WINCHESTER — Live theater is back! Sort of.
Selah Theatre Project of Winchester will premiere its latest production, “Steel Magnolias,” at 7 p.m. May 14. This will be the company’s first play performed live on stage since the COVID-19 pandemic began more than a year ago.
Director and company founder LaTasha Do’zia said on Thursday she figured out a way for the six-member cast to perform onstage together safely, so rather than inviting viewers to watch a virtual table reading over a videoconferencing service like Zoom, she ordered sets and costumes to do a traditional production of the play.
“Our whole cast was vaccinated, which helped tremendously,” Do’zia said.
However, Virginia is still restricting audience members from attending live performances, so the Selah crew performed the play Wednesday night in front of video cameras. That means people will be able to watch a fully produced version of the stage play from the safety of their own homes.
“Steel Magnolias,” a comedy-drama based on playwright Robert Harling’s experiences with his sister’s death from diabetic complications, was first staged in 1987 at the WPA Theatre in New York City. A wildly successful movie based on the play was produced two years later.
“It’s really about relationships,” Do’zia said. “The relationship between a mother and a daughter, finding new friends, and it’s all centered in a beauty shop.”
Selah Theatre, located at 811 S. Loudoun St., previously performed “Steel Magnolias” about five years ago.
“We wanted to bring a classic back to do a couple of things,” Do’zia said. “One, to celebrate our 10-year anniversary that’s coming up in June, and two, to bring something familiar back to our patrons.”
Selah’s first production of the two-act play featured actress Pam Foster in the role of Louisa “Ouiser” Boudreaux, portrayed in the movie by Shirley MacLaine. Foster is reprising the role in the new version.
“I did some shows in college, I did some shows with other theaters,” Foster said about her acting resume. “I just show up anywhere.”
Rounding out the new “Steel Magnolias” cast are Jessica Arnold as Annelle Dupuy-Desoto (played in the movie by Daryl Hannah), Sandra DeRocha as Clairee Belcher (Olympia Dukakis), Brigid Tamas as Shelby Eatenton-Latcherie (Julia Roberts), Caitie Devere as Truvy Jones (Dolly Parton) and Joanne Thompson as M’Lynn Eatenton (Sally Field).
“I also played ‘Ouiser’ in a different production of ‘Steel Magnolias’ for a different theater several years ago,” Thompson said. “It’s one of my favorite roles.”
Do’zia said she’s looking forward to May 15, when live-performance theaters in Virginia will be allowed to welcome audiences back to their venues at 30% capacity.
“When we bring in audience members, people will have to be masked up for safety,” she said. “[Cast members] will have to wear clear masks so people can see their faces. It will be a little funky for awhile for a lot of theaters.”
When asked if Selah will invite live audiences to its future productions, Do’zia beamed.
“With that ban lifted, heck yeah,” she said with a smile. “The actors are ready and audience members are ready.”
Selah’s first performance in front of a live in-house audience is scheduled for the first weekend in June with a children’s production of “Schoolhouse Rock Junior.”
“Steel Magnolias” will be available for online viewing at 7 p.m. on May 14, 15, 21 and 22, and at 3 p.m. on May 16 and 23. Tickets are $15 per computer, tablet, phone or other streaming device. For more information or to reserve a showtime, visit selahtheatreproject.org.