Photo Credit: Mark Johnson
Behind piano (from left to right): Bryn Adamson, Gay Griggs McCommons, Lucy Haskill, Geneviéve Esquiviè, Beta Vitale In front of piano: Dawn Marie Pike.
“Oh, sit down. I’m not asking you to straddle a Harley Davidson.”
This line is delivered by a middle-aged Helen Mirren in a thick Yorkshire accent in the movie Calendar Girls, when her character’s best friend expresses disbelief at the suggestion that they take it all off in front of a camera.
She goes on, “Not naked. Nude. Art.”
Calendar Girls, the play, was adapted from the 2003 film. Both are based on the true story of members of a small English village’s branch of the Women’s Institute who pose nude for a calendar to raise money to buy a piece of furniture for the local hospital, after one member’s husband, John, dies from cancer.
When a loved one becomes very ill, there is a lot of time spent sitting and waiting—often in uncomfortable chairs. The calendar girls initiate their project to replace a worn settee and thus memorialize John. They need to rally against sitting and inaction, cancer and death. But they accomplish much more, embracing life, joy and self-acceptance along the way.
Their bonds are strengthened, too. “People have this reaction like, ‘Oh my God, I love that movie!’” says Terrell Austin, the director of the Town & Gown Players’ production of Calendar Girls. “I think it is because it really celebrates the friendships and achievements of older women and their lovely, aging bodies.”
The movie is a who’s who of veteran BBC actresses. At the Athens Community Theater, expect a bevy of local reigning drama matrons and some new faces, too. Chris (Mirren in the film) will be portrayed by Bryn Adamson, a local artist and Town & Gown regular most recently seen on stage as the lead in Stage Kiss. Lucy Catharine Haskill will play Annie, Chris’ best friend. Haskell is a professional actress who has a recurring role in CMT’s new drama series, “Sun Records.” She can also be seen in the upcoming film The Leisure Seeker, starring Mirren and Donald Sutherland.
Other cast members include Gay Griggs McCommons, Geneviève Esquivié, Kris Schultz, Beta Vitale and Dawn Marie Pike.
In addition to crafting the production, the cast and crew have created a “Town NO Gown 2017–2018 Alternative Calendar,” which will benefit The Cancer Foundation, a nonprofit that provides emergency financial assistance to cancer patients in Northeast Georgia. The calendar is priced at $15 and will be available for purchase during performance intermissions. It will later be available at cancerfoundationofnega.org.
About the fundraising project, Adamson says, “We made an actual calendar to sell and benefit the CFNEGA, so there’s been a big element of life imitating art, the best part of which was the actual photo shoot. We had a tasty brunch, sipping mimosas together in our robes, and then we got naked and took pictures. It was a joyous and perfectly lovely morning of laughter and pasties.”
The sitting was lighthearted and fun, as the calendar itself is intended to be. “It’s nudity without any tiny trace of salaciousness,” Austin says.
Directing Calendar Girls was a conscious and personal choice for Austin. “As in Hollywood,” she says, “roles for women ‘of an age’ are often few and far between. So I went looking for a play that could showcase many of the well-seasoned actresses in our community.
“Doing this play requires an extra level of bravery on the part of the women,” Austin continues. She was initially concerned that the required nudity might deter some from auditioning, but was happily surprised by the overwhelmingly enthusiastic response from the theatrical community.
However, baring (almost) all was challenging for some. “As someone who has suffered from body image issues my whole life, this play has really touched me,” says Haskill. “I was terrified to audition, and found myself looking about the room comparing my lumpy, bumpy figure to all the beautiful women around me, and I almost walked out.
“I thank God every day that I stayed,” she says. “Working with this incredible cast of women has changed my life. They immediately put me at ease and have been so kind and encouraging.”
Asked about the connection many people seem to feel to the story, Haskill says, “I think the reason this play speaks to so many people is we all know these women. We love them. We can relate to each of them in some way… Sometimes, you have to take a stand against the system to fight for what you believe in, fight to make the world a better place and, in the process, become stronger, more confident women.”
Calendar Girls is presented by the Town & Gown Players at the Athens Community Theater, located at 115 Grady Ave., Friday, Mar. 24–Sunday, Mar. 26 and Thursday, Mar. 30–Sunday, Apr. 2. Thursday, Friday and Saturday shows are at 8 p.m., and Sunday shows are at 2 p.m. Tickets range from $8–$15 and can be purchased at townandgownplayers.org or by calling 706-208-8696.