'Steel Magnolias' shows the strength of bonds

Katie Ryschon (left) plays Shelby in “Steel Magnolias,” which the College of Arts and Media will perform over two weekends.

Photos by Ralph Freso / Slideshow

The College of Arts and Media’s rendition of "Steel Magnolias" offers more than just a glimpse into the big hairsprayed up-dos the movie portrayed in its fictional Louisiana town.

The tear-jerking tragicomedy, which opens Friday night, highlights the complexities of compassion, life struggles and the strength of bonds. Grand Canyon University's Black Box Theatre in Building 35 was transformed into a bubblegum pink beauty salon decorated with floral furniture and jade green salon chairs for the production, set in 1989.

Young beautician Annelle finds work in Truvy’s Beauty Salon, where she is welcomed by a small group of women who share a close bond. The ideals of friendship, familial bonds and hope unite the six-member, all-women cast as they trailblaze through life’s toughest moments.

Melissa Galvan (holding gun) plays Clairee.

Director Cynthia Calhoun wanted to keep "Steel Magnolias" as close as possible to the script as a way of paying homage to playwriter Robert Harling, who originally wrote it in memory of his sister's health complications.

“I think there is something really sweet about this young man trying to understand the world that his mother lived in and her friends as well as celebrating who his sister was,” Calhoun said. “He really did everything he could to understand women as a man and memorialize that.”

Although the two words in the title, “Steel Magnolias,” contradict each other, it contains great purpose and symbolism by paying tribute to the stereotypical profile society gives women of being delicate like a flower. The play shows that although delicate, they are both strong and hard like steel.

“The title is alluded to in a few different ways. It really comes down to women’s strength and the strength women find through other women,” Calhoun said. “They might seem delicate like a magnolia on the outside, but they really are tough like steel.”

From left, Katie Ryschon as Shelby, Ashley Yablonsky as Truvy, Anna Koth as M’Lynn, Emmi O’Hagan as Annelle and Melissa Galvan as Clairee rehearse a "Steel Magnolias” scene.

Student costume designer Hanna Prestridge went great lengths to fortify this idea into the outfits chosen for the cast. The daunting task took two months of extensive research on local flowers native to Louisiana, the symbolism behind the colors accustomed to the plant and various trips to Goodwill locations.

“We added another layer to the play by assigning a flower to each character instead of just the main character. Each flower has its own color and its meaning,” Prestridge said. “We chose honeysuckles for the character M’Lynn, which has the colors yellow, white and pink — yellow being a color of joy, white meaning a time of change and pink meaning a loss of love.”

Stepping into her first college production is freshman Emmi O’Hagan as soft-spoken Annelle, who wears her heart on her sleeve. O’Hagen found comfort in her character and saw the role as a mirrored reflection of this season of her life.

“Annelle is the new girl of the town and finding her way in this new place, which is a cool parallel because so am I here at GCU in the theatre program,” O’Hagen said. “I can relate to my character coming into this new space and having all these wonderful girls welcoming me into this program.”

Autumn Ford (right), who plays Ouiser Boudreaux, says the role taught her how to project her voice more.

Where some cast members felt their character aligned with their reality, Autumn Ford felt challenged stepping into the role of 66-year-old Ouiser Boudreaux. Ford describes Boudreaux as a cranky but lovable, charismatic woman who is rattled by the idea of her beloved community changing. Playing a character who experiences big emotions requires Ford to push her boundaries as both an actor and person.

“It’s teaching me how to take up more space as a person and project my voice a lot more,” Ford said. “The director would pull me aside and tell me I need to be bigger because I have the tendency to cave in on myself. It’s helped boost my confidence on and off stage.”

One of many responsibilities of being an actor is embodying the emotions, thoughts, feelings and experiences of the character you are portraying. Ford sees the small town in Louisiana and the importance of Truvy's Beauty Salon through Ouiser’s eyes.

“It’s the community that you make,” Ford said. “I don’t know anyone that likes change, so it’s been interesting to go through that change every night and feel the emotions of my character.”

The play emphasizes the importance of embracing family and friends.

Although the play features an all-female cast, there is a message waiting for everyone. It is a lesson that withstands the tests of time and change.

“I hope the audience takes away the importance of finding and embracing family wherever you can find it,” Calhoun said. “It really is a play about friendship and celebrating the people in our lives every day and in every way possible."

Contact staff writer Lydia P. Robles at 602-639-7665 or [email protected].

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IF YOU GO:

What: "Steel Magnolias"

Where: Black Box Theatre, College of Arts and Media Building, Room 100

When: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays, Dec 2-4 and 9-11

Tickets

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