‘Legally Blonde’ at LMC
The Lees-McRae College Performing Arts Department presents a
very grand finale.
Dr. Janet Barton Speer, who has taught theater at Lees-McRae since 1978, directs the musical ”Legally Blonde,” which plays this weekend.
After 34 years, Speer has announced her retirement, marking this musical as her last for students at Lees-McRae.
While Speer will continue as artistic director of the college’s well-known summer theater, she will welcome having more time with her husband, Dr. Allen Paul Speer, a recently retired professor of history. However, she admits that she’s having a bittersweet departure.
“I want to join my husband in retirement, but I love the students, I love teaching,” she said. “But I really want some time with my husband; we need some ‘us’ time.”
Regarding the choice of this popular new musical as her academic swan song, “The students chose the show,” Speer said. “We let the students have the say-so about what my last show would be.”
“Legally Blonde” is an upbeat, fish-out-of-water musical based on the popular 2001 film. The plot involves blonde sorority sister Elle Woods, who pursues her ex-boyfriend to Harvard Law School, only to realize that she has untapped intellectual potential.
Speer said the show is about stereotyping, particularly the kind people impose upon themselves. “The woman in this show thinks she’s dumb, so she plays dumb, until she realizes she isn’t…her outside does not show how she is on the inside,” she said.
Speer has been involved in approximately 600 theater productions over her career. Regarding this last college production, she said, “I’ve had a blast with it…sometimes when you’re working with something for so long, you get tired of it, but I don’t get tired of this one.”
While Lees-McRae has had a strong relationship to the arts historically, when Speer was hired, the performing arts department was going through a transition period. Speer was the only theater faculty member and had exactly two theater students and two music students.
“There wasn’t a department at all,” she said. “We had to rebuild…we started chorus, band, dance. The administration was supportive of me from day one.”
Speer is now handing the department over to fellow professors whom she educated when they were her undergrads years before. Lees-McRae alumni who currently help run the performing arts department are Dr. Michael Hannah, Mindy Bishop, Drew Wallace and Dr. Tessa Carr, the new chairwoman of the department.
Rather than hoping the theater department will remain how she has created it, Speer supports the faculty in helping the major evolve.
“I’ve encouraged Tessa to make the department her own,” Speer said. “She’s good at different things from what I do.”
She has been similarly encouraging to the many students who are sad to see her go. “I said to the kids, you have new things, new valleys to explore,” Speer said.
“Legally Blonde” plays Oct. 4, 5 and 6 at 7:30 p.m. and on Oct. 7 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $12 for adults and $5 for students and children. Tickets are general admission and may be purchased at the door. Performances are held in the Broyhill Theatre of Hayes Auditorium on the campus of Lees-McRae College in Banner Elk. For more information, visit http://go.lmc.edu/shows.