Theatre teacher performs in local play

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Theatre teacher Abby Turner poses with students after the Community Theatre of Greensboro show Steel Magnolias.

For three weekends in the month of January, theatre teacher Abby Turner performed in the Community Theatre of Greensboro (CTG) in the theatre’s adaptation of Steel Magnolias by Robert Harling.

Turner poses with two of her current students.

Set in a beauty salon in Chinquapin, Louisiana, Steel Magnolias is the story about “women and friendships and being there for each other and going through different life events,” CTE teacher Kara Winicki said.

The show features six women in different stages of their lives.

“There’s Truvy, who owns the shop, and Annelle, who’s the new girl at the shop. She’s the youngest. And then there’s M’Lynn, who has a daughter, Shelby. And then the two older ladies in the neighborhood Ouiser, who’s crazy and Miss Clairee,” Turner said.

Winicki, along with other teachers and students from Northwest, went to see Turner, who played Shelby, in the Steel Magnolias play.

 

“I loved (the play),” Winicki said. “I thought it was really, really well acted. You know, especially being that these (actors) are amateurs. And I thought they also did a great job because it’s a very small stage. They did a really good job of working around the lack of size that they had in terms of stage and the scene.” 

Despite the small space and limited budget, Winicki thought the performance was “terrific.”

“I loved the close-knit feeling of the theater itself. I just love the quaintness of the actual theater. And it’s obviously a great story, the play, I’ve seen the movie and it’s just a great story, to begin with. And I think that also really rings true how women really do rely on each other. And I think that that is a very positive message. I was really impressed with how much dialogue was in it. And again, I thought the acting was terrific.”

Turner poses with a student at the Steel Magnolias play.

Putting on the play was no small feat.  Turner had to go to the CTG theatre four to six nights a week for rehearsals.

“When I got cast (I was very happy) until I realized that my character never sat down.  I literally fixed women’s hair for two hours. So it was a very exhausting role,” Turner said.

In addition to having to remember her lines, Turner also had to learn how to style hair while talking to the other characters in the play.

“We actually had someone come in and train me how to roll hair and how to style hair.  And I learned how to tease hair in a safe way,” Turner said.  “That was probably the biggest personal challenge for me.”

When she was initially cast for the role of Shelby, Turner was very excited as Steel Magnolias was one of the plays on her “bucket list.”

“The last show that I acted in before this one was in 2010. I have not acted in almost 10 years because I’m always very busy here at school.  You don’t get paid when you act in community theater. But this show is a bucket list show for me,” Turner said. “So it’s a show that I’ve always wanted to be in. I grew up watching the movie. I was probably four or five when it came out. And I grew up in a very southern town here in North Carolina. And so the women just reminded me of the women who went to my church and the women like my mother and my sister and so just like watching the movie. After learning it was a play when I got involved in theatre, I’ve always wanted to do it. And so I just always promised myself whenever an opportunity comes up to audition for the show, I would make room in my schedule for it.”

Being an actor in a play was a change for Turner who is used to in charge of all aspects of the plays at Northwest.

“It’s really hard for me to just be the actor because here at school, I’m the director, the designer, and I’m building it and I’m the dialect coach and the fight choreographer. And so it’s really hard for me when I do a show, where I just have one job. And so I think I’d prefer directing,” Turner said. “But I think it’s really good for directors to act every once in a while because you forget what it’s like to be on the other side. It’s just kind of like teachers sometimes can lose perspective of what it’s like to be a student.

Overall, the experience was a positive one for Turner.  In addition to getting to perform in community theater, she also learned new techniques that she says she’ll take back with her to her classroom.

Turner poses with a current student.

“For directors is a good idea every once in a while to be in a show to remind yourself (what it’s like to be an actor). It’s been a really good experience for me,” Turner said. “The guy who directed the (Steel Magnolias) show is also the theater teacher in an adjacent county. And he was really great and I learned a lot of things that I’m going to use in my own directing from him directing me.  He does this thing that he calls a heartbeat. And so basically, in this scene, (when) the energy starts low, and then you start to build to like a climax and the conflict, but it’s not building to the overall conflict to the story like the big penultimate (conflict), it’s just a tiny conflict, and then you fall. And so he would have this right in our script, build, build, build, reach the top and then on a particular line, and then he would tell us to fall and then this is when you start picking it up again. And so the energy and the conflict is getting bigger, and when it reaches a point and then it falls back down again.  And that was really good for me, because in some of the scenes, the women seem like they’re just sitting around the shop talking. And if you’re not careful, it gets too casual. And I think students can sometimes be that way with their acting. And so it’s really good to know where the climax is like, ‘Where’s the penultimate portion in this section?’ even though it seems not as important as maybe a later scene, it still needs to crest and, and fall and build again.”

Many Northwest teachers and students came out to Turner’s play.

“Mr. (Ray) Parrish and Mr. (Steve) Russillo asked for my autograph on their programs. That was really cool,” Turner said. “My family came and they really loved it, but I think one of the coolest moments was opening night we had this lady come. And she wanted her picture with me. And if you look at the line count, I’m the smallest character. And she wanted a selfie with me. That was just really cool. And then she came the next weekend. I’m standing there, and we’re staying at the door and people are coming out. And she stops me and goes, ‘Hey, do you remember me?’
And I (said), ‘you were here the first night?’ And she was like, ‘yeah, we took a selfie together.’ She said, ‘I just had to come back and see the second time you all are so wonderful, but you’re my favorite.’ And that was just like a really cool moment because I don’t know this woman. When a stranger gives you a compliment, it means more than when your mama says you’re good at something.”

Turner hopes to continue performing in community theatre and encourages students to see plays in Greensboro.

“This is what I’m passionate about,” Turner said. “(Performing) is what motivates me.”