Sometimes it pays off to put yourself out there.
And Calendar Girls, coming to Grand Rapids’ Civic Theatre this month, is all about doing just that. The play is based on a 2003 film, which is based on the true story of a group of older women fearlessly posing for a pin-up calendar.
“There are two best friends, Chris and Annie, and Annie’s husband has leukemia,” said the show’s director, Michelle Urbane. “In the play, they tell the story through wanting to get a new sofa for the hospital, for the cancer ward, because these two best friends spent so much time there while he was getting treatments.”
The women are members of an institute that participates in charity fundraisers in Yorkshire, England, and every year they make a calendar, with each year’s theme seemingly more boring than the last. But after Annie’s husband dies, the women take on a new idea that will raise much more money — a nude calendar. Being older women in a small town, talk begins to spread about their plans.
“You don’t see anything, but it’s hinted at that they are doing this in the nude and it’s to raise money for leukemia,” Urbane said. “And to date, these Calendar Girls who are still alive, it has raised over $2 million for leukemia and lymphoma research.”
Civic Theatre’s Nancy Brozek, director of development and community relations, said the community has come together to support the show.
“As a community theater, Civic Theatre can only create the art on our stage with the support of individuals and businesses, and what an incredible outpouring of support we have received for Calendar Girls,” Brozek said. “Steelcase; Norris, Perne & French; Spectrum Hospital; WOODTV4Women; and West Michigan Woman have united to bring this story of hope, friendship and laughter to life.”
On top of the sponsorships, Media Place Partners has underwritten 50 tickets for people battling cancer and their caregivers to attend the show for free, as the show is being produced in recognition of Leukemia and Lymphoma Awareness month.
Brozek also said she understands how important this gift is, as her daughter is a lymphoma survivor, diagnosed at age 10 and now 13 years in remission.
Because of the nudity, Calendar Girls is a very “prop-heavy” show. This includes well-placed objects like bakery buns, tinsel and a music stand. Urbane said the prop designer was preparing for the props long before the show began.
“He wants to make sure that we have our show props as lined up as possible before we get to the show, because they use them so often, especially in the photoshoot,” Urbane said.
Urbane said the show will also send a positive message to older women that they’re beautiful in their skin, no matter their age, which was another motivator for Urbane to accept Civic’s offer as director of the show.
“They knew that I am a woman over 40 and the show centers around women over 40,” Urbane said. “Celebrating all women but especially women who society (says) shouldn’t be dressing this way, shouldn’t be doing this type of thing, and it’s enough to drive you crazy. People in the media tell us what ages we can do what, and I think this shines a light on the fact that women can do what women want — they can take their power back.”
The play also shows what a group of women (and men) can do as a team in times of grief and crisis.
“I think it celebrates relationships with each other, not to each other, and to see that you can hold women up no matter who you are,” Urbane said.
Grand Rapids Civic Theatre
30 N. Division Ave., Grand Rapids
Sept. 15-Oct. 1, $16-$28
grct.org, (616) 222-6650