can relate to how her character’s interactions with her co-workers made her more empathetic. “Before coming to Mary Washington, I hadn’t been exposed to much outside my hometown, so I also had to grow into someone who was more understanding.”
The play’s other five actors will take on multiple roles. Sollars, who appears as a housekeeper, grocery stocker and restaurant manager, said her favorite scene is one in which Barbara’s account of how easily she passed the test to get the job offends her fellow maids. “It’s difficult to watch, but it’s an eye-opening moment, both for Barbara and the audience.”
Senior Oscar León also plays several characters, including an immigrant who recently entered the workforce. Before the pandemic, León said, acting was the only career choice he considered. But the hiatus from live theater gave him the opportunity to discover new passions like costume design and stage construction, and begin an arts administration minor. “All of these things will make me a more versatile artist.”
Like León, many theater students seized new opportunities over the past year, Stull said. They directed, produced digital work, learned from seasoned actors who taught online classes at UMW and immersed themselves in special courses like sound design and hand-sewing, bound to make them more marketable in the world of professional theater.
“I think they gained a sense of strength and resilience,” Stull said, “that will carry over into everything they do as we emerge from the pandemic.”
Tickets are available online or at the UMW Theatre box office one hour before performances. Klein Theatre’s capacity will be limited to allow social distancing, and audience members must remain masked at all times. Patrons will also need to provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test before entering the theatre.