How’s this for a mother-daughter combo: Kate McKnight and Britt Monahan, both Fresno-theater veterans, teaming up to play M’Lynn (the mom) and Shelby (her daughter) in the new ViSTA Theatre production of “Steel Magnolias.” We caught up with them for a quick interview. The show opens Friday, April 28.
Q: Are you the more laidback “beauty parlor” type or the get-it-over-with Supercuts type?
Britt: I think I’m a happy medium; I love spending time with my hair girl, Brittany, drinking coffee and catching up, but at the same time a five-hour hair appointment would be overkill. On the other hand, my character, Shelby, is the type of girl who would love nothing better than to spend an afternoon getting pampered- hair, nails, makeup, the works!
Kate: I love the conversations with my hair stylist Kate Bryer who works out of her house. So, that’s just a quiet atmosphere. When I get a pedicure, I like my bustling nail salon. M’Lynn is a lot like her daughter and enjoys the pampering and socializing at the beauty salon. (Yes, we each have a hair stylist with our respective name!)
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Q: Talk about what it’s like to capture a mother-daughter dynamic on stage.
Britt: It has definitely been something I’ve had to spend a lot time thinking about and working on. This is the first show that I’ve done where I’ve been in this dynamic. What helps is how easy Kate makes it for me to play Shelby. We hit it off from the start and it’s been so much fun growing together and learning more about our characters and their relationships to one another.
Kate: This is the second time I’ve played M’Lynn, and I’ve been a mother to a daughter in two other plays. I’ve been fortunate to be cast with wonderful young women with whom I’ve bonded. Britt and I got along right from the start, and our scene together is one of my favorite moments in the show. We keep looking for ways to show the push and pull relationship that mothers and daughters often have.
Q: For people most familiar with the movie version, how does the stage version differ?
Britt and Kate: In the stage version, all of the action takes place in Truvy’s beauty shop, and you see only the female characters. Major events are talked about and not presented.
Q: Tell us a little about ViSTA Theater and this production. What do you want audiences to walk away with after watching “Steel Magnolias”?
Kate and Britt: ViSTA (Voice Shop Theatre Arts) Theater is located in the space which was previously The Voice Shop, and its intimate space has been a venue for the Rogue Festival, touring musicians, and their own concerts. After the expansion and rebranding of their business last year as Fresno Music Academy & Arts, owner Debi Ruud and director of operations John Alden are collaborating with Joyce Mayhew (previously the artistic director of Lompoc Youth Theater) to mount theater productions for children and adult audiences.
Our director Joyce Mayhew is relatively new to Fresno, and brings many years of experience working in professional theatre. We’re working on a very small stage and it would be easy for the beauty salon props and furniture to upstage us. Joyce has put the emphasis where it belongs: on the telling the story. She has no interest in us modeling our characters on the film actresses’ portrayals, but rather has encouraged us to make the script central to our interpretation.
It is our hope that even if audience members have seen the movie version, that they will allow themselves to rediscover these six wonderful women and their stories.
Q: Anything else you’d like to say?
Kate and Britt: Mothers and daughters should consider coming to our Mother’s Day Mimosa Matinee on our closing performance, May 14. (Their men are welcome too, of course.)
- April 28 through May 14
- ViSTA Theatre, 1296 N. Wishon Ave.
- www.fresnomusicacademy.com, 559-222-7464
- $20, $25 special Mother’s Day performance