Allentown, PA — Beth Henley’s Southern comedy “The Miss Firecracker Contest” opens Feb. 18 at Muhlenberg College, with a cast of six college seniors. Director Francine Roussel says that the cast is ideally suited to convey the play’s themes of accepting ourselves for who we are in order to move ahead in our lives.
“Henley’s themes are really strong, but there is a lightness to her writing,” Roussel says. “The show is a comedy, almost to the point of farce, but at the same time, there are extremely moving moments where the characters are at a precipice, looking at their lives.”
“The Miss Firecracker Contest” runs Feb. 18-22 on the college’s Studio Theatre stage. Tickets and information are available at muhlenberg.edu/theatre and 484-664-3333.
Roussel says she selected the show because college students can relate to it — both those playing the characters and those watching in the audience.
“They are at a point in their lives where they are going to invent their life after college,” she says. “I think the play is at the core of what’s on their minds. What are their dreams? What are their concerns for the future?”
“The Miss Firecracker Contest” tells the story of 25-year-old Carnelle Scott, known around her tiny Mississippi town as “Miss Hot Tamale” for a past that she would like to forget. She’s got flaming red hair, a sparkler between her teeth, tap shoes on her feet, and The Star Spangled Banner on the tape deck, not to mention a burning desire to win the crown in this year’s Miss Firecracker Contest — the annual beauty pageant in her town. Carnelle hopes a Firecracker victory will help her shake her tarnished reputation and leave town in a blaze of glory.
“All these characters are dealing with crucial rites of passage,” Roussel says. “You can laugh out loud, but at the same time realize how desperate the characters really are.”
“The Miss Firecracker Contest” is Henley’s followup to her Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy “Crimes of the Heart.” First produced in 1980, the play also explores themes of femininity and beauty.
Russell Norris plays Delmount, Carnelle’s older cousin who has just been released from an asylum. Norris says he and his character are quite different in many respects, but they are both people at a crossroads, learning all they can before they move forward.
“This process is the perfect culminating experience,” Norris says. “We’re all going out into the professional world so soon, and we’re all in it together. It’s really bringing us together as a cast, and we all have a similar goal to learn as much as we can in this last opportunity, and soak in the experience.”
Norris’s castmate Julia Garber, who plays Carnelle, agrees. But she also points out that, for all the play’s complex and dynamic characters, it is also very funny.
“I think the audience is going to laugh really hard,” Garber says. “It’s not just a crazy, Southern comedy, but a play that has a lot more depth. I can take a lesson from Carnelle to always stay hopeful and believe in myself.”
Muhlenberg College is a liberal arts college of 2,200 students in Allentown, Pa. The college offers Bachelor of Arts degrees in theatre and dance. The Princeton Review consistently ranks Muhlenberg’s production program in the top 15 in the nation, and the Fiske Guide to Colleges lists both the theatre and dance programs among the top small college programs in the United States.
Performances of “The Miss Firecracker Contest” are Feb. 18-22: Wednesday through Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $8 for LVAIC faculty and staff. The performance is intended for mature audiences. Tickets and information are available at 484-664-3333 and muhlenberg.edu/theatre.
Rich Ruoff’s Sunday afternoon was a simple one.
He took a hot bath and lay down.
“I’m exhausted,” the director of the 2nd Annual Lancaster Roots & Blues Festival said around 5 p.m.
Not surprising, since he’d been running around like a madman well before the event started Friday evening, and for hours after it ended early Sunday morning.
Same goes for his director of operations, Sam Campbell.
Blue Bell, PA — Kimberly Coffland has been on a 14-year journey. Since she was 10 years old, the Lansdale resident has been working toward becoming a nurse. She took a detour between 2010 and 2012 because of the need to move frequently as her husband was transferred and deployed.
“I recently returned to the area in July 2012 following my husband’s discharge from the Marine Corps and started attending Montgomery County Community College,” she said. “I chose to attend this school primarily because of its affordability, but I also was excited to hear that the College has a reputable nursing program.”
Along the way, Coffland was selected as one of only 20 students to receive Phi Theta Kappa’s 2014 Frank Lanza Memorial Scholarship, which recognizes the outstanding academic and leadership accomplishments of students enrolled in registered nursing, respiratory care, or emergency medical services associate degree programs. A total of $50,000 was awarded in 2014 to assist students in the attainment of these associate degrees.
“The Frank Lanza scholarship means so much to me,” Coffland said. “Because of this scholarship, I will be able to graduate nursing school without using student loans, and there are no words to describe the joy that that brings to my life!”
The Frank Lanza Memorial Scholarship is named in honor of the founder of L-3 Communications, a defense contractor that comprises more than 73 operating units, including Medical Education Technologies Inc. (METI), now known as CAE Healthcare. Lou Oberndorf, founder and retired chairman of METI, endowed the Frank Lanza Memorial Scholarship, which is also funded by L-3 Communications, CAE Healthcare, the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), and Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society.
In addition to the Frank Lanza scholarship, Coffland received a Pell grant and qualified for the PHEAA state grant. “These grants have been a huge blessing, allowing me to only work part-time during the nursing program.”
Coffland started her nursing coursework in 2009 and married in 2010.
“I transferred from the school where I was taking classes to the local community college in North Carolina where my husband was stationed,” Coffland said. “I took a few classes, then he was deployed, so I moved back near family, and I had to transfer schools again. Online classes were a wonderful blessing during this phase of my life, as I moved several times in a couple years.
Her husband was discharged in 2012, and Coffland transferred to Montgomery County Community College “to settle down, finish my prerequisites, and begin the clinical portion of nursing program.
“Anyone who has transferred schools knows what a pain it is, and with moving, enduring deployments, and the school transfers, I was ready to give up at times. However, with the support of my family and especially my husband, I have been able to reach the point of being close to graduation — so close to becoming an RN!” she said.
Coffland balances her roles of wife, student, and nursing assistant with the support of her husband and her faith.
“It’s been a long road, but I feel so blessed to be able to get a good nursing education at an affordable price here,” she said. “This past summer, many of my classmates and I participated in the PA Hero Walk. This event’s proceeds benefited various Pennsylvania veteran associations. It is definitely one of my fondest memories of my time at the College thus far.”
After graduation, Coffland plans to work as a registered nurse while pursuing her bachelor’s degree online, but she has not decided where yet.
“Also, within a few years of graduating, I plan to go on a medical missions trip to a country where standard medical care is not readily available. This has been a goal of mine since I decided to be a nurse at age 10, and I am so looking forward to finally being able to contribute in such a way,” she said.