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Radford University keeps the memories of WWII alive in an original production
When Amy VanKirk found pages of her grandfather’s WWII-era journal, it became the inspiration for the musical production “Keep This For Me: Memories of the Last World War.” This new show premiered Jan. 30 at Radford University.
Before becoming an assistant professor of dance at RU, VanKirk discovered a 14-page letter that was her grandfather’s journal. He wrote this while stationed in Italy with the Army Air Corps in the 1940s. His words and other family mementos motivated her to create a 20-minute dance production for her Master of Fine Arts thesis at the University of Arizona.
“The journal entries are gruesome, terrifying, touching, hopeful, and most importantly, true,” VanKirk said about this direct view into the life of her grandfather as a 25-year-old man during the war.
Since joining the RU faculty, she knew she could do more with the story. Rather than just focusing on dance, she saw a bigger picture. The RU School of Dance and Theatre was the perfect place to begin.
“In 2012, the School of Dance and Theatre embarked on our first joint production of original works with dance and theatre students and faculty working collaboratively,” said Carl Lefko, director of the School of Dance and Theatre. As a follow up to the success of the first production, “Keep This For Me” was the next iteration of this initiative.
“The show quickly snowballed into a large scale, full-length production involving students and faculty from numerous departments across the college and the university,” VanKirk said. “Keep This For Me” includes theatre, dance, media, and music, along with an onstage, big band orchestra. All five departments within the College of Visual and Performing Arts were involved in the production, as was Matthew Oyos, professor of history from the College of Humanities and Behavioral Sciences.
VanKirk also enlisted Tommy Iafrate, assistant professor of theatre, as a co-director.
Together they devised an original script. They spent hours pouring over hundreds of pages of VanKirk’s family documents, letters, articles and journals, sorting through spellings of German cities and double-checking dates to make sure the script was consistent.
The widespread pain of war, soldiers longing for home and peace, the nostalgia of calendar girls, and a sense of hopefulness are all present in this production. Showcasing these concepts are a cast of RU students: Shannon Comerford, Molly Cox, Ashley Dobrogosz, Grace Ellinghaus, Lauren Faulkner, Brenna Featherston, Rachel Gattoni, Forrest Goodwin, Aja Gore, Brandon Goss, JoBeth Hardin, Zach Helms, Marley Holliday, Doina Jeter, Chelsea McGinnis, Jodie McKaughan, Taylor Moore, Haley Race, Matthew Robinson, Grace Smiley, Tori Unterberger, Caleb Waybright and Marcus Wooling.
Dayl Burnett, instructor of music, leads the big band. Orchestra members are Darcy Andersen, Caleb Fisher, Ben Hogan, Jamee Jordan, Michelle Kuhn, Carolyn MacAdams, Shelby Reynolds, Adam Robey, David Roth, Kayla Short, Cameron Taylor, Alex Schneider, Jeremy Schneider and John Watson.
VanKirk also serves as the choreographer and Iafrate as musical director. Several other faculty and staff are involved as members of the technical crew: Andrew O’Neal as the technical director; David Wheeler as lighting designer/production panager; Jimmy Ray Ward as scenic designer; Cathleen Connor as costume designer, and Professor John Jacob as the advisor on historical accuracy of costuming.
Students involved with technical aspects of the production are Thomas Blankenship, Sara Cooper, Nick Delong, Kirsten Hamann, Danielle Hankerson, Andrew Kiechlin, Deanna Meckel, Clay Miller, Addie Pawlick, Brittney Price, Molly Roan, Matt Shields, Jasmine Torres, Wendy Viana, Heather Walters and Mitch Woody.
“‘Keep This For Me’ so beautifully demonstrates what this College of Visual and Performing Arts does so well…students and faculty actively engaged in creative process, collaboration and the communication of memorable ideas through the lens of artistic expression,” said Margaret Devaney, dean of the CVPA.
VanKirk received two grants to support the creation of the show; the College of Visual and Performing Arts Research/Scholarly Project Award, and the Scholar Citizen Initiative Project Grant. This funding supported summer research travel, time-period costuming, set materials, lighting equipment, props, sound equipment and music purchases. These grants provided students with the opportunity for hands on experiences in all aspects of producing a show.