The Patriot Players at Patrick Henry Community College are teaming up with high school students in Martinsville City and Henry County schools to put on their latest show, “Purlie — The Musical.”
The show will feature a Lazy Susan-style piece for the set that’s capable of rotating 180 degrees. One side shows the shack that the main character, Purlie Victorious Judson, grew up in, and the other side is the commissary of the show’s antagonist, Ol’ Cap’n Cotchipee.
Students built the sets from recycled pieces used in old shows at PHCC. Devin Pendleton, “Purlie” director and artistic director of the Patriot Players, said it’s great to have a little history in the upcoming show.
“Everything the audience will see, minus the platform, is actual walls and props from past shows at PHCC,” he said. “I think it’s a good omen for coming shows.”
Patriot Players Director Jane Leizer contacted Ken Robertson, a building trades teacher for Martinsville City Schools, and Kent Wright, a building trades adjunct professor for PHCC and Henry County schools. Leizer said it’s been a great partnership.
“This has been very good for the kids because it’s more challenging work,” she said. “When you’re building a dog house or a bird house, you’re building something that will last and withstand the elements. Everything in theater has to be light, for mobility purposes, so it’s a whole different concept for them.”
Robertson said most students were still beginners when they started on this project.
“It was real complicated for our first-year students,” he said. “We had to do a lot of coaching and a lot of questions were asked, and the time limit really pushed us — it was a challenge. But both classes did a great job, and they worked really hard at it.”
Students built the sets based on designs by Pendleton. Wright said there were many steps to go through before the sets were deliverable to the Patriot Players.
“We had to figure out how to assemble it, dissemble it and reassemble it,” he said. “They gave us the criteria, but it all had to be created from scratch — we had to be creative.”
Wright added that building stage sets and the other skills learned in class are crafts students can apply toward carpentry-related jobs in the future.
“Going in, these kids had almost no skills,” he said. “Some of them didn’t know how to drive a nail, use the tools or even measure. We teach that, but we also teach them stuff they may be able to earn a living with. Some of these guys have never been made to work and we make them work. They do well, and we’re very proud of them.”
Students in Wright’s and Robertson’s building trade classes are also working on an upcoming project to build a handicap ramp for Habitat for Humanity. Both Wright and Robertson said it’s a challenging project, but something the students can be proud to complete.
The student-built set for Patriot Players will be featured in the upcoming production of “Purlie,” showing at PHCC at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 7-9 and at 2 p.m. Nov. 10. Tickets go on sale Oct. 18 and are available at PHCC’s switchboard. The cost is $12 for all performances, but tickets are available for $10 to groups of 50 or more at the matinee showing.
To find out more, visit www.patrickhenry.edu/patriotplayers or call 638-8777 ext. 0460.
Editor’s note: Latala Payne is a communications specialist at Patrick Henry Community College.