When audiences enjoy the upcoming Vance-Granville Community College Dinner Theater production of “The Glass Menagerie,” they will see the work of a set designer who has worked on professional productions all along the Eastern seaboard. Shannon Clark is the first official “guest designer” for a VGCC theatrical production.
VGCC’s fifth annual Dinner Theater event, featuring the classic American drama that first launched playwright Tennessee Williams to fame, is scheduled for the evenings of Thursday, April 27, and Friday, April 28, starting at 6 p.m., in the Civic Center on VGCC’s Main Campus in Vance County. Tickets are $30 per seat and may be purchased online at www.vgcc.edu/dinnertheater.
Clark has known Betsy Henderson, VGCC’s Department Chair/Instructor of Humanities and Fine Arts and the director of the play, ever since they were both undergraduate students studying theatre at the University of Southern Mississippi. Clark and Henderson are, like playwright Tennessee Williams, also Mississippi natives. “Tennessee Williams has been a favorite of mine for a long time,” Clark said, so he relished the opportunity to work with Henderson on this production.
“’The Glass Menagerie’ is an impactful piece of literature,” Clark explained. “It’s about family, relationships and hope. The matriarch character, Amanda, has hopes and dreams for her children. I think the play has a really powerful message.” He said that his approach to the VGCC production played with the concept of a “memory play” and the themes of dreams and wish fulfillment. “We’re using muslin and lace on the walls, which gives them the ability to ‘glow’ with a dream-like quality,” Clark said. He also gave the scenery a period feel, since the setting is an apartment built in the 1920s. “It’s a bit disjointed and disconnected, because the family is disconnected,” Clark noted. “The pieces of the set belong together, but we don’t know exactly how they fit together, which is a metaphor for the family unit.” All the design elements are tied to the story, with lace representing delicacy and fragility (like the “glass” of the title), while warm colors are used to contrast with the characters’ cold family relationships.
After an initial visit to talk with the VGCC students, Clark returned to campus for what he called “a glorious three days” to work with students on building the sets and putting together the costumes. “I’m thrilled to be working with such a talented, dedicated cast and crew,” he said of the students. For her part, Henderson said, “It has been a wonderful opportunity for our students to work with such an accomplished professional in the field of theatrical design.”
With a career in the theatre spanning 25 years, Clark has called North Carolina home since completing his master’s in fine arts at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 2000. He has managed the Fine and Performing Arts Center at Cary Academy for the last 17 years, and his work is often seen on stages across the region, with credits including: Meredith College, William Peace University, Raleigh Little Theater, StreetSigns Center for Literature and Performance, Manbites Dog Theater, Bright Star Touring Theatre, Raleigh Ensemble Players, Honest Pint Theatre, the Justice Theater Project and NC Theatre. Clark has been an artist for opera and ballet productions, as well as traditional plays.
First staged in 1944, “The Glass Menagerie” is based in part on Tennessee Williams’s own memories of his family. The story focuses on Amanda Wingfield, a “faded Southern belle” who lives in poverty in a dingy St. Louis apartment with her son, Tom, and her daughter, Laura. The crux of the action comes when Tom invites a young man of his acquaintance to eat dinner with the family. Jim, the caller, is at once pounced upon by Amanda as a possible husband for Laura.
The VGCC cast features Brittney Patterson of Henderson as Amanda Wingfield; Ben Taylor of Franklinton as Tom Wingfield; Samantha Hines of Henderson as Laura Wingfield; and Jordan Bunting of Rocky Mount as Jim O’Conner. Members of the crew include Chadstity Copeland of Henderson (Assistant to the Director/Stage Manager), Allison Hines of Henderson (Assistant Stage Manager/Props), Jamie McGinn of Wake Forest (Costumes/Assistant for Props), Camden Jones of Henderson (Lighting/Sound operator), Lauren Elliott of Oxford (Head of Props) and Mya Hargrove and Evan O’Geary, both of Henderson (Hair and Make-up). All are current students at the college, except for Elliott, an alumna and VGCC staff member.
Above: From left, VGCC students Chadstity Copeland and Ben Taylor talk with Shannon Clark about design choices for “The Glass Menagerie.” Clark is seated at a table with a small model of the set that he built. (VGCC photo)