Students Direct and Star in "These Shining Lives"

Each year, a Covenant student is given the task of directing a spring play. This year, Senior Kaley Hutter took on the momentous task of directing and producing These Shining Lives.
She found the script at the Virginia Theatre Conference last October. She read it in one sitting, ran to Arts Department Chair, Jerry King’s office the following Monday, and said, “This NEEDS to be my senior project”. “What drew me to this show, at first, is how well written it is,” she said. “I love how Melanie Marnich combines stylized narration with beautifully natural realism.” However, she remarked that it is because this is a real story from the 1920s and 30s that it is so strong. “ I didn't even know about these women and their story until I picked up this script, and I felt it was such a worthy story to tell and raise awareness of. This show breaks your heart and makes you laugh and love all at the same time; I love it so much for that.”
The play tells the story of women who land jobs at Radium Dial painting the faces of clocks and end up facing radium poisoning from the paint they’ve been using. Their skin starts glowing in the dark and they begin to suffer other health effects, so they decide to take the case to court. Hutter felt that this story was timely because of what’s happening in the world right now. “Right now, so many ‘feminist’ stories are just tales of victimhood,” she commented. “This show focuses on their strength, courage, vulnerability, and relationship. It truly honors these women and lets us access them in a way we don't get to in history books. We need to share more stories like that.” She added, “...this type of thing with Radium Dial exploiting its employees' health is still happening today, just in different forms. The more we study history, the more we will be able to recognize when it begins to repeat itself.”
Hutter and eight cast members presented the show on May 16 and 17 to packed houses and ended up with rave reviews. Head of Middle School, Spencer Burton, encouraged the entire faculty to see the show after he saw it on Thursday. “The cast is superb, the (true, moving and important) story is powerful - with a great mix of laughter, beauty, and gravity.” Arts Department Chair, Jerry King, congratulated the student actors with his review. “When I find myself hours after a performance thinking about the story and not the production itself, then I know the company has done its job. Such was the case last night. Yes, it's an important story to be told and retold. But these kids of ours told it exceptionally well.” Hutter, herself, was so pleased with the production. “I'm thrilled with how the run went,” she said. “I'm so proud of my actors. They absolutely crushed it, and I could not have done it without such a talented and hardworking cast! I remember sitting in the back during the Thursday night show. The audience was laughing at all the right times, and so many people were crying afterward. I've had this story and my vision of it onstage floating around in my head since mid-fall, and just seeing it in front of me, nuanced and with life breathed into it, is already surreal. But to have people, especially people I respect, being so moved and impacted by it is so unbelievably humbling and rewarding.”
It was clear to the audience that the student actors embraced the story and spent quality time developing their characters. Hutter’s directing choices definitely encouraged this. “I gave them a lot of creative freedom with their character development. I encouraged them to look at their characters as real people that they have the privilege of getting to know,” she said. “I showed them some research I'd done on the lives of their characters. But other than that, they got to develop and process their characters in their own way. In rehearsal, you can tell when someone has done character development and when someone hasn't. When you really know who you're portraying, you can portray them in a much more nuanced and realistic way.”
Although Hutter’s directing experience was so positive, it is definitely challenging directing your peers. “That was a big struggle for me at first,” said Hutter. “ I used to apologize by habit after every note I gave or every time I gave direction. I remember Mr. Dickerson telling me that I shouldn't apologize for doing my job. If I apologize, my actors will think I'm doing something wrong. As the rehearsal process went on, I had to learn to trust myself, trust my choices, and trust my actors. I had to be okay with not knowing all the answers, and I had to learn that self-respect does not equal conceit.” Directing this show helped Hutter grow in many ways. “Directing this show taught me how to be confident in myself and how to exercise authority in a way that's gracious. Those are valuable life skills that I hope I'll always carry with me.”
Hutter has big plans as she heads off to college in the fall. She plans to study Strategic Communication with a minor in Theatre at Liberty University. “Because LU's theatre program is so fantastic and huge, I don't know if I'll get the opportunity to direct there,” said Hutter. “But I'm praying that theatre will always be a part of my life because it's possibly my favorite thing in the world.”

The Covenant School

Birdwood Campus | Lower School | Pre-K–Grade 5 |
1000 Birdwood Road Charlottesville, VA 22903 | 434.220.7309

Hickory Campus | Middle and Upper School | Grades 6–12 | 175 Hickory Street Charlottesville, VA 22902 | 434.220.7329
Located in Charlottesville, VA, The Covenant School is a non-denominational, private, Christian day school for Pre-Kindergarten through Grade 12. Students benefit from a challenging academic program, visual and performing arts, competitive athletics, and a wide selection of extracurricular activities.