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Jan 30, 2024

Calendar Girls Take It All Off For Charity…Or Do They?

Lynne Cope Hummell

Photography By

Megan at Savannah Glamour
The production to be staged at May River Theatre this month, “Calendar Girls,” might be considered a bit out of the ordinary for our community. It could even be said that is an alternative kind of show. The play tells the true story of the members of the Knapely chapter of the Women’s Institute (WI) […]

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The production to be staged at May River Theatre this month, “Calendar Girls,” might be considered a bit out of the ordinary for our community. It could even be said that is an alternative kind of show.

The play tells the true story of the members of the Knapely chapter of the Women’s Institute (WI) in Yorkshire, England, who rallied around one of their members when her husband became ill and died of leukemia. In his memory, they raised funds for a settee in the hospital’s waiting room. How they raised that money is where the “alternative” aspect comes into focus.

In real life, members of the Women’s Institute, founded in England in 1915, are known for their charitable efforts in their communities, their country, and the world. 

Here in the Lowcountry, similar kinds of organizations include Zonta Club, Junior League, and the General Federation of Women’s Clubs (GFWC).

The mission of these groups is similar: Women connect with one another, choose a social issue or campaign, and volunteer their efforts to solve a problem, raise some funds, support someone in need, or otherwise get something done that will benefit their community.

The play tells the story of relationships, camaraderie, and how a group of women came together to support one another in various situations where life threw a curve ball.

“This story says something about people who are willing to put themselves in a vulnerable state for someone else – in the case of the play, for John and for Annie,” said Beth Schlieger, director of the May River Theatre production and a board member for the nonprofit theatre in Bluffton.

The alternative way the Knapely chapter of the WI chose to raise funds was to make a calendar, featuring a different photo every month of various members in the nude, but with certain areas discretely covered by flowers or baked goods or knitting. The characters exhibited various levels of vulnerability, and the rest of the group supported each one.

Members of the cast of “Calendar Girls” at May River Theatre  during a photo shoot for the calendar they produced as a fundraiser for the nonprofit Hopeful Horizons.

“This show has a vibe similar to ‘Steel Magnolias,’ which also is about women friends, loss and moving on,” Schlieger said.

This one has a British flavor, which many find intriguing. And – surprise! – one of the lead actors is British and has an authentic accent. The rest of the cast is learning how to emulate that.

In a nod to the fundraising efforts of the original Knapely women, the local cast created its own tasteful “alternative” calendar, again using foliage, baked goods, and knitting.

The calendar is available for sale at every performance, on the theatre website, and at Eggs ’n’ Tricities in Old Town Bluffton. Proceeds from calendar sales will be donated to Hopeful Horizons, a nonprofit children’s advocacy, domestic violence, and rape crisis center serving Beaufort County.

Special note to those who plan to see this local production: The WI is known for “jam” and “Jerusalem,” referring to their clever plan in 1939 to prevent tons of fruit from rotting, and from the anthem they first sang in the 1920s. Both make appearances in the play.

Fun fact: In season 6, episode 6 of “The Crown” on Netflix, there is a side story about the WI and its interaction with Queen Elizabeth, who was a member, and with Prime Minister Tony Blair. The segments include the singing of “Jerusalem.”

“Calendar Girls” will run at May River Theatre Feb. 23-March 3, with performances at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays. 

The theatre is located at 20 Bridge St. in Bluffton, inside Town Hall’s Ulmer Auditorium. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit mayrivertheatre.com.

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