‘From strangers to friends’: Cast comes together for ‘Belles’ at Marion Art Center

Jun 6, 2023

MARION — The cast of “Belles,” a play coming soon to the Marion Art Center, had a long day on Sunday, June 4.

It was the first day of “tech week,” the last week of rehearsal before a theatrical production opens to the public. Casts can often spend entire days rehearsing shows during this period.

On Sunday, sound and lighting technician Steven McManus adjusted stage lights and readied sound cues while stage manager Gary Sousa put the final touches on set pieces. All the while, director Kate Sorenson-Young kept the operation running smoothly.

Meanwhile, in the Marion Art Center’s second floor “green room,” the cast sat together and talked like old friends.

For Michele Letourneau who plays eldest sister Peggy Reese, the experience of working on “Belles” with her castmates “changed her.”.

“It has made me appreciate my family and my friends,” said Letourneau.

“Belles” takes place in the American South during the 1990s, and tells the story of six siblings who reconnect through a series of phone calls over the course of one autumn weekend.

That’s the basic plot, but Sorenson-Young said the play’s “real story” is “gender dynamics, the family trauma, and the way that being defined as a woman by society — whether you’re just born as a woman, or identify that way — really affects interpersonal relationships: Romantic, platonic and familial.”

The show “has some really funny moments [and] it has really heartbreaking moments,” Sorenson-Young said. “But overall, I think it is incredibly relatable in [that] all the characters are hopeful … [They] can go to these dark places but at the end of the day, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Sorenson-Young said that as a person who was born as a female but identifies as non-binary, both of those experiences equally influenced their reading of the show.

“If I'm being completely honest, so did the experiences of my cast. At the start of our rehearsals [we did] a lot of table work to really discuss the characters and our personal experiences … [we] shed light on the things that we may or may not be familiar with in our own lives.”

Over the course of the show’s production, the cast explored these topics and became closer as a result, said Sorenson-Young.

For Bethany Whitehead who plays Rosanne Johnson, months of rehearsals and close analysis of the script “helped make all of the characters real people.”

The cast and crew which also includes Laura Stevens who plays Audrey Hart, Rosalie Fry who plays Paige Walker, Annemarie “Am” Fredericks who plays Aneece Walker, Jess Wilson who plays Sherry “Dust” Walker, Ellie Williams who also plays Sherry “Dust” Walker, and Michael Ferron and Gavin Bressler who are on the crew began rehearsing in late April.

Sorenson-Young describes their directing style as “actor forward” and wants actors to “build their own characters and really find the truth in [the show’s] moments themselves… I'm one person and I have one perspective [and] that's limiting… because I feel like you get a much stronger performance from people if it comes from them.”

The show’s set consists of three reversible moving walls that Sorenson-Young described as “avant garde.” The walls act as backdrops for each sibling’s home while they make and receive phone calls.

“If you have people on the phone, there's not a lot of movement, there's not a lot of dynamism in the blocking,” they said. “So you really have to find ways to kind of mix that up. But also, [the set calls] more attention to the characters which are really the meat of this show.’

The disconnected nature of the show presented a unique challenge.

“We have scenes together [but] we’re not actually together,” she said. “The whole show takes place over the phone … You’re talking to your sister but you can’t see your sister — you can’t respond to their physicality.”

Despite the challenges of the show’s format, the cast came together as a group of friends — perhaps even sisters.

“We have this sisterly bond where we are here to support each other and celebrate each other,” said Fry. “That’s one of the things that has helped the show come together in the way it has and it has made it so easy to fall into this group.”

Sorenson-Young’s goal with any theatrical production “is for people to leave a little bit different than they came in.” They added that for “Belles” this could include “a new perspective on gender identity and gender politics… A deeper understanding of what their own family history looks like, or what their own family members have gone through, or simply a different impression of what theater can be.”

See “Belles” at the Marion Art Center on June 9, 10, 11, 16, 17, 23, 24 and 25. Friday and Saturday shows start at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday matinees start at 2 p.m. Tickets are $20 for members and $23 for non-members. For more information, visit https://www.marionartcenter.org/events/belles.