Cancer, community, friendships and entertainment are not unusual elements to find in rural towns, but rarely do they combine with nudity and celebrity.
The Warrnambool Theatre Company is bringing it all together for their take on Calendar Girls, a story made famous by the 2003 British film.
The original is based on a true story – a small town women’s group in Yorkshire teaming up for a nude calendar to fund-raise for their local cancer ward – it’s a theme not lost on Warrnambool’s theatrical community.
For theatre veteran and retired school teacher Heather Tuck, who will play the part of Jessie, the message is painfully personal. She lost her husband to cancer a few years ago.
“It brought back a lot of sadness as the storyline of loss is my own,” she said.
“There are other members of the team who have faced cancer head-on too.
“The key message of the play is that life can pass you by, friendships are jewels and laughter is the most valuable gift we can share.”
Community support is not just a theme within the play. Producer Ailich Goddard-Glegg said the group had found a practical way to show their support.
“Just like the women of Calendar Girls, the WTC is committed to supporting the local community,” she said.
“The WTC will donate 10 per cent of Calendar Girls’ proceeds to the South West Healthcare chemotherapy ward.”
Mrs Goddard-Clegg said the wider focus included
“Both the play and the film focus on the power of friendship among the women of community groups, in our case the Country Women’s Association (CWA),” she said.
The CWA will share the limelight on opening night with a display in the foyer of the Lighthouse Theatre.
South West Group president Bev Byron said being involved in the theatre group’s production was in keeping with their motto “all women, all ages, all places”.
“A lot of women join the CWA to help other people and for companionship,” she said.
“It’s amazing how much they give.
“We’re pleased Calendar Girls asked us to be there. One of the things we do at CWA is to pass on crafts that are lost by not being taught in schools.
“We are bridging the gaps between younger and older women.”
One of the younger cast members and self-confessed introvert Lauren Whitmore plays Celia.
“She’s a bit of a poser,” she said of her character.
“She is quite materialistic and vain, but I think deep down she knows what really matters.”
Ms Whitmore said the messages within Calendar Girls have resonated with her for more than one reason.
“It’s about the value of friendship and the importance of female camaraderie,” she said.
“Women coming together and supporting each other through various life challenges and experiences.”
Ms Whitmore said there is much to learn from this production.
“I think one thing we can learn from this play is that, in the end, relationships and friendships are what really matter.”
The Calendar Girls production is not just for girls, with men playing a role on stage and behind the scenes.
Warrnambool photographer Chris Allsop, who plays the part of photographer Lawrence, is returning to the stage after a 13-year break. “I already know that I’m taking away a great experience and a renewed passion for theatre,” he said.
“It’s not every day that you’re asked to go on stage and take pretend photos of real women taking their clothes off.
“I’ll be forever haunted by the look on my mother’s face when I told her I would be taking nude photos of women, some of whom are her age.”
Producer Mrs Goddard-Glegg has been behind the scenes since her infancy and whilst she’s played a part in many productions over the years, Calendar Girls holds a special place in her heart.
“We love this play because it celebrates community,” she said.
“Everyone’s been touched by cancer in some way within our group and so it resonated with the Warrnambool community.
“It also had a message about the power of the community in coming together to do great things.”
“I love that community theatre gives local people an opportunity to come together and have this great creative outlet and I love that anyone can have a go.
“We have people involved in this play who are teachers, doctors, students, retirees, mothers, fathers, grandparents – all brought together through a mutual love of theatre and performance.”
The production marks the group’s first play in almost three years.
Having set down roots in 1925, The Warrnambool High School Old Students Dramatic Society, as they were once known, began their long history with the production Nothing But The Truth. The group went on to become known as The Arcadians and then later the Warrnambool Theatre Company.
The last time the company took to the stage was in the 2014 production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.
Calendar Girls is playing at the Lighthouse Theatre in the studio from March 23 to 25.
And the most important question – does the Warrnambool cast dare to bare all? Well, that’s a tricky one to answer – only the audience will know.