Jensen Hill and Natalie Edwards in “The Author’s Voice”. Photo: Morgan Didlake

With the shortened semester due to a late decision to hold the first two weeks of courses online, Western Theater Company (WTC) found themselves improvising their semester schedule. Originally planning to put on two shows, the musical “The Wedding Singer” and the all-female play about a women’s soccer team “The Wolves”, the company would not have enough time for two full productions. Thus came the idea to turn around a shorter, one-act play, “The Author’s Voice”, in just three short weeks in the midst of spring coursework. 

Natalie Edwards, a junior studying Communication Arts with an emphasis in Theater, and WTC’s Student Artistic Director, admits that the short lead time and intense rehearsals were stressful at times. “But it’s nice, because the expectations in the process of producing that show were a lot closer to what actors can expect in the professional world, that kind of fast-paced rehearsal process.”

“The Author’s Voice”, written in 1987 by Richard Greenberg, centers the relationship between a handsome writer, Todd (Jensen Hill), and his beautiful female editor, Portia (Edwards). Todd is reluctant to be with Portia despite her obvious advances, and is seeking to hide his relationship with the real author, a literally-closeted character named Gene (River Knight), whose writing, while beautiful, cannot mask his physically ugliness which forces him into a life of extraordinary seclusion in Todd’s home. 

Edwards and Hill. Photo: Morgan Didlake

After the lines were memorized, the trio of actors could focus on bringing their characters to life. “Heather [Hughes] is a great Director, she’s very much in favor of the actor’s creative liberties and she wants to give us the space to play with the characters in rehearsal, and just feel the feelings that the characters are feeling,” says Edwards, who says she has not typically been cast in “hyper-feminine” roles like Portia. “The fact that she was tipsy most of the time she was on stage, that’s just a fun thing to play with.”

“I feel so proud of these actors. This show wasn’t easy and I pushed and pushed them.The play asks so many important questions about self: who are you, who do you want to be, and what are you willing to do to get there?” writes Hughes in the production’s playbill. 

For Hill and Knight, both seniors, “The Author’s Voice” was their last performance for WTC with the all-female “The Wolves” next up in April. The ensemble started rehearsals the week before Spring Break, with the show slated to open April 21, and run Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays through May 1. 

Knight in “The Author’s Voice” Photo: Morgan Didlake

“The Wolves”, penned in 2016 by Sarah DeLappe, is written in a way that brings overlapping conversations to life on stage, weaving together everyday teenage dialogue in a chaotic style that explores themes of youth and femininity. “The audience isn’t meant to catch everything…that’s not typical of live performances,” says Edwards. “It speaks a lot to the experience of women, and the experiences of grief, hope, teamwork, and connection. It’s really, really beautiful.”

The play’s characters are solely identifiable by their jersey numbers. Edwards assumes the role of #8, a character she describes as committed to maintaining her innocence, and smarter than she lets on. “She wants people to like her, and she wants to do the right thing, and there is tension between those two things,” notes Edwards.

As part of the play, the actors partake in soccer drills onstage. Edwards readily admits her novice status as a soccer player, but notes that she is excited to delve into the athletic elements with the assistance of the Mountaineer Women’s Soccer team. The actors will practice and work out with the team this spring to hone their soccer skills for the stage. 

“We’re really teaming up with them on this, because I think it’s important to recognize the value of women’s sports when they’re never valued as highly as they should be,” relays Edwards. Proceeds from one night’s show will go directly to the team as a part of that partnership. 

For Edwards, her whole experience with WTC has been a blessing. Originally intending to move on from theatrical pursuits in college after 12 years of theatrical work, Edwards was lured back her freshman year by the prospect of “Rocky Horror Show” (performed in October 2019),  “A Christmas Carol” (December 2019), “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (March 2021), and “The Wolves.” 

She cites Western’s growing theater program, and her guiding role as Student Artistic Director, as profoundly exciting and rewarding. Edwards plays a key hand in picking the plays, facilitating WTC’s meetings and discussions, and shaping the company’s future. 

“I just think the community that we have in the theater program is beautiful,” she says. 

Edwards in “The Presidents”, performed in the Quigley Bandshell in Nov. 2020. Photo: Erin Chicoine

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