Jackson County Players present a virtual ‘Gift’

Suzette Lowe

For the past several years, the Jackson County Players have performed their annual Christmas show with all proceeds going to support a local charity such as Savannah’s Closet, Ripley Rotary, and The Jackson County Animal Shelter.

This year, with the COVID-19 health crisis restrictions, the Players can not perform live. As with many organizations, the group had to think of another way to showcase area talent.

The result is a filmed virtual production of the drama, “The Gift,” by Virginia De Wyze.

“We were determined not to give up,” director of “The Gift” Doug Torres said. “The only bad thing is that we have struggled to find a way to raise funds for a nonprofit, so we decided to make this our ‘gift’ to the community.”

The story introduces the audience to a naïve young housewife, a charming grandmother, a demanding socialite, a misguided social climber, and a somewhat untalented singer looking for her first “big break.” Each character comes into possession of a unique wooden box that becomes an integral part of the play.

“This play could be adapted to virtual theater pretty easily,” Torres said. “Because each character is on stage by herself, she could be filmed separately. We will be doing that at the Jackson County School of Music.”

Torres was able to cast both newcomers to the Jackson County stage along with actresses who have appeared in numerous productions.

Laurie Shultis, although not new to acting, will be performing for the first time as part of the local troupe.

“I’ve been acting since I was seven years old,” Shultis said. “The part of Mrs. Walter Vanderhoff is letting me spread my acting wings, I must say. I usually get cast as the Southern lady. It’s fun to play someone a bit pompous and very rich.”

An online production presents some acting challenges.

“I miss the comradery and friendships developed with in person rehearsals,” Shultis said. “The audience plays such a significant role in how an actor performs too. Without either of those, this will be very different, but it’s been interesting and fun too.”

For Victoria “Tori” Torres, the virtual production has helped her ease back into acting. While she has danced and performed for years, the youngest member of the cast says this is a good stepping-stone into stage acting.

“I’m really glad I have the opportunity to reintroduce myself into acting with this virtual production,” she said. “A bonus is not having to worry about any sort of stage fright.”

Rounding out the cast are Angela Crank, Suzette Lowe, and Karen Parsons.

For Torres, a music education major at West Liberty University, directing has become his favorite theatrical job.

“It’s very fulfilling to help the cast develop their characters,” he said. “It’s a lot like conducting a band. You study the score (script), look at the suggestions, and then make it your own. This is my first major directing role with the Players, but it won’t be my last.”

As for the tradition of donating to charity, the Players have not given up on the idea. Amanda Blizzard, president of the Players board of directors, said if donations are made during the month of December, those will be given to a local charity.

“We would love to continue this tradition even in this pandemic year, perhaps especially in this year,” she said.

Monetary donations can be sent to P.O. Box 322, Ripley, WV 25271.

The play will have its premiere post at 7 p.m. on Dec. 23 on the Jackson County Players Facebook page.