The diverse cast of “Quilters” includes, from left, Sara Jane Benjamin, Marissa Wilson, Charisa Silliman, Sarah Shea, Susan Cates, Madeline Montana and Gabrielle Simonson. Photos courtesy of Olympic Theatre Arts

The diverse cast of “Quilters” includes, from left, Sara Jane Benjamin, Marissa Wilson, Charisa Silliman, Sarah Shea, Susan Cates, Madeline Montana and Gabrielle Simonson. Photos courtesy of Olympic Theatre Arts

Olympic Theatre Arts’ ‘Quilters’ is cast, in rehearsals

Olympic Theatre Arts’ production of “Quilters,” now cast and in rehearsal, looks to blend the story of a pioneer woman and her six daughters into a series of interrelated scenes capturing “the sweep and beauty, the terror and joy, the harsh challenge and abiding rewards of frontier life.”

“Quilters,” by Molly Newman and Barbara Damashek, runs Feb. 21-March 8, with performance times set for Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.

A Pay-What-You-Will show for any and all budgets is at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 27, while every Sunday show is a Talkback show where audiences can stay after the performance and talk with the cast and crew about the production.

Tickets to this Main Stage musical are $24 for the general public, $22 for OTA members, and $15 for students with school identification card, and are available at the theatre box office from 1-5pm, Monday through Friday or online at www.OlympicTheatreArts.org.

Ostensibly the story of a pioneer woman and her six daughters, “Quilters” provides stories contained in various “blocks” with music, dance and drama. The action depicts the lot of women on the frontier, OTA reps say, including girlhood, marriage, childbirth, spinsterhood, twisters, fire, illness and death. Along with the hardships, they note, there is love, warmth, rich and lively humor and “the moving spectacle of simple human dignity and steadfastness in the face of adversity.”

Having acted in Tomfoolery and Death of a Salesman as well as designed costumes for several shows, “Quilters” is Richard Stephens’ directorial debut at OTA.

“The popular image of settling the west is a solitary man with a gun,” Stephens said. “In fact, it was hard working women who came out as homesteaders, farmers, ranchers, schoolteachers and more that helped to settle and ‘civilize’ the western territories and that is a story I am excited to tell.”

In her first time on an OTA stage after a long hiatus from acting in general, Sara Jane Benjamin is cast as the mother figure Sarah McKendree Bonham, the only named character in the play.

“I’m really excited to be working with this cast and crew,” Benjamin said. “It’s a great group of people. I’m learning so much and I’m loving it.

“I think the play is illustrative of how joy coexists with sorrow, and that life goes from one season to the next. You don’t know what you’re going to encounter, but it just keeps rolling.”

Charisa Silliman, last seen on OTA’s stage seven years ago in “God of Carnage,” as well as “Little Women” some years ago, has returned to Sequim with a young family of her own and said she can directly relate to the play.

“I actually lived in a ten-by-twenty army pack tent for about three years when I was growing up,” Silliman said. “We had an outhouse and a goat dairy. We did barn-raisings. I wore homemade calico dresses until I was 15. So my parents were really pioneers as well – most of the things in this show are very familiar.”

Also joining the cast are:

• OTA newcomer Susan Cates, freshly relocated to Sequim with acting experience from Alaska to Georgia.

• Madeline Montana, an alumni of OTA’s Children’s Theatre program, last on OTA’s stage in “Strictly No Elephants.”

• Marissa Wilson, last scene on OTA’s stage as recently as last November as Williamina Fleming in “Silent Sky.”

• Sarah Shea, a veteran of the OTA stage, having performed in “Cabaret,” OTA’s very first production in its present location.

• Gabrielle Simonson, new to OTA, but bringing acting experience with her from Port Angeles High School and PA’s Ghostlight Productions; “I’m super excited to get to work with a bunch of new people,” Simonson said.

“We have an extraordinary cast of talented women, all very strong singers,” Stephens said. “I am so impressed by the harmonies that they have achieved in such a short time; they sound like they have been singing together for years. Just as importantly, I so appreciate how they have embraced the seriousness of retelling the stories of our great, great grandmothers and bringing real emotion to the extraordinary experiences of these intrepid women.”

Production crew

E.J. Anderson III jumps from “Santa Claus” in OTA’s recent production of “Another Night Before Christmas” to his first crack as stage manager, the production position in charge of running rehearsals along with other show logistics.

“So far, more than anything, it’s been so awesome to just sit here and watch these ladies perform and not have to be doing it myself,” Anderson said.

Also fresh off of “Another Night Before Christmas” is Steven Humphrey, the musical director.

“‘Quilters’ is a totally unique work of American musical theater and an utter joy to work on,” Humphrey said. “The music is fresh and speaks directly to the soul on so many levels. It requires actresses who can sing in five, six, and seven parts, and our cast has demonstrated that they are capable of doing so with an amazing natural blend.

“Further, the instrumentalists provide more than mere accompaniment, but rather a soundscape for the events that affect these pioneer women.”

Said Banjamin, “We’ve had several musical rehearsals already at Steven’s house. He’s good at getting the last drop of effort out of us. Like, ‘No, that wasn’t it. Come on, try harder!’ Our acoustic blend – what we sound like when we’re hitting all of our parts – it’s just amazing.”

For more information about Olympic Theatre Arts, call 360-683-7326.

Charisa Silliman, left, and Sarah Shea imagine a cold winter march past recent graves in the segment “Rocky Road.”

Charisa Silliman, left, and Sarah Shea imagine a cold winter march past recent graves in the segment “Rocky Road.”

Director Richard Stephens, right, gives notes on “blocking” (actors’ positioning and movement on stage) while stage manager E.J. Anderson III records the information for future rehearsals.

Director Richard Stephens, right, gives notes on “blocking” (actors’ positioning and movement on stage) while stage manager E.J. Anderson III records the information for future rehearsals.

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