Kathryn Kelley is willing to share her theatre expertise with Radford High School drama students, especially after they agree to do things professionally.
“We’re getting ready to do ‘The Sound of Music” she said. That afternoon, the first day of rehearsals, her group sat down in a big circle to do a first out-loud reading.
“That’s the way we do it in professional work,” she explained. “We’ll read through the whole play and answer questions. I don’t want to leave anything to chance. I have high standards.” Additionally, she explains, a thorough understanding of the play is essential for every member of the cast and crew.
RHS’s drama troupe will put on their ambitious musical on May 5, 6 and 7. Friday and Saturday performances are at 7 p.m. The Sunday matinee begins at 2 p.m.
Kelley, a veteran actress who has more than 70 roles to her credit, has also directed professionally. Now she is sharing her talent with Radford teens. Many of those same students attend one of Christopher Cook’s three RHS drama classes during the day.
Kelley gained confidence in Radford High actors when they won first place in their conference and fourth in regional competition with their one-act play, “The Actor’s Nightmare.”
She also praised them for their work on “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” last year, when she first began working with them.
“Can you tell I’m proud of them?” she asked.
Kelley works at RHS on a 15-hour a week contract. But in the weeks leading up to opening night, she will be at the high school more than her normal three afternoons per week. “It becomes very intense,” she said of the final days before a performance.
At first the troupe of 30 actors had no budget for putting on their big spring musical, but they sold their set (from last year’s production of “Charlie Brown”) to George Wythe High School. A parent of one student donated the use of his trailer and another parent who works in Wytheville hauled the set down I-81.
“Now we have a $500 budget,” Kelley said.
Kelley is actually only one member of a team of adults who will help the RHS students bring their musical to the stage. Christopher Cook, drama teacher, will be working with them in class on lines and sets. John Farris is technical director and assistant to Kelley. Darren Goad, the school’s choir director, will keep folks on key, and Denise Garrett will accompany on the piano. Tina Tapp, who directed RHS plays for 15 years is helping, as are April Adams-Johnson (production manager) and RU dancer Arianne Thompson (choreographer). Parent Jim McDonel heads up set design and construction, which includes teaching the kids how to re-use found materials.
Kelley says she has enjoyed working with teens.
“I have been surprised by how much I love it,” she said. “It’s fascinating to see the emergence of confidence and talent. It was there all the time but they didn’t know it. Someone shy becomes certain and steps into the spotlight and expresses themselves.”
“I’ve work with many younger actors in my career, and to me we’re all peers,” said Kelley. “I remind my actors that there is no limit to the energy they can bring to their roles. Learning the lines is just skimming the surface. I want them to go deep and really commit.”
“If they work at it every day, it all adds up. It’s thrilling to see their progress. “
Conversations with some of the cast—which numbers more than 30—reveal they have paid attention to Kelley’s lessons.
Junior Emily Ward says Kelley has taught her “to be confident in yourself and let go and have a good time.” Ward has been in numerous RHS productions.
Senior Elliot Van Noy, a member of the school forensics team, is trying theater for the first time. She is playing both a nun and a butler in the current production. “So far I’m really enjoying doing theater,” she said during a break in a recent rehearsal. “It’s an opportunity to hang out with kids I didn’t know had that talent.”
Kate McDonel, a senior, said playing Maria Von Trapp is improving her work ethic. “I never had a role this big,” she said.
Adri Newman is making a stretch of another kind. She is playing Uncle Max, and she sports a mustache at rehearsals to help her get into character. “It’s a challenge,” she said “of physicality. A man carries himself differently and uses different gestures.” Still, she welcomes the opportunity. “It’s cool to play someone really different from yourself.”
“This (job) has been perfect for me because it is part-time,” Kelley said. The first part-time job Kelley found when she moved to the New River Valley was at Radford’s public library, where she continues to work.
Nevertheless, in the future, Kelley looks forward to returning to the professional acting world. Although she has earned most of her credits is the Washington, D.C. area, she expects her next ventures into acting may not be limited to that region.
“There are so many wonderful roles for older actresses: Amanda Wingfield in ‘The Glass Menagerie,’ Mary Tyrone in ‘Long Day’s Journey into Night,’” she said.
Kelly’s past roles included the villainous Nurse Ratchet in “One Flew Over the Coocoo’s Nest,” and she won a Helen Hayes Award for her portrayal of Emily Dickenson in the “The Bell of Amherst.” She has played multiple roles in several plays and has been director and assistant director of professional productions. She has portrayed Mrs. Webb in “Our Town,” Lady Macbeth and Anne Frank’s mother. She was Laura in “The Glass Menagerie” and is a 20-year member of the Round House Theatre.
Though the lure of the stage stirs inside Kelley, she will continue with academic directing for a while.
“For now I am happy to be directing the talented kids at Radford High School,” she said.