FARGO - For many people, the thought of appearing on stage in any kind of production is pretty scary. Now imagine that production involves at least flirting with nudity. That's what six local women are doing this weekend as Fargo-Moorhead Community Theatre presents "Calendar Girls."

The show is based on the real-life story of 12 middle-aged members of a women's club in Yorkshire, England, who posed nude in a calendar in 1999 to raise money for leukemia research following the death of one of the member's husband. The play was developed from a 2003 movie of the same name starring Helen Mirren.

Director D. Marie Long says while the nudity aspect was a big part of the movie, her hope is that audiences will walk away from the play with a sense of connection - realizing that no matter what age or body type you are, you should be proud of yourself and be encouraging and supportive of those around you.

"We have talked a lot about the bravery these women had to put themselves out there, both the original women whose story we're telling, and the women in our cast," Long says. "But it's a bravery that is only possible through the encouragement and support of the other people around them."

Theater veteran Dawn Gunderson plays Chris, the role Mirren played in the film adaptation. Gunderson describes Chris as "the life of the party - fun creative and adventurous." But she says her relationship with her friend Annie - the woman whose husband died of leukemia - is center stage.

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"It's important for me to show the love, special bond and friendship I have with Annie and support her during her husband, John's, illness and eventual death," Gunderson says. "We all experience tough, painful, sad losses, but together with friends and family we celebrate the beautiful times we had together. With each others' support, we must move on."

Jean Sando, who plays Annie, hasn't appeared on stage since her senior year of high school, but was drawn to this show because it had those rare "great parts for middle-aged women." She says she loves how the show explores female friendships and the lengths that people will go in support of someone they love.

"Everyone loves John and hates the cancer that steals him away," she says. "Sometimes when we're trying to fix something we have to do bold, daring things. Real women did this. They raised a great deal of money for research, and they had to color outside the lines a little to do it."

Sando says she realizes people might come to the show for the "adventure of the calendar scenes" which Long says is "all about well-placed props," but that is a small part of the show.

"No one is going to see anything we don't want them to see," Sando says. "We're really careful and kind to one another and we're not out to shock the community."

Gunderson agreed.

"We are carefully, thoughtfully, repetitively practicing the nude scene so it flows like clockwork and decreases any nervousness we actors may have," Gunderson says. "We are paying attention to details. Our director, D. Marie, is handling every aspect with our input. She is very kind and supportive."

Long says it would be a mistake to think this play is only about middle-aged women being naked, and not just because it's only one scene in the entire play where they happen to be wearing less clothing. She says the real women of this story (ages 45 to 65) found confidence and pride in themselves by posing for a nude calendar, and by raising money for a good cause in doing so.

"We should all be so lucky to find a means to love our own bodies, regardless of wrinkles or rolls or shape," Long says. "I hope our audiences feel empowered and beautiful in the exact way they already are."

If You Go

What: FMCT Presents: Calendar Girls

Where: The Stage at Island Park, 333 Fourth St. S., Fargo

When: March 16-17, 23-24 at 7:30 p.m. and March 18 and 25 at 2 p.m.

Info: Tickets are $15 for students and seniors and $21 for adults. For more information, visit FMCT.org.