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Radford University keeps the memories of WWII alive in an original production

RehearsalRADFORD – When Amy VanKirk found pages of her grandfather’s World War II-era journal, it became the inspiration for the musical production “Keep This For Me: Memories of the Last World War.” This new show premieres Jan. 30 at Radford University.

Before becoming an assistant professor of dance at RU, VanKirk discovered the 14-page journal. Her grandfather had written 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 says 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,” explains 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” is 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 says. “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 are involved, as is 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.

VanKirk also serves as the choreographer and Iafrate as musical director. Several other faculty and staff are involved as members of the technical crew.

“‘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,” observes 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.

Premiere performances are at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 30 and 31 at the Pridemore Playhouse, along with a matinee at 2 p.m. Jan. 31. Tickets are free and are available at rutheatretickets.universitytickets.com. Call 540-831-5289.

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