“Steel Magnolias” tells an iconic local story with heart, humor and some trademark Southern sass


Mary Fletcher

“Steel Magnolias” was directed by Trevor VanEaton and stage managed by Elizabeth Cook. The production featured Ashley Stevens as Shelby, Abigail Aldridge as Truvy, Mia Rodriguez as Annelle, Josie Randle as Ouiser, Andrea Mouton as Clairee and Ava Schorr as M’Lynn.

When the average person thinks of Natchitoches, three things might come to mind: meat pies, the Christmas Festival and “Steel Magnolias.” Written by local playwright Robert Harling in 1987, “Steel Magnolias” is a celebration of strong female friendships, resilient Southern women and the power of a good hairdresser.

The women of Chinquapin Parish (read: Natchitoches) gather in Truvy’s salon to gossip, get their hair done and celebrate each other’s successes and joys. The play was adapted into a wildly popular film in 1989, which starred Julia Roberts and Dolly Parton and was filmed in various parts of Natchitoches.

Northwestern State University of Louisiana’s Theatre and Dance Department is presenting a production of “Steel Magnolias” as part of their second season program. The second season program helps to give students in the performance and directing program a chance to put what they learned in the classroom in practice, and offers students additional performance opportunities outside of the traditional mainstage season.

Trevor VanEaton, a senior performance and directing major, jumped at the opportunity to direct this iconic production. He has assembled a team of six talented women to help bring this tale to life, and he is anxious to share this story with Natchitoches’ audience.

Two of the women the script was inspired by (including the woman who inspired the character of Truvy) came to see the production Therefore, making sure justice was done to the story was VanEaton and his cast’s top priority.

“Steel Magnolias is such an iconic movie. It’s the story of Robert Harling and his family, told in a loving manner,” VanEaton said.

VanEaton was attracted to the story because he saw his own family reflected in it. However, he approached the production with the understanding that he would have some rather large shoes to fill.

“The movie was my main frame of reference, and we did our best to respect it. However, I also wanted my cast to have their own takes on this story,” VanEaton said.

Speaking of the cast, putting together the cast of “Steel Magnolias” was no easy task for VanEaton. In order for the production to be successful, it requires six extraordinarily talented women with fabulous comic timing, and VanEaton looked high and low for the perfect combination.

“Casting was such a jigsaw puzzle. Whenever I was casting this, I wanted to make sure that this cast was very strong. I also wanted to cast students who haven’t had opportunities to be in mainstage productions,” VanEaton said.

Because the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle fit so perfectly, both VanEaton and his cast were able to take pride in the process and what they created. VanEaton also wanted audiences to understand that although the movie is the audience’s main frame of reference, his directing is not a carbon copy of the movie.

“The script is based entirely in the salon and it doesn’t change location. However, it’s infused with the same heart, humor and hilarity. It’s a good emotional rollercoaster that I think everyone needs to experience at least once in their lifetime,” VanEaton said.

Andrea Mouton, a junior performance and directing major, who plays the recently widowed Clairee Belcher, said that she greatly enjoyed the challenge that came with playing Clairee.

Mouton was not afraid to get down to brass tacks when discussing her character.

“Clairee is a widow. Her husband died two months before the play started. She is sixty years old, super sassy, and quick witted. She loves hanging out with her friends in Truvy’s salon,” Mouton said.

However, Mouton confessed that the biggest challenge in playing Clairee was the fact that she was playing a woman twice her age and then some.

“She’s an older woman, so maintaining that vibe throughout the play was my biggest challenge,” Mouton said.

Although many Natchitoches locals and transplants are familiar with the story of “Steel Magnolias,” Mouton said that she hadn’t read the play before.

“Initially, I hadn’t read it before, but then I was casted. After I read it, I began to realize how much the cast felt like a family,” Mouton said.

Coming into the production without prior knowledge of the story allowed Mouton to have a clean slate to work from in her performance. Mouton also advised the audience not to let the slow build-up of the story fool them.

“I’d like audiences to know that although the plot doesn’t seem rambunctious, there’s so much to tell within the play,” Mouton said.

Elizabeth Cook, a sophomore theatre major, served as stage manager for the production. The circumstances that led to her getting the gig were rather auspicious.

“I was working with Trevor on his directing scenes when we discussed the possibility of stage managing his Second Season if he ever did one. From there, we decided I’d help him as his stage manager,” Cook said.

Although this production marked Cook’s stage management debut, she approached the task like a professional. She said that stage managing helped her learn a lot about herself.

“I have learned to not only stay organized when it comes to the show, but also when it comes to real life,” Cook said.

Cook advises potential stage managers that the gig is not a walk in the park, and that to be a successful stage manager, being alert and aware at all times is key.

“Your actors and your director are counting on you. Normally, you have an assistant stage manager to help lighten your load,” Cook said.

Cook also advises potential stage managers to register for the stage management course under professor Karn Richoux in order to get a better feel for what they are doing.

Most importantly, Cook said that stage managing for the first time was a wonderful experience. She also helped to give audiences an idea of what they could expect when coming to see the production.

“They can expect some wonderful stage presence and so much heart and attention to detail. These ladies are incredibly talented and can really tell the story,” Cook said.

The story of “Steel Magnolias” is a story of heart, humor, resilience,and a bit of Southern sass for good measure. VanEaton’s directing helped breathe new life into a Southern classic.

“Steel Magnolias” was presented on March 10-12 in the Jack Wann Theatre. It was directed by Trevor VanEaton and stage managed by Elizabeth Cook. The production featured Ashley Stevens as Shelby, Abigail Aldridge as Truvy, Mia Rodriguez as Annelle, Josie Randle as Ouiser, Andrea Mouton as Clairee, and Ava Schorr as M’Lynn.