All those beautiful powerful words, they were you!
- Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac
The Mill Mountain Players are a theatrical touring program launched in 1999 as a solution for educators in and around Roanoke, Virginia who wanted to expose their students to the theatre-going experience. In addition to serving area schools, the Players perform across the Commonwealth, enabling Mill Mountain Theatre to extend its reach and deepen its artistic and educational impact. Three of the Players – Justin Johnson, Allison Nock, and Michael Stablein – are currently performing their own special version of Cyrano de Bergerac, the classic play written by poet Edmond Rostand.
The Players’ interpretation of the play, titled Cyrano, is geared towards high school audiences and finds Justin as the tragic hero, Allison as Roxanne, the woman he loves, and Michael as Christian de Neuvillette, the handsome conduit for Cyrano’s poetic overtures. Allison, Justin, and Michael shared their stories of life in the theatre, the performances that inspired them to act, and some of the more memorable moments during their stay in Roanoke.
“I was always mad at my dad because he would never let me go to New York and see Broadway shows until I was like a junior in high school,” says Allison. “Finally, getting to New York my junior year was an amazing point in my life, but by that time I had already decided this was something I wanted to go into. Seeing 42nd Street on Broadway, honestly I know [Michael hates] music theatre, but it gets me in a different way than it gets [him]. Probably, Michael would be more excited by Chekhov, like, hours and hours of character description, but I don’t know, I was just so amazed, you know, almost crying at a fluffy musical, but really that excitement and that energy, that’s what gets me, those big dance numbers.”
“There’s a lot of really great movies and TV out there but a lot of these kids, like we’ve said before, have never been in a theater with a whole bunch of people in an audience all reacting to a show,” says Michael. “This idea of them and their classmates, they’re not at home watching a movie, they’re all together watching something and they all ooh and ah when Roxanne and Christian kiss and when people die they actually are asking themselves why Cyrano dies and did he die in the play when I read it, and they’re all asking their questions together.”
“When I see shows I constantly compare myself to the actors on stage and say ‘Well, I would of done this…,’ or ‘Well, I could have done that better..,’ or whatever, but, you know, if there’s some young person out there who even has the slightest semi decimal of a feeling that they could do this then I would absolutely love for them to be affected that way,” says Justin. “There’s an energy, there’s a relationship that you have with this person when you are performing.”
None of the three actors had been to Roanoke before joining the cast of Cyrano, so in the midst of their hectic performance schedules they have tried to make time for few adventures in and around the Star City. One particular excursion found the trio wandering through a “corn maze.”
“This place is probably locally owned by a farming kind of family. But before they harvest the corn, they cut, I mean maybe its planted that way, they plant out a maze,” recalls Allison. “We did, like, the hay ride. They had a big gun that shot pumpkins. It was like military size. It was amazing! They had some goats you could feed. It was absolutely adorable! And then we did the corn maze.”
“It was pitch black and we had, maybe, one flashlight and a glow stick. And the best thing about this was this place is so Southern to me. I mean, I’m from Houston and this is so Southern to me,” says Michael. “There’s a series of these mailboxes that each have a category name on them with, like, trivia cards. Bible trivia, American military history trivia, even the TV, music and movies was like how many Grammys has Shania Twain won. It took us two hours to get out of that maze.”
The cast and crew of Cyrano and Spitfire Grill (and a couple of MobileEast Facilitors) in front of the Taubman Museum of Art in Downtown Roanoke. Photo courtesy of Will Lowry.
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