The Marshall University Theatre department is in the middle of its run with Steel Magnolias at the Joan C Edwards Playhouse.

Directed by Leah Turley, Steel Magnolias is about three generations of women from the same area of Louisiana who are all close friends growing together.

HNN had the privilege of visiting the Steel Magnolias set to interview Sierra Lutz and Samantha Phalen, who play Clairee and Ouiser respectively, for an inside look at the current production.

Sierra: “The cool thing is that we style hair live every night. So we have girls that are getting their hair done by Truvy; then we have a sink that works and people get their hair washed every night. I came out here and I was like, there’s no way that this is gonna be as nice as it is. And then the first show I saw, I was like, this is stupidly detailed. This is like bare minimum for a Marshall show.”

Samantha: “James Moore Smith!”

Sierra: “James Moore Smith is, I think technically in charge of props for things. I don’t know where we would be without James. He has this ability to be like, yeah, I’ll do that and like, just pull stuff off. Mike Murphy does set design; so the magnolia’s on the floor, actually, I think are Murph’s brainchild. We each picked out a magnolia to represent our character and they painted them on the floor where our characters stand throughout the show. So it’s bonkers. They pulled us aside and said, pick magnolias off this sheet. And I was like, why?”

Samantha: “They also correspond to where like, we spend the most time on the stage, so when we do bows at the end of the night, it’s kind of like a reveal.”

Sierra: “Our director, Leah Turley, is a phenomenal director to work with. Like, I, there’s no other director I would do the show with, I don’t think.“

Samantha: “Oh, absolutely, yeah.“

Sierra: “She’s the only person who I think could direct this and does it in such a way that gives us such ownership over our choices and our artistry. She wants to make sure that we feel empowered on the choices we’re making, make sure we feel good about what we’re doing, and I love it.”

Sierra: “Sierra Lutz: I am a biochemistry major, um, and Yeager Scholar from Utah. So I am not from here. All my family is still back home and I’m not a theater major. They just keep giving me roles for some reason. So I’m just happy to be here and be able to perform and enjoy theater to its fullest extent.“

Samantha: “Samantha Phalen: I am a theater performance major. I am in my second year here doing shows. I’m also a member of the like theater fraternity APO. I do Marshall University’s children’s Theater Program ‘Theater Etc’, which is doing Stuart Little right now. I live in this building. This is where I stay. Theater is something that’s been so pivotal in my life and I’m just really happy to be here.

Sierra: “I spend most of my time in the lab. I do research, so I’m, I’m the person who gets way too analytical about my characters and I’ve been doing shows since I was eight. I wanna say this is my 25th show that I’ve d done in my lifetime. So I grew up in the tradition of art and performing. So I didn’t wanna stop doing it. Then I discovered that Marshall lets anybody audition for their shows  that is affiliated with Marshall, and I was like, I’ll throw my hat in the ring. And then they gave me rolls and I’d keep coming back.”

Samantha: “I came to theater a little bit later in the game. I started when I was 15 years old at the open art center in downtown St. Albans with Romeo and Juliet. Since then I’ve been nonstop doing shows. I love the theater, I love the arts. There’s something just so grand about it, even in the smallest scenes. It’s actually Leah who got me to come here because I knew I wanted to do something with the arts. And having such a tight knit community I think was really great for my creativity. I think I’ve worked every show since I came here last year, which is fantastic.”

Samantha: “Steel Magnolias takes place in Truvy’s Hair Salon in very southern Louisiana. It’s about these six women who are coming into their own, in their own respects. You kind of have like three generations who are finding their way in different ways, like Shelby and Annelle who are just coming into their own as young women, Truvy and M‘Lynn who’ve been here for a hot minute, but are starting to understand and realize more about themselves and their marriages. Then Clairee and Ouiser who are past their prime, but then realize that they’re really not. There’s so much more to do and be.”

Sierra: “It’s a show about six women supporting each other and the role that friendship has in their lives. I mean, you see these women grow and change and learn what life has in store for them. I think it’s really fun in this show specifically to just see how these relationships are so interdependent. And for me, when I’m telling my friends, especially my friends that don’t understand theater, why you should come to this show: It’s about the power of womanhood. It’s about what it means to be a woman. It is about the power that friendships have on each other is it is this very relatable, meaningful story that I think is important for everyone to hear. Especially for women to come and see and enjoy and understand.”

Samantha: “I play Ouiser Boudreaux, who is the meanest of the group without a doubt. She’s in her sixties, she’s been divorced twice. She has three kids who as far as we know are estranged from her. She has kind of tried to be what a southern woman is expected to be and been bitten every course of the way, which is why she doesn’t really fit it. And to me that’s important because I’ve never really meshed with like the whole southern woman idea, like a West Virginia woman. I feel understood in a way that I’m like separate from like the other women I grew up with, but it’s also helped me embrace what it means to be someone from this kind of area.”

Sierra: “I play Clairee Belcher; she is the mayor’s wife, her husband has passed away. She’s just the rich old lady who’s like trying to still be cool. In the course of the show, she cuts her hair and is obviously having an almost midlife crisis. I think for, for me personally, Clairee has meant a lot because she is so confident in herself and in who she is in the community.I have lofty goals and ambitions and for me it’s really nice to play somebody who has fulfilled those to the highest extent, but is also still very community oriented.

She has achieved so much. She has wealth, she has notoriety, but she still comes every week to this beauty salon to be with people. And I think for me that’s just, it’s really echoed what I’ve discovered has been important to me, especially in college and trying to navigate all of that is you, you have very close friends that you can rely upon.

And for both in and out of the show, it is these women. Like I truly don’t know where I would be without the cast, and I don’t think Clairee would know where she would be without these women in her life. And so it’s been very cathartic to get to build those relationships in such a meaningful, wonderful way. The running joke is like one of us cries every rehearsal and that’s been me more times than I would like to count. But they’re here to support me and it’s lovely knowing that and having that.”

Steel Magnolias will continue to run February 16th-18th, as well as February 22nd-25th; doors open at 7pm, show starts at 7:30 pm. Tickets are available at Playhouse box office located across from the Marshall University Student Center on Fifth Avenue, or tickets can be purchased via phone at 304-696-ARTS.

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