Pioneer women bear their souls in ‘Quilters’

THE ALL FEMALE CAST MEMBERS of “Quilters” portray more than 100 characters in the Imagination Theater production. The play tells the stories of pioneer women who ventured west. Mother Lode News photo by Krysten Kellum

SECRET DRAWER — Sheltered by a circle of pioneer women, midwife Lily (Lori Whittle) comforts Lisa (Holly Salvestrin) after a tragedy. "Quilters" depicts the trials of a pioneer women traveling across the continent. Mother Lode News photo by Krysten Kellum

“Bits and pieces of life from the community”— that’s how “Quilters” director Chrissy Addison describes the play.

Those “bits and pieces” include the ensemble cast of actresses, the community involvement in the production and the melding of talent and energy from theater communities and volunteer artists from around the region that have contributed to Imagination Theater’s production that runs at March 25 through April 17.

Challenge, authenticity and community have been the watch words for the production and themes interwoven in the play. In “Quilters” seven actresses play more than 100 characters — from a 7-year-old girl to a 75-year-old grandmother — in 16 different scenes that share stories culled from diaries and journals of actual pioneer women who came West in the 1870s.

“These women and their families faced unfathomable challenges, nearly unbearable losses, bleak weather, rough living conditions and lonesomeness for the friends and family they left in the eastern part of our country,” said Addison. “I love the camaraderie amongst the womenfolk. They shared a robust connection to each other through hard work, friendship and the proverbial strength of spirit and faith.”

Georgette Barton plays Sarah, the mother of six daughters. Elisabeth Zangari is the oldest daughter, Jenny; Brenda Lindley is Margaret; Holly Salvestrin is Lisa; Rachel Wessman plays Jody; Matti McKenzie is Jane; and Hannah Mahoney plays Dana. Three women from the stage crew are also part of the action, dressed in character instead of traditional blackout wear.

The play, with 18 songs and intricate musical arrangements, choreography and the intensity of each of the seven leads playing a variety of parts, is challenging enough, but Addison wanted to create a more intimate setting by pulling the audience onto the stage. “Quilters” is the first El Dorado County play to be performed completely “in the round” with the audience on the stage and surrounding it.

“All of our actors are experienced performers,” said Addison, “but they are used to being out in front. It’s challenging to have no walls; there’s no where to run or hide.”

Theater in the round has been a challenge for every part of this production — seating, set construction, choreography, lighting and sound, and props construction.

Local quilting guilds — Gold Bug Quilters, Needle Nellies and Dorcas — sewed the quilt blocks that introduce each of the 16 scenes.The guilds also used fabric from vintage clothing and yardage donated by the community to create the Legacy Quilt, which contains pieces of all 16 quilt blocks as well as a Tree of Life. This beautiful piece of art will be raffled off at the end of the production. Raffle tickets can be purchased for $1 or six for $5 from cast members or at Imagination Theater.

“Quilts were a part of the pioneer culture and a necessity,” said Addison. “The women were living hand to mouth and so any artistic expression came in the form of their needlework. Quilts were needed for warmth, for insulating the walls and floors of sod houses; they were part of dowries, used for wedding and baptismal gifts and for burials.”

Also integral to the set is “Nellie,” a covered wagon built by master craftsman Ron Scofield from an actual antique Studebaker wagon frame. The costumes worn by the women were carefully researched and sewn by Dr. Audrey Keebler, retired Golden Sierra High School principal.

“Quilters” at Imagination Theater!

Where: El Dorado County Fairgrounds, 100 Placerville Dr in Placerville

When: 7 p.m. on March 25 & 31, April 1, 8 & 15; 2 p.m. on March 26 & 27, April 2, 3, 9, 10, 16 & 17

Tickets: $15 each and can be purchased at the IT! box office, ordered by phone at (530) 642-0404, by mail (address above) or online at www.it-tickets.org

Notes: This production is for mature audiences, ages 12 and older. The March 26 and April 2 shows are dedicated to all quilters. The actors will have a “talk back” session after the show with the quilters in the audience and have pictures taken with them on stage.

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Posted by on Mar 11 2011.
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