‘These Months of Our Lives’ is an original musical scheduled to hit the stage this April that tells the story of a small West Virginia town and their determination to overcome the Covid-19 pandemic. The play is based on the real stories of community members and follows them as they overcome the fear, mistrust, frustration and uncertainty that shook the community.
The creation of the play started with a simple question: “How were you impacted by the Covid pandemic?”
When Vana Nespor first went about asking this question to residents in the tiny community of Petersburg, she had already seen the impact the pandemic had in the region. Located in Grant County, W.Va., the town’s small, critical-access hospital was straining under the weight of an aging population already susceptible to illness. The county was reporting a higher death-toll per capita than many of its surrounding areas and outcries about closed schools and mask mandates were dominating the local discourse and creating rifts among neighbors.
Nespor is an educator and a director who had worked and lived in the area for many years but had left decades earlier. She had been in Grant County during the Flood of 1984 that had left the community rebuilding and she had seen their resiliency.
But the stories she sought now were different. Earlier in the pandemic, Nespor had been contacted by an old friend, Phyllis Cole, who told her about another casualty of Covid – the Landes Arts Center, the town’s theater and art gallery. The Center had been constructed as a community effort, with fundraising from around the county and dedicated grant seeking by Cole and others who saw the deep interest in art that thrived in the region. However, the center had been shuttered due to the spike in positive cases in the state and was now staring at a deep financial wound that they feared they could not heal.
Cole’s request was simple. She asked Nespor to put on a play, something that would draw attention to the Center and remind community members who had been distanced from the programs they offered. Nespor was less convinced than Cole, she knew the Center housed its own acting troupe, West Virginia Theater East, who boasted an array of talented community directors. No, she told Cole, it would have to be something original. But it was difficult to look past the pandemic that had already claimed the minds of the world, that had impacted every community member in some way. The tone and the mood of the community was set and no production, no matter how lively, could change that. So, instead of trying to distract the viewer, Nespor decided to meet them where they already were – to talk about Covid.
Nespor and Cole then set about opening a dialogue with the community, meeting the residents of Petersburg to interview them and discuss how Covid had impacted them.
During her interviews, Nespor heard and felt it all – from children feeling isolated from friends, facing loneliness while parents did their best to keep bills paid despite a time of nationwide layoffs; from recovering addicts watching their sobriety support system crumble around them; from small family-owned businesses watching helplessly as their doors closed and their customers retreated, and to government officials desperate to reassure a population that growingly mistrusted their guidance and turned toward conspiracy.
It was the story of Petersburg and the community that called it home. It was a story of West Virginians overcoming adversity during a time of uncertainty and remembering to love their neighbors even while political disagreements work to rip them apart.