Ashland looks a lot like Grover’s Corners.
Louise Keeton ponders a rehearsal for The Whistle Stop Theater Companythe production of “Our Town”, a scene where the stage manager describes the surroundings of Grover’s Corners and mentions train whistles. Director Matt Bloch asked about a special effect for the train whistles, “and the Ashlanders in the cast laughed,” Keeton says. Railroad tracks run through the middle of the square, and in the process, trains have passed and will likely make themselves known at all three performances, 7 p.m. on November 3, 7 p.m. on November 12, and 3 p.m. on November 13 on the restored Ashland theater. The show’s run coincides with the town’s annual “Light up the slopes” Event.
The coin is important for the 10th anniversary of Whistle Stop. Company co-founder Keeton, who is also a digital producer for Virginia Public Media and marketing director for Swift Creek Mill Theater, sees ‘Our Town’ Ashland as appropriate but also reflects what concerns people in communities today. ‘hui.
“It’s a lot more of a meta as a play than people might first think,” she muses. “I don’t know a lot of people who have seen it produced with adults. It was mostly in school with classmates, and that’s a whole different thing with an age-appropriate outfit.
Keeton grew up in Ashland from seventh grade and performed all the way through college on the biannual variety show that involved almost everyone in town and ended with a catchy rendition of “Ashland, Ashland , Center of the Universe “.
“On a philosophical scale, for me, the show really reflects the spirit of Ashland,” Keeton says. “There is such incredible support here, no one is being left behind. I really wanted to honor that with this production. This city has revealed itself to me in so many ways throughout my life, and it helps people grow at every stage of their lives.
Which extends to this production. Rehearsals have started in Carolyn Peart’s large barn. Keeton laughs; “Yeah, it’s very Micky [Rooney]-Judy [Garland], ‘Let’s put on a show!”
There is a personal connection to “Our Town” as her parents, Barbara and Craig, met during a production of the play at Mississippi State College for Women (now the University of Mississippi for Women). Since this was an all-female school, men were needed to fill the cast, and the director appointed a local guy, Craig, as George Gibbs. “He wanted to be the manager [character]”Keeton said,” but he was too young. So now this show comes full circle.
Keeton is a graduate of the Shenandoah University Conservatory and has toured extensively, mainly in productions for young people. She was fulfilling her creative side but also encountered, she said, objectification and diminishment. Following a particularly difficult experience in a company, she called her mother to share her frustrations. “I just want to do theater and tell stories,” Keeton recalls. “’It doesn’t have to be that toxic. And she said, ‘OK, well, let’s do it ourselves.’ “
And with that, The Whistle Stop Theater Company came into being at the same time that Keeton and his colleague Dax Dupuy were working as apprentices at the then TheatreLAB (now The Conciliation Lab). They developed a script and songs for a play, “Food Baby”. The play highlighted the friendship of two women linked by food and circumstances. “Food Baby” became the first production of Whistle Stop, launched by Keeton, his parents, Dupuy and Ashlander Lorie Foley.
The show was performed in what was then known as the Ashland Firehouse Theater, the garage of the fire station. “The whole town of Ashland crammed into that garage,” Keeton said, “and looking at them and talking to them I realized how thirsty Ashland was for the theater. I said at the party. opening: ‘I see now you want that, we’re going to work on doing more theater here.’ With that, the audience burst into applause and the cast burst into tears.
A decade later, the time for “Our Town” has come. Keeton’s mother plays Ms. Webb, the mother of Keeton’s character, Emily, and the same character she played in that fateful Mississippi production. “We’ve played mother-daughter on stage before,” Keeton says, “but it’s a great opportunity to get into the nuances of those parts.”
Bloch, the director, is known in the area as an actor and, due to his experience on stage, says Keeton, he has contributed to extensive work and collaboration on stage. Keeton portrayed Emily Webb; his father is the character of the manager; Axle Burtness, who played George Gibbs in his youth, enters the role here; Dean Knight, a well-known actor locally, is Simon Stinson, who wants to resist the gravity of the small town of Grover’s Corners; Frank Creasy, also a seasoned artist, is Mr. Webb; John Gordon plays Doctor Gibbs; William Young is Joe Crowell; Annie Zannetti is Mrs. Gibbs; and Ziona Tucker plays Rebeca Gibbs. Michelle Bayliss is the musical director of the production.
The opening on November 3 is “pay as you will”; performances on November 12 and 13 are $ 10. Confirmation emails will be sent in lieu of tickets. Proof of vaccination is mandatory, as is wearing a mask. Find more information and buy tickets here.