MINT HILL, NC – From Thursday, March 9, through Saturday, March 11, Independence High School will present The Hello Girls, a musical that chronicles the story of the first women in the US Army, who worked as switchboard operators on the front lines of WWI in France.
The production is under the direction of Elizabeth Mills, who joined IHS as its new theater teacher in the fall. Inspired by the legacy of the Patriot Playmakers and the strength of her current students, Mills is working to reinvigorate IHS’ theater program.
“Under a previous theater teacher, Paula Baldwin, the Patriot Playmakers had done a lot of noteworthy things—NCTC (North Carolina Theatre Conference), the Blumey Awards, International Thespian Society – Independence even won the state level competition of NCTC under her direction in 2014,” says Mills. “I’ve worked hard this year to bring all of that back. We took 2 plays to NCTC in the fall, we’re participating in the Blumey Awards, and we will also induct 21 students into International Thespian Society this year.”
The Hello Girls caught Mills’ attention because of its five female lead roles. “I read about the history of the original Hello Girls in WWI, and once I listened to the amazing music in the show, I was hooked,” she says. “We have so many fantastic female singers, and our theater students tend to have a strong academic focus, so this show was a perfect fit for us.” It was also important to Mills to choose a musical that qualifies for the Blumey Awards, which IHS has not participated in since the Fall of 2019.
Mills sings the praises of several upperclassmen who have worked hard to make this show a success: “My lead stage manager, senior Olivia ‘Liv’ Hartis, who has helped me transition into Independence smoothly all year long; senior Michael Sami-Geng, who plays the only male lead in the production as well as guitar in the pit; and our leading lady for the production, junior Annie Clark,” says Mills. “These three students have formed a strong core of leadership as we worked to build the program back up this year, and I will miss the two who are seniors greatly next year!”
Even with such strong student leadership, staging this ambitious show has been no small task. In addition to directing the production, Mills is handling set design, costumes, lighting and publicity. IHS Choir Director Corey Poole is the music director for the show, and French Teacher Aveon Crawford has been invaluable for assisting the actors and actresses with the show’s many French lines. Mills has also pulled in help from the community including her husband, who is acting as the show’s technical director, and three adult musicians who will join the six IHS students in the pit.
Even with this support from the community, funding remains a challenge for Mills. “I inherited the theater program at a real low point in the program’s financial history,” she explains, “and we’re counting on the local community to come out and support this show to help us build a strong foundation for next year. We would welcome any donations on our website as well: https://patriotplaymakers.ludus.com/donate.”
Mills hopes that the production will be something different and special for the Matthews and Mint Hill community to see. “It’s a wonderful show, and you won’t be able to see it anywhere else,” she notes. “We are the only school doing The Hello Girls, and I’m willing to bet we may be the first to do it in the entire state. If you are a history buff or you love ragtime or jazz music, you do not want to miss this show—there might literally not be another opportunity!”
The Hello Girls will take place at Independence High School March 9 – March 11. There is a 7:00 pm show each night as well as a 2:00 pm show on March 11. Tickets are $5 for general admission and $15 for premium seats, which are closer to the front and center. Tickets can be purchased at: https://patriotplaymakers.ludus.com/.