Alban Arts Center’s Anna Beaty discusses playing ‘Shelby’ in new production of ‘Steel Magnolias’

By Matthew Young, RealWV

“I started with the Alban when I was 13, so about 15 years ago. I’ve done anywhere from one to four shows a year, so I’m pretty seasoned.”

That’s what Anna Beaty said regarding her time spent on stage at St. Albans’ historic Alban Art Center. In addition to serving as an Alban board member, Beaty’s 15-years of performance-seasoning will soon be on full display as she takes on the role which she says is fast becoming her favorite yet – that of Shelby Eatenton in Robert Harling’s “Steel Magnolias.”

“In a way, Shelby is who the story is sort of framed around,” Beaty said. “The show starts on her wedding day when she’s getting ready. Then it moves on to her married life, and her journey of having children. And then, finally, it leads to her having a pretty big health scare, and what life is like after.”

Beaty steps into the role famously played by Julia Roberts in the 1989 film adaptation of the play, a role for which Roberts earned a Golden Globe, and was nominated for an Academy Award. Other notable stage performances of the character include those delivered by Blanche Baker, Joely Richardson, and Rebecca Gayheart. 

Unlike the film, the stage version of “Steel Magnolias” features an all-female cast of six, all portrayed in the Alban Arts Center’s production by local performers. Joining Beaty on stage will be Janet Prince, Rebecca Robinson, Sam Jenkins, Rudi Arrowood, and Ohio Buckeye-turned-Mountaineer Su Voycik-Meredith. 

“The setting actually never leaves the beauty salon, whereas in the movie they have a lot of different locations,” Beaty explained. “All of our conversations take place in the salon.”

Both the story and the setting of “Steel Magnolias” seems custom-made for the Alban Arts Center. As Beaty lovingly describes it, the Alban theatre is “quaint,” creating an ideal audience experience.

“We seat 200, so it’s not a giant stage,” Beaty said. “But that’s one of the things I love about it. It’s really intimate. Every time I’ve gotten to see a show there, I feel like I’ve really gotten to know the characters because I feel like I’m in the same space as they are. It doesn’t seem like they’re distant from me on some big stage – it makes them feel more realistic.”

“You don’t even need a microphone,” Beaty added. “You can just share genuinely with the audience.”

Beginning on January 12, “Steel Magnolias” will run at the Alban Arts Center for two consecutive weekends, each with Friday, Saturday, and Sunday performances. Friday and Saturday show times are 8 p.m., with Sunday matinees beginning at 2 p.m. Performances run two hours in length, and include an intermission. However, “Steel Magnolias” is not the only show beginning at the Alban on Friday.

“This weekend, we have opening weekend for ‘Steel Magnolias,’ and at the same time we have auditions for our next show, ‘The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” Beaty said. “We hope everybody comes to audition.”

“‘The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe’ is awesome because it’s a really big cast, so there’s plenty of opportunity,” Beaty continued. “The director for that show, Mariah Plant, she does a fantastic job with coaching people who have zero acting experience, all the way to leading and guiding those who have been on the stage for years.”

“And it’s all ages,” Beaty added. “It’s the perfect show for the littles to start getting their feet wet, and also for the seasoned people too.”

Beaty said that the Alban Arts Center is also in search of a costume designer for “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” noting that the Alban is “always open to new talent, and we’re more than willing to work with people who want to jump in and learn.”

After “Steel Magnolias” completes its January run, the Alban Arts Center will prepare for the subdued zombie thriller, “Pontypool,” in February. “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” is scheduled to open March 15.

“Watching a show come together – watching it start from scratch with just words on a page and going to production with lights and sound, and building a family with the people you are working with, it’s so magical,” Beaty added. 

The Alban Arts Center is located at 65 Olde Main Plaza, in St. Albans. To learn more about the center’s programs, including additional information about the open costume designer position, or to purchase tickets, visit albanartscenter.com

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