Bay City Players Explores Elements of Sincerity, Humor (and Raciness) Driving the Bonds Behind a Remarkable Female Relationship

    icon Jan 18, 2018
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Calendar Girls is a funny, sincere, and remarkably moving play sprinkled with a tinge of naughtiness that is based on the true tale of a Yorkshire women’s club that earned money for its village hospital by having members pose nude on an annual printed calendar. The story, which made for a popular 2003 film starring Helen Mirren and Julie Walters, now arrives at Bay City Players from January 26-28 and Feb. 1-4.

With a script by Tim Firth and directed for Bay City Players by Susan Craves, much of the comedy derives from the incongruity of the premise: after all, these are not fashion models, but everyday women of a certain age in all sizes. First produced in 2009 in London, Calendar Girls bypassed Broadway and has been introduced to North American audiences through productions like this one.

It opens with a typical meeting of the Women’s Institute in which a guest speaker conducts a slide show presentation about broccoli, a thrilling follow-up to her recent history of the tea towel. The women endure the lectures, mostly because they enjoy one another's company, especially when someone brings a gallon of homemade whiskey.

That someone is usually John (Steve Molter), the perpetually jolly husband of club member Cora (Jeanne Cadena). John has recently been diagnosed with cancer, and it is on his behalf that Cora’s best friend, Chris (Kathy Pawlowski), comes up with the idea of exposing their torsos, rather than covered bridges, on the next calendar.

With such a sublime mixture of humor, sincerity, and raciness, the pivotal elements Craves is focusing upon as a director with this production are the relationships. “The ‘in-and-outs’, the ‘ups and downs’ and the ‘why do we matter to one another’ aspects of relationships. A play and its outcome les in the interpretation of whomever is directing the piece; and I’ve seen two productions of Calendar Girls – each quite different from the other,” she notes. “I look at this story and see beyond the hilarity of the “nude” photo shoot for the Calendar.  I see six women joining hands and facing adversity head on.  I see them throwing their inhibitions and fears aside and banding together to help a friend honor her deceased husband. I mean – whoa - normal women of a “certain age” sans clothing posing for a Calendar? Only a love for a friend would push towards saying “yes” to that!”

“The story is universal,” she continues. “What I feel distinguishes Calendar Girls is that we, as an audience, can identify with the heart of the story.  We are not removed from the Trials and Celebrations within the story. I appreciate that our audience in Bay City, Michigan will relate to characters based on people from “Across the Pond”, seeing as the playwright is from England the setting is therefore British. But interestingly, the Playwright encourages the artistic choice of NOT choosing to use an English accent, specifically a Yorkshire accent and states in his script that the use of an accent is not important to the story and that his “Yorkshire Calendar Girls” have had dialects ranging from Texas to Manchester. In my research, I found that a common denominator in regards to criticism for any given Production, was the weakness of the accents and the discrepancies among the 14 cast members in regards to the execution of the Dialect. I didn’t need to take very much time discerning the use of an accent - If the Playwright says it’s okay to forego, then it’s okay with me.”

With a cast consisting of 10 women and 4 men, for a non-musical with a comedic narrative, this is a rather substantial production.  “Prior to Calendar Girls, the largest cast I have directed consisted of 9 cast members,” states Craves. “We had 37 people audition for this play, which was awesome and a bit daunting.  So yes, in the end it all came down to Chemistry.  I commented last year, in regards to the turnout we had for, Steel Magnolias, that I could have cast the show a couple of times and this year, with this show, the same applies.”

“The Tri-Cities has an impressive talent pool and this certainly didn’t make the casting easy. Involved in that process was myself, Anne Kukla (our Stage Manager) and Greg Burke (our Producer). Collaboratively we narrowed the auditionees down to about 20 and then interchanged groups until we found our final 14. We have seasoned actors and we have a couple of newbies. We have an actor that usually oversees the show as Stage Manager, and another who will make this show his first “non-musical” production. All in all, a diverse and talented, but most importantly, a committed pool of talent that are willing to say, “Yes” to the process.”  Additional cast members apart from those mentioned earlier consist of Debbie Iacono Lake, Elise Williams, Janet Dixon, Sarah Woods Greene, Judy Harper, Liz Dewey, Gerry Vogel, Cameron Pichan, Ed Borus, Andy Hanson and Erin Frye.

The challenging component with Calendar Girls as a Director for Susan involved “finding clever ways to get the actors to show some skin without having the Bay County police close down the production!”, she laughs. “Hmm – yes, I don’t need any pondering moments with that question!  Orchestrating the Nude Photo Shoot has been, well still is as we are currently in the rehearsal process, very challenging.”

“As Director, I am committed to taking extra care of the actors who portray the, “Calendar Girls”.  I take care of all of my actors, but the sensitivity of that scene begs a wee bit more attention from me to ensure that they feel protected and comfortable.  We have an ‘all female’ backstage crew and our props are being carefully selected or built to provide modesty insurance. I made the decision to take the “Less is More” approach. Very little is actually revealed. The suggestion of what is behind the protective prop is where the intrigue lies.”

When asked what lessons this play delivers to audiences that makes it so appealing, Susan formulates a simple response: “Ordinary people can accomplish Extraordinary things.  We can make a difference with an idea, supportive friends and a “why not, what the heck” attitude.”

Bay City Players production of ‘Calendar Girls’ runs from January 26-28 & February 1-4. Tickets are $20 adults and $10 students and available by phoning 989.893.5555 or visiting



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