The Dirty Water Brass Band rocks a crowd in Harvard Square with their rendition of the classic soul tune “Knock On Wood.” Drummer Don Stevenson and sax player Mary Curtin are part-time West Glover residents. Along with trombonists Todd Page and Tim Opperman, Sousaphone player Jim Overly, tenor players Jamie Pierce and Peter Goransson and trumpeter Gary Smiley, the band participated in this year’s Honk! Festival in Somerville and Cambridge, Massachusetts on October 12 and 13. The annual brass band festival also included others with connections in Orleans County including the Bread and Puppet Circus Band and the Second Line Social Aid and Pleasure Society. Video by Joseph Gresser
by Tena Starr
NEWPORT — Phil White, lawyer, former county prosecutor, and the man who tried so valiantly to save IROC, has taken on a new venture.
Mr. White has started a for-profit company called Kingdom Games to organize and promote outdoor activities such as biking, swimming and running in the Northeast Kingdom. Next year, Kingdom Games will offer about 15 events designed for both amateur and professional athletes. Some of those will be the popular events that IROC hosted, such as the Dandelion Run and the Kingdom Swim. Others will be new.
“When IROC closed there was a real risk that the summer events would end,” Mr. White said in a recent interview at his modest home on Lake Memphremagog. He said he couldn’t let them end this past summer, since so many people had already registered. It would have left a bad taste about the Kingdom if the year’s events had been abruptly canceled, he said.
copyright the Chronicle, October 9, 2013
by Tena Starr
Stella Halpern is hoping someone will solve a mystery for her. What was a very old, battered, handmade black doll doing in the rafters of a house in East Burke?
Mrs. Halpern bought the doll in 2003 at an auction of the home’s contents. She has since donated it, along with the rest of her collection of homemade black dolls, to the Old Stone House Museum in Brownington.
“I love old auctions,” said the 92-year-old Mrs. Halpern. “We were sitting there, and they were down to practically nothing, and the auctioneer sent for a complete thorough search. They had found this little black doll hidden in the rafters in the attic.”
Mrs. Halpern bought it for $5.
“I didn’t buy it because of the price,” she said. “I bought it because my curiosity was aroused. It’s a handmade sock doll, made from black socks. It was in an old house in white Vermont and has to have historical implications.”
It’s not very likely that a white child of the time would own a black doll, Old Stone House Museum Director Peggy Day Gibson noted. Also, she said that when the owner of the house was remodeling he found a penny dated 1851 in the walls. Sometimes, in older homes, a coin was put in the walls to date the time of construction.
by Bethany M. Dunbar
LOWELL — “There’s no losers in this kind of a deal. Everybody wins,” said Ed Newton as he held up his first place ribbon for his 1947 Massey Harris tractor. Identical ribbons went to each participant in the Lowell FOLK festival parade on Saturday, and his comment seemed like a pretty good summary of the day as a whole.
The FOLK festival is a benefit for projects at the Lowell Graded School. FOLK stands for Friends of Lowell Kids.
“Our original mission was to build a playground,” sai
d Amy Olsen, an organizer of the festival. She said the group managed to raise enough money to build the playground, and now that the original mission has been accomplished, the group decided to keep going to fund other school-related projects, such as field trips, special visitors coming in, and a picnic at the end of the school year.
The FOLK festival parade Saturday featured churches, tractors (restored and new), fire trucks, horses and lots of candy being thrown from floats and picked up by kids along the parade route.
Mr. Newton drives a truck for Blue Flame gas, and his grandfather was a farmer in Brownington.
“My grandfather bought it brand new,” Mr. Newton said about his tractor. His grandfather’s name was Glenn Newton, and when he stopped using the tractor he parked it.
“I found it in the woods, in the mud,” Mr. Newton said, and two trees were growing up in the middle of it. He cut the trees, dragged it out of the mud, and fixed the tractor back up for going in parades. He said it has earned its keep, so now it’s retired.
He pointed to all the array of other tractors in the parade Saturday and said, the restored ones that are shiny with fresh paint are said to be in their Sunday best, while the others are in their work clothes.
After the parade, townspeople headed to the Lowell Graded School where booths were set up with crafts, baked goods, games for kids, a bouncy house, and more. Karen Colburn and Amanda Atwood had a table with products from Celebrating Home and Penelope Ann, a company that offers jewelry and bake ware, personalized items such as plaques, cutting boards, backpacks and handbags.
These items are for sale by local sales people, who can either hold parties, sell through a catalogue, or through the company’s website.
Inside the gym were more booths, and auction items were on display for the auction to be held in the afternoon. Among them were a mini-bar and a new wooden wishing well.
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by Tena Starr
ORLEANS — The heavy rain and wind that hit northern Vermont last week had an unusual victim: the magnolia tree that has, for some reason, been thriving in Orleans for nearly 60 years.
Magnolias don’t generally overwinter in far northern Vermont — they barely manage in southern Vermont. But apparently someone forgot to tell this particular tree it was not supposed to survive an Orleans County winter.
Kimberly Campbell said the storm took down a section of the tree, the part her family called the rope swing branch.
“I heard this big cracking sound and turned just in time to see the tree go down,” Ms. Campbell said. “It had ripped the power box from the side of the house.”
She’d initially hoped the rest of the tree would survive, but the crew who cut up the felled section noticed it was infected with parasites, weakening the whole thing.
Sadly, the rest of it will have to be cut as well, Ms. Campbell said. If it fell, it would take out the power lines for the neighborhood, she said.
Ms. Campbell, who bought the house where the magnolia is in 2007, said she’s learned more about it in the past week than she ever knew before. People have dropped by to tell her stories about the tree, which UVM’s horticulture department has been following for years. “They’re going to try as hard as they can to grow one,” she said.
The species is Magnolia acuminata, or in common language, a cucumber tree magnolia.
It’s quite rare, especially this far north, said Mark Starrett, an associate professor at the University of Vermont. It’s one of the parents of several modern types of yellow-flowered magnolias that have been hybridized and are now widely available, he said.
Its rarity is due to the fact that when it was planted in Orleans the climate was colder, with more severe winters, and it was thus less likely to survive, Mr. Starrett said. Also, it’s not a particularly showy tree, and he suspects that 60 years ago Vermonters weren’t all that prone to trying to grow exotic plants.
He said he’ll try to propagate plants from seeds from the Orleans tree. Any seedlings that result will be distributed around Vermont, he said. Some will stay on the UVM campus and others will be distributed through the Vermont Hardy Plant Club.
Norman Pellett came to UVM in 1967 as Extension ornamental horticulturist, and made frequent trips around the state advising nurseries and greenhouse operators, landscape architects and technical school program teachers. Through that work, he ran across a variety of uncommon plants in Vermont, he said.
The only other big cucumber magnolia he’s seen is in Rutland, although others might exist, he said.
Irene Lanoue, who still lives in Orleans, said her late husband, Rouville, planted the tree two or three years after they got married in 1953.
“He sent away to the Michigan Bulb Company for it,” she said. “I don’t know how he picked it out. I can’t remember how he came to order that tree.”
In any event, once it started growing, he was curious about what it was, Mrs. Lanoue said. “He planted it and it started growing. It wasn’t supposed to.”
But the Lanoues didn’t learn that until later, when her husband contacted UVM to ask about what he had. “He wrote to the Extension Service at UVM and they sent up a man to look at it.”
Steve Matthews was a paperboy for the Lanoues at the time the tree was planted. “I knew it was a magnolia tree, and it wasn’t supposed to be growing here,” he said.
He’s kept up with the tree throughout its lifetime and on Sunday picked up some of its pods from the brush that remained on the ground, and sent them to Mr. Starrett.
“We’ll see if we can get some seeds from it that might be able to germinate,” he said.
He said he doesn’t think that’s likely with the seeds he picked up, but he hopes something will work out so a species of the exceptionally cold hardy Orleans magnolia can be propagated.
Ms. Campbell said the tree wasn’t showy like the magnolias in the South. It had huge leaves, she said.
“They looked like great big elephant ears. They’re huge and sprouted at the end of the leaf you see kind of these longish pink things.”
It had a lemon peppery smell, Ms. Campbell said. “It’s been a great shade tree,” she said.
Mrs. Lanoue said she regularly walks by her old home and checks on the magnolia. It will be sad when it’s gone, she said.
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by Richard Creaser
HOLLAND — There was very little warning of when the riders would make their first appearance, only a best guess and a couple of Labrador’s barking out a greeting at a photographer. The sound came first, the crunch of tires on gravel, the steady whir of gears and wheels and legs united in motion. Then a blur surged out from the trees shrouding the bend and the leaders emerged in tight formation, swelling like a wave of brilliant blues and yellows, reds and whites.
Smiling cyclists streamed by for perhaps 20 minutes, bodies bent forward to reduce drag, legs pumping as the riders hit yet another incline however slight. Over the next six hours, 200 cyclists would clock in, having completed the inaugural Dirty 40 race. Others would drop out along the way, and still more would finish their runs, proud about the accomplishment if not overly concerned about their time.
“That’s what’s really great about this race,” Todd Bowden of Glastonbury, Connecticut, said at the after race party at Tavern on the Hill in Derby. “It’s very laid back and not super serious. You race for the love of it and for the bragging rights, not the hardware.”
On this day, the bragging rights would belong to Mr. Bowden. He led all racers with a blistering time of 2:55:21.6 over the 60-mile course, 40 of which were on the gravel roads that give the race its name.
Not that Mr. Bowden completely blew the competition out of the water. Iain Radford of Chelsea, Quebec, and Matt Surch of Ottawa, Ontario, finished with times of 2:55:22.9 and 2:55:23.0. Five other racers also finished within 24 seconds of Mr. Bowden’s precedent setting time.
On the women’s side, Kathleen Lysakowski of Quincy, Massachusetts, led the field with a time of 3:12:17.3, followed by Heather Voisin of Montpelier with a time of 3:14:14.4 and Danielle Ruane of Bow, New Hampshire, with her time of 3:16:52.7.
Bev Gage of Orleans came in thirty-second overall, earning her the dubious distinction of being dead last with a time of 6:11:13. There was no hang-dog expression for Ms. Gage, however. As someone who only began riding in earnest in July and whose previous longest ride had been 32 miles, Ms. Gage was proud simply to have finished.
“My inspiration was raising money for the Halo Foundation,” she said. “Doing something to helps others is just so wonderful. Anthony (Moccia) and Heidi (Myers) should be so proud of what they accomplished.”
As the founders and organizing forces behind the Dirty 40, Mr. Moccia and Ms. Myers worked diligently to round up sponsors and work the social networks to attract racers to the event.
Behind it all, however, was the fact that all profits from the race would go to benefit the Mary E. Wright Halo Foundation, which provides financial support to Orleans County cancer survivors and the families of individuals fighting cancer. Ms. Myers said Monday morning that, although the numbers are preliminary, she expects the Dirty 40 race and raffle raised an estimated $4,000 for the Halo Foundation.
“We’re pretty happy about that,” she said. “We’d like to raise more next year. We could have raised more but it being the first year there was no registration fee for the first 100 riders.”
When the Dirty 40 was conceived the ideals behind the race included a celebration of what rural Vermont was all about — back roads, gorgeous countryside and a community that stands together to help its own.
The friendliness of the community was apparent to the cyclists participating in the race. Locals came out to wave at the riders as they passed by.
“I’m not really sure where it was, but there were some little girls serving lemonade,” Robert Schiesser of South Royalton recalled. “How great is that? I really couldn’t tell you how the organizers could have designed a better course.”
Even a local like Ms. Gage was impressed at the breadth of terrain the course encompassed. Whether as a cyclist or just someone enjoying the area, the beauty of the Northeast Kingdom was to be found everywhere along the route, she said.
“I had a chance to go on some dirt roads I never would have traveled before,” Ms. Gage said. “It really opens your eyes to how beautiful and how special a place we live in.”
While the beauty of the landscape was most often mentioned by participants, it was the challenge of the course that appealed to hardened cyclists like Mr. Bowden.
“It was a tough course, a real challenge,” he said. “Unlike your traditional road race the ending was not proscribed. It was a little bit crazier with a lot more variables thrown in there.”
Mr. Schiesser comes from a mountain bike racing background. While some elements translate from mountain bike racing to gravel road racing, it was a new kind of experience for him.
“Mountain bike racing is won in the turns,” he said. “In this kind of race you need to be in it the whole way, there is no last push to get through. You need to pace yourself.”
Gravel road races are growing in popularity but the amount of races available are still limited, Mr. Bowden said. That’s why he was more than willing to make the trek up from Connecticut to participate in the Dirty 40.
“It’s a really unique area,” Mr. Bowden said. “Something is changing all of the time. Those last 5 kilometers with the steep climb was hard, real hard.”
Mr. Bowden praised the work of the road crews responsible for maintaining the gravel roads that comprised the Dirty 40 course. In general, gravel road racing requires a thicker tire with an aggressive tread. Road conditions on Saturday were such that a rider could have gotten away with a narrower tread because of the excellent state of the roads. Narrower treads lead to less resistance and a corresponding increase in speed, he explained.
Voyaging through the back roads was more than a bike race, Mr. Schiesser said. It was akin to an adventure race where you need to be prepared for any and all sorts of conditions. He even likened the course to a ride through Alaska’s boreal forest.
“I thought it was really neat to be out there,” he said. “I think the course was just right.”
If there is one change to be recommended, it came from Ms. Gage. Her recommendation was that perhaps someone better prepared might be able to take her place in next year’s race.
“I’m proud that I did it and that I’m still standing after,” Ms. Gage said. “I still want to be involved but I think I might volunteer next year. It was a wonderful experience and a great cause. That’s why we do these things, to help people.”
contact Richard Creaser at firstname.lastname@example.org
by Bethany M. Dunbar
CRAFTSBURY COMMON — Toby Marx-Dunn, a high school student from Jericho, was listening to National Public Radio one day, and it got him thinking about the food he eats. He decided he wanted to know more and get better, healthier food. This impulse led him to sign up for a brand new summer Governor’s Institutes of Vermont — one called Farms, Food and Your Future.
Last week the impulse left him standing behind the back ends of a pair of large, patient workhorses in a farm field at Sterling College.
Sterling was one of the hosts of this year’s institute, the first one to focus on these subjects. Mr. Marx-Dunn seems to be not alone in his impulse, judging by admissions numbers at Sterling. Last year the college — which teaches sustainable agriculture and food-related topics — had about 90 students. This fall the doors will open to a full class of 110. Tim Patterson, director of admissions and financial aid, said the dorms are full.
The Governor’s institutes are residencies for high school students with accelerated learning on college campuses in specific subject areas. This year’s institutes included ones on the arts, engineering, information technology, mathematics, and Asian cultures.
On Wednesday, July 31, Toby Marx-Dunn picked up the handles of a plow behind two big horses named Daisy and Rexi. His new job was to try to make the thing go straight.
“It doesn’t go straight by itself,” he reported shortly after plowing his very first two furrows. Asked if it was fun, he said vehemently, “No.”
Not fun, Mr. Marx-Dunn explained, because it’s much harder than it looks.
Even so, Mr. Marx-Dunn and a dozen other high schoolers did get the basics on how fields are plowed, and why good soil is important, and how Sterling plans to enrich the soil on the particular field they were plowing that day. Draft horse manager Rick Thomas explained that plows can only dig so deep, and the soil was hard below the furrow. In order to loosen it up and add some organic matter to the hardpan, they would plant daikon radishes as a cover crop. These radishes grow fast and have deep roots.
Also that day, the students met a flock of young turkeys destined for a flock of Thanksgiving tables, and they learned about the difficulty of growing turkeys to the right weight, why pasture is good for them and why they are good for pasture, and a little about heritage breeds.
Sterling raises 1,000 birds a year on its farm. The young turkey poults the students saw that day had already grown 12 pounds in a month and a half, so the farm manager explained they would have to be processed and frozen well before Thanksgiving, so they would not be too big to fit into a regular oven.
In between these outdoor adventures, the students heard about how the cafeteria works at Sterling College.
The college grows 20 percent of its own food, and 44 percent of the food in the cafeteria is grown on local farms. Faculty, staff, and students all eat together and each helps with the work of putting that food onto the tables.
Anne Obelnicki, director of food systems, explained to the group that last year the college grew 760 pounds of rutabagas and because of the skill of cooks at Sterling, no one got sick of rutabaga. She said they used it in all sorts of unusual ways, even mashed as an ingredient in cake.
“I think that deliciousness is part of sustainability,” she said. If the food doesn’t taste good, people won’t keep eating it.
She said another part of sustainability is making the food affordable.
“The food at Sterling doesn’t cost any more than at any other college,” she said. She said people are always saying local food is more expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. Sterling has great cooks, she said, who can make a delicious meal out of rice and beans, for example.
Ms. Obelnicki passed out free samples of salami made at Sterling, which she explained is made with raw meat and bacteria so it will ferment.
At Sterling, she said, “We don’t just eat to eat. We eat because we’re trying to live our education here.”
Ms. Obelnicki said students at some colleges have started a “real food” challenge. They go into their college cafeterias and start asking questions about how much of the food is local, organic, and fair trade. If a series of questions can be answered in the affirmative, she said, the food can be called real. The students who came up with the idea set a goal, she said, “Let’s get real food into our college — 20 percent by 2020.”
Under these guidelines, Sterling’s cafeteria has about 70 percent real food, one of the highest percentages in the country.
Jonathan Kaplan, lead faculty for the Governor’s Institute on Farms, Food, and Your Future, teaches biology and history at Lyndon State College. He is a former state advisor for the Future Farmers of America (FFA). Lyndon State is also a participant in the real food challenge.
After hearing Ms. Obelnicki’s discussion of Sterling’s food system, he told the students they might want to take that real food challenge back home with them.
“There’s nothing stopping you from going back to your high school and making this happen,” he said.
Christian Feuerstein, director of communications for Sterling, noted the college now offers minors in draft horse management, climate justice, and sustainable food systems.
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by Natalie Hormilla
GLOVER — “The assessment is more important for the participants than for me.”
This is what Peter Schumann answers when asked what he thinks of Bread and Puppet Theater turning half a century old this summer.
Mr. Schumann has been the artistic director, or whatever you want to call him, of the theater since he founded it in New York City in 1963.
Bread and Puppet is often referred to as political theater. The company, comprised of a small cast of core employees who are complemented by a large set of mostly seasonal volunteers, puts on shows with strong, political themes, usually in protest of capitalism, corporatism, and imperialism. These shows, which Bread and Puppet refers to as “the circus,” happen here in Glover every Sunday for a couple months in summer. After each performance, audience members are treated to homemade bread, baked by Mr. Schumann himself.
Bread and Puppet also hosts a variety of other events at the Bread and Puppet farm — sometimes talks, sometimes shape-note sings, sometimes art exhibits — but it’s the Sunday circuses for which they’re best known.
Local people, even if they’ve never been to the circus, will recognize Bread and Puppet’s trademark larger-than-life, papier-mâché puppets, some worn by people on stilts, which appear regularly in community parades. The company also tours around the world, appearing at events like festivals and rock concerts.
The Bread and Puppet Museum, housed in an old barn on the company’s farm, has long been a site frequented by visitors and natives of the Northeast Kingdom. The museum displays many of the old puppets from shows past, and has a small area where Bread and Puppet’s trademark posters, prints, and calendars may be purchased.
Bread and Puppet has been based here in Glover for most of its existence, but an eye to the whole world has informed its performances since the very beginning.
Mr. Schumann said he chooses the Bread and Puppet show themes using “things we’re totally upset by. We don’t choose them, they choose us.”
He says he focuses on issues for which there are no other outlets.
“You meet people who are so frustrated with the state of the world,” he said. “But there’s no outlet for them.”
He says the circus themes are the “result of the stupid New York Times, or whatever, these miserable news organs. What they don’t print, or talk about, is what we do, or what they only mention — things that need more mentioning.”
For an example, Mr. Schumann points to an edition of the New York Times from this past April. He says that the front page read something like, “Boston bomb outrage,” and that a story about the destruction of an Afghan village by U.S. drones was buried on page 35. He said the village was seen as just “collateral damage.”
Bread and Puppet circuses often refer to many different world incidents — the performance on July 28 paid respect to Operation Enduring Freedom, including the number of people killed, and a solo dance for Trayvon Martin, involving a black flag. Those acts were part of the “Total This and That Circus, Part One: This, Part Two: That,” which is the theme for Bread and Puppet’s fiftieth year.
“People come for obscure reasons, not the normal theater reasons, getting your money’s worth of giggles and tears. We don’t provide that. We don’t feel obliged,” Mr. Schumann said.
“It’s bread and puppet, and we mean that. The puppetry is to create the situation to share the bread, because without that you couldn’t persuade them, in a capitalist country, to come and eat bread. They’d be too skeptical.
“What we’re trying to sell is zero value,” he said, in reference to the free bread. “And that’s hard to sell, so we must make puppetry. It’s a trick.”
A bit of history
“The bread came before the theater,” said Elka Schumann, in an interview on the Bread and Puppet farm.
Ms. Schumann has been married to Mr. Schumann a long time, and is deeply involved in Bread and Puppet, and particularly in its music.
“Peter is the founder, the artist, and the director,” she said. “I gave support and criticism, I’ve nagged, and done all those things wives are famous for.”
Ms. Schumann said the famous Bread and Puppet bread is a Schumann family recipe.
“Peter learned it from his mom, sourdough rye. She baked it for the family until her death at over 100.”
She said the original recipe is pure rye, sourdough, salt and water. The original, all-rye bread used to be served to members of the circus audience. “But Peter kept noticing bread in the garbage with one bite taken out.”
So he created a recipe that is half rye berries and half whole-wheat flour.
“It’s more generally liked,” she said.
She said the rye berries are still ground by hand on the farm, using a mill from England.
The bread is baked in ovens built in a Quebecois style, with clay splashed on bent branches. “Sort of like a loosely woven basket,” she said. “It’s just a really simple, great place to bake over 100 loaves at a time.”
She said that Mr. Schumann bakes bread about four times per week in the summer. The bread is served at the circuses, but it’s also sold at some locations, and it is devoured by the puppeteers at the farm.
The Bread and Puppet bread is always served with aioli, which they started doing after encountering it while on tour in southern France. Ms. Schumann said the aioli is just mashed garlic with oil dribbled in.
But long before aioli and hundreds of loaves of bread at a time, came the puppet shows in New York City.
Mr. and Ms. Schumann lived in the Lower East Side in the early 1960s. They had a loft on Delancey Street, within walking distance of their home, and it was there that Mr. Schumann began his puppet career.
Ms. Schumann said that Mr. Schumann had dreamed up a new sort of dance as a high school student in his native Germany. The dance would include ordinary gestures, like walking and then stopping, done by a group of people all very focused on what they were doing.
“There was no interest in this in Germany, in the ’50s, in something so strange,” she said.
But then they came to New York.
“In New York City he met this whole world of avant-garde artists,” Ms. Schumann said. “Then he went to a puppet festival of the Puppeteers of America, who had a very orthodox style. But there was a group there from Sicily with marionettes with simple technology, which Peter liked. Their plays were retellings of the Crusades. It put puppetry in a totally different light.”
That was 1961.
Mr. Schumann would put on puppet shows for kids in his Delancey Street loft. Before long, he moved on to bigger puppets.
“And then right away he made huge masks, and had the puppeteers inside the whole figures, and then later they got so big they needed two people — one person manipulating and one inside,” Ms. Schumann said.
“In the U.S., in the early ’60s, there was a real openness in the air to strange kinds of theater,” Ms. Schumann said. “There was an audience for those things.”
“There were immediately volunteers who wanted to express political feelings, who wanted to do more than attend meetings and hold a sign.”
Bread and Puppet became known for protest against the Vietnam War. Their first tour abroad was for the piece, “Fire,” which was about three Americans who set themselves on fire in protest to the war. Bread and Puppet performed the piece in their loft and in a New York City church.
“A French talent scout saw it and invited Bread and Puppet to Nancy, France, in 1968, for a big festival,” Ms. Schumann said.
“We were somehow riding this wave of protest, anti-war feelings, general turmoil of society. Things were moving away from talking head monologue in theater, to spectacle and audience participation.”
Bread and Puppet’s big puppets were a hit, and the company was invited to many big festivals from there. Ms. Schumann said that they traveled to Europe several times per year over the next decade to perform.
In the early ’70s, Goddard College in Plainfield invited Bread and Puppet to be the school’s theater in residence. The Schumanns stayed at a nearby farm, the Cate Farm, during the four-year appointment.
The invitation was a welcome one. The Schumanns had been living in New York City with their five children, and had been longing for the countryside.
“It felt so good to have a home in the country, and to have gardens,” Ms. Schumann said.
Bread and Puppet’s stop at Goddard was an important one. It was there, in 1974, that they performed the first of their annual “Our Domestic Resurrection Circus.”
“That was the prototype,” Ms. Schumann said.
Different versions of that circus would be performed from then on, every summer, until 1998.
But the circus would not live on in Plainfield. “We were there until the college politely implied that this was temporary faculty housing,” Ms. Schumann said. They paid no rent and made no salary, “but had a beautiful facility,” she said.
As luck would have it, Ms. Schumann’s parents had recently bought the old Dopp farm in Glover. Restoration of old buildings turned out to be more than they bargained for, so they let their daughter and son-in-law move onto the farm with their family. It was there that the circus, which became a major two-day event, would continue.
The Domestic Resurrection circus was the result of two to four months of work each summer, Ms. Schumann said. The circuses were performed by the core company and many volunteers, sometimes off the street.
The Glover farm had a ready-made amphitheater in which the circuses were, and still are, performed. The space was originally a gravel pit.
“Scores of trucks would take gravel away, and it went to I-91,” Ms. Schumann said. “It was supposed to be filled back in, but Peter said, ‘don’t touch a thing!’ It was perfect for the circuses.”
The first circus in Glover was in 1975, the same year the Bread and Puppet Museum opened.
Over the years, the Bread and Puppet circus, held in late August, would become a major attraction for people from all over the world.
The annual Our Domestic Resurrection Circus was something like an allegorical play dealing with good versus evil, involving giant papier-mâché puppets, stilts, and a big brass band.
It was a show where you would see Governor Madeline Kunin in the crowd, or Congressman Bernie Sanders in the performance itself, on election years.
The circus was a weekend event which drew crowds of tens of thousands to a town in which fewer than one thousand people resided.
This meant many cars, and many tents, stationed near the Bread and Puppet farm, located off Route 122.
A Chronicle article from August 17, 1983, reads that the circus “left a line of parked cars that stretched 11 miles along routes 122 and 16 in Glover, and filled several hayfields and gravel pits that were pressed into weekend service as parking lots. Because the circus is free, nobody knows how many people came. But Deputy Sheriff Ray Young of Glover measured the miles of cars, made some calculations, and estimated crowds of 15,000 on both Saturday and Sunday.”
By 1998, the crowd estimate reached 30,000.
The people brought with them traffic, but they also brought business.
“Oh mister, talk about busy,” said Jimmy Currier, who owns Currier’s Quality Market on Route 16 in Glover, a short distance down the road from Bread and Puppet.
“That was the busiest day of the year, when the old circuses were on for a weekend, years ago. It was unreal.
“If a show was out, and you came into Currier’s, all you could see was heads,” he said. “And on the street there were so many people.”
He said that Currier’s would get a tractor-trailer of just ice for the show goers, along with plenty of beer, wine, fruit, and produce for salads.
“They weren’t the bologna type.”
“If I remember, the juice section would get wiped out, tons of water, cases of water. Sold it all. We would have somebody pumping gas,” he said.
“The Busy Bee, the little diner across the street, Edna Chamberlain ran it, and she was right out straight,” he said. “Course you got to remember there were a lot of food booths, but Edna was very busy.”
Mr. Currier said that he liked the excitement the circus brought. Not everyone in town shared this sentiment.
“I do know there were some people in town that did not like it. I could hear grumbling,” he said. “I never discussed it with anybody, but I could hear grumbling. Some did not like it. Flat out right.”
Mr. Currier said he never had any issues in the store, even with so many strangers around.
“The Bread and Puppet people were really docile,” he said. “Always courteous, never wise.”
“I don’t really think there was ever any trouble, ever, until the wrong people started coming,” he said.
“It was always a very family-oriented environment, and even to the end, the environment on the farm itself was very family friendly,” said Randy Williams, an EMT who was captain of the Glover Ambulance Squad when the big circuses were still around. “But the campgrounds did take on a life of their own.”
“All the fields surrounding Bread and Puppet were camping areas,” Mr. Williams said. “Even the gravel pit, Thompson’s gravel pit, back behind Bread and Puppet, that was a big parking area.”
Mr. Williams helped treat many people for a variety of issues during the circus weekends.
“We were getting like ten ambulance calls a day, which for us was overwhelming, and in fact we’d have to call in Barton ambulance to take some of the calls,” he said. “We only had one ambulance, and we were being run ragged, because it was 24/7 with all the campers.”
Eventually, the Glover Ambulance Squad set up a tent right in the Bread and Puppet field.
“Over a period of several years, this tent escalated in size, and we eventually put up an old army tent that was, I believe, 30 by 50 or something like that,” he said. “It really for all intents and purposes was a MASH unit tent.”
“And we got a lot of visits. Over the weekend, we would treat over 100 people,” he said. “I mean most of it was just real benign stuff, like heat problems.”
Mr. Williams even went around to all the campground areas and lined up landing zones for the Dartmouth-Hitchcock helicopter, in the event of a major emergency, like a big fire.
“We never had to use that service, but it just illustrates how elaborate our setup was.”
Over the years, the number of people who showed up just to party grew. Some people would need to be treated for drinking too much, or overdosing on drugs.
“We had people that had never done LSD before, and somebody gave them some down at the campground and they came wandering up to the field and had no earthly idea where they were, and they got freaked out because they didn’t understand what was happening to their body and their mind,” he said. “We’d take them to the tent, let them lay down for a couple hours, and generally they’d be fine.”
“Part of the reason that that evolved, we understand from talking to people that were doing this, was they saw Bread and Puppet as a fun thing to do between say a Phish concert in Boston and a Grateful Dead concert in Montreal. They would stop over for the weekend and party at Bread and Puppet, and many of them never even went up to see what Bread and Puppet was. They just paid their money and camped and partied, and they ended up dancing in the fires, and eating the local mushrooms which caused some major health issues, so it was a whole other scene when all that started to happen.”
Mr. Williams said he had several patients who gave that explanation when asked why they were at Bread and Puppet.
“Peter had been concerned about it for years, that the traffic was bad, dogs were an issue, there were all kinds of things that started to progress,” said Betsy Day, who is also an EMT who worked at the Bread and Puppet circuses. “And every year they tried to solve it in a different way, and every year the crowd got bigger.”
The final weekend-long Our Domestic Resurrection Circus was held in 1998. That year, a man named Michael Sarazin died after having been punched in the head at one of the nearby campgrounds.
Some people blamed alcohol and drugs, some people blamed Phish, some people blamed bad luck, but one thing was for sure — it spelled the end of the major circus.
In an announcement in the Chronicle on August 19, 1998, Mr. Schumann said that Mr. Sarazin’s death “makes the continuation of the event impossible.”
Bread and Puppet would continue to give smaller shows throughout the ensuing summers.
“I’ve always thought very highly of Peter for calling it, because of that,” said Mr. Williams. “Because you had to remember that the one weekend circus pageant was their major fund-raiser for the year. But it was obviously, philosophically, the right thing to do.”
Mr. Williams also pointed out that many other people benefited financially from the circuses.
“It was a huge financial weekend for Jim Currier, the Busy Bee, and every business within a 20-mile radius probably,” he said. “There were no places to stay other than the campgrounds, with what meager pickings there are here for lodging, but the farmers certainly made tons of money, and so when it went away of course that depleted that source of income as well.”
“There were of course factions of people that were disgruntled about the whole thing, but there was no denying that it was an economic boon to the community,” he said.
He also said the Glover fire department would make thousands of dollars each year through a roadside coin drop.
Mr. Williams said the Bread and Puppet circuses gave the members of the ambulance squad valuable experience.
“You got a volume of varied calls, and you had to use your training to deal with it, and we did a great job doing that,” he said.
“It gave us, us on the ambulance squad, a lot of experience that we would not have had, and therefore a real sense of pride that we were able to get it done.”
Bread and Puppet in the world
“The theater has given so much to the community,” said Linda Wells, who has retired after 28 years as librarian of the Craftsbury Public Library.
She said Bread and Puppet helped when the library needed a new building. “Bread and Puppet did a big show in the high school gym, and all the proceeds went to building the Craftsbury library, which was very kind.”
She said that Bread and Puppet works with Upward Bound, a college-preparatory program for kids who will be the first in their families to attend a university.
Bread and Puppet also performs for people in Independence Day parades, at Old Home days, and at libraries and nursing homes.
“The tradition of summer parades are a great chance to bring these puppets to people who wouldn’t dream of coming to shows or the museum,” Ms. Schumann said. “It’s a way to bring theater to the community.”
Ms. Wells also said that Bread and Puppet helps teach people how to be heard.
“When there’s an issue we care about, or is disturbing to us, they will come and help us with parading and protest,” she said. “They’ve taught us a lot about how to speak out. That can be very hard in a small community, to find a voice for that.”
Ms. Wells has been involved with Bread and Puppet since 1977, “before the circuses were even big.”
She used to perform in the big weekend circuses.
“It was fabulous. A little — what’s the word? — nerve-wracking, in front of that many people, to get your cues right. You’d sleep for about two weeks after. It was intense.”
Ms. Wells said that both her children were inspired to become musicians thanks to Bread and Puppet. “No question about it.”
Her son played violin for a long time after seeing someone in Bread and Puppet with one; he’s since moved on to guitar. Her daughter plays cello in a band called Anodyne Gearhart, based in Portland, Oregon. Her kids were involved with the Bread and Puppet Theater right until college.
“It’s had a huge influence on us, in all aspects, and each one of us has been influenced strongly by the theater, in a good way.”
She said her family has made friendships from all over the world through the theater.
“We started coming here because we felt very akin to what the stories were about, and things going on in the world.”
Amy Trompetter of Rosendale, New York, has been involved with Bread and Puppet since 1968. She grew up in Ohio, attended Berkeley, and found Bread and Puppet in New York.
“It was exactly what I was looking for,” she said.
She has a theater company in Rosendale called Redwing Blackbird which is “heavily influenced by building giant puppets, backdrops, and activism.”
Ms. Trompetter said that Bread and Puppet is “a model for living outside the compromises of work life in the U.S. The corporate model is dominant. People spend their lives doing something they don’t want to do. Bread and Puppet says it’s possible to have integrity in what you do. To live simply, without needing.”
Ms. Trompetter is one of the many puppeteers who arrange their lives to be able to live in Glover for the summer to perform with the theater.
“It’s like my tribe,” she said. “When I’m in Rosendale, I’m convincing people that what we’re doing is effective and working. But when I’m here, we’re all on the same track.”
“The wish to live differently is embodied in doing the theater,” she said. “It gives us spirit and happiness, which is the kind of life we’re wanting.”
The Bread and Puppet farm teems with activity in summer. Drop by on a random weekday, and you’ll find a group of maybe 20 people singing shape-note songs beneath the shade of a tree. Some are out back behind the shed, painting signs or sculpting papier-mâché. Some are inside preparing the lunch that everyone will share at noon. Some are out in the print shop painting the iris and rose prints that adorn the houses of many, whether they’ve been to a Bread and Puppet show or not. Mr. Schumann can be found in the thick of it, working on a giant mask, and later, doling out bread to his volunteers.
Everybody is doing something, working on the same thing in different ways. And yet the energy is calm. There is no need to give orders. The schedule is scratched onto a chalkboard that sits near the lunch hut. The different hours of the day list tasks like “paper mache,” “turkeys,” “stilt rehearsal,” and “outhouse gallery walk.”
Ms. Schumann said that some people refer to the farm as “a bubble.”
“We’ve been so enormously lucky to find this place and also the people who give creatively and who organize, which is very important,” she said. “The days are so full.”
Bread and Puppet has few year-round employees. The rest are either volunteers or seasonal employees, many of whom travel from all over the world to work in Glover for the summer.
Katherine Nook, a Utah native, is a Bread and Puppet staff member and lives on the Glover farm year-round. She is the resident puppeteer, which means she does everything from performing on tour to feeding the pigs on the farm in the morning.
She also helps organize the team of summer interns who descend upon Glover every summer. She said they get more and more letters every year from people from all over the world who want to be an intern at Bread and Puppet.
“One hundred and six people wrote letters to be interns this year. There were only 35 spots, though,” she said.
Ms. Schumann said that, in summer, there are 40 to 60 people living on the Bread and Puppet farm for a couple months. They mostly stay in tents and defunct touring buses.
“They come for two months,” she said. “They learn to do it all — print, wash dishes, mow the lawn, rehearse. We encourage people to do their own little shows before the big circus.”
Ms. Schumann said that many people who have traveled to Glover to work with the theater have bought land in the area to live permanently.
Linda Elbow of West Glover, who is a native of New Jersey, began working with Bread and Puppet in the ’70s. At the time, she was working in theater costuming at Goddard.
“When Bread and Puppet was based at Cate Farm, they would come into that theater to perform before going out on the road, and so I was spying on them,” she said. “And I was also very interested in what Peter was talking about, like scale, depth, and sound. But I was totally terrified of getting to know those people, because they were like wild European hippies in my mind. But I just got to know them better, and I decided they weren’t so wild after all.”
These days, she’s the business manager for the theater, which means she handles the money and books the shows on tour.
Bread and Puppet is one of the oldest nonprofit theaters in the country. It does not seek out grants of any type, which Ms. Elbow said is important.
“We just want to be free,” she said. “We don’t want to have any restrictions on what we’re doing.”
Ms. Elbow acknowledged that some Bread and Puppet performances most likely happen because of grant funding, which is sometimes from the government.
“When we perform at a local school here in Vermont, chances are they got their funding from a state council through the government, and that probably happens when we go to colleges, too,” she said. “But we do not apply for these things directly at all.”
Ms. Elbow said that a mix of donations, payments for touring shows, and sales from the print shop, along with countless volunteer hours, are what make it possible for Bread and Puppet to function.
“We do get donations throughout the year,” she said. “Anything from $10 to like a $1,000. One family gives $10,000 each year. That helps.”
“We try to be very low budget,” she said. The paid puppeteers make very modest salaries, she said, and the theater company provides them with room and board.
Bread and Puppet also asks to be both housed and fed when invited on tour.
“We usually stay in local homes. I can remember sleeping on a church floor one time when I was touring with the company.”
A single afternoon on the Bread and Puppet farm revealed several ways in which the company pinches pennies.
Mr. Schumann said that, not counting paint, Bread and Puppet has only spent about $30 on its papier-mâché supplies over the last 35 years.
The company has been using the same batch of cornstarch — “either a half a ton, or a ton,” he couldn’t remember — in its papier-mâché puppets for over 35 years, after buying a big load in the late ’70s.
“It was a nice deal,” Mr. Schumann said. “We share it with the mice.”
He also said most of the cardboard used for papier-mâché is from a load of scraps he received in the late ’70s from a friend who worked at a cardboard factory. Bread and Puppet continues to add to that supply, picking up cardboard from furniture and appliance stores for free.
“That’s our religion — ‘cheapicity,’ it’s called. I don’t know which Gods,” he said. “Dozens, probably.”
Mr. Schumann acknowledged that volunteer work is a major force at Bread and Puppet.
“We can’t afford to hire,” he said.
Providing entertainment to everyone, even if they don’t have any money, is a focus of the theater.
“We performed in a park in downtown Richmond, Virginia, and most of the audience lived in the park, homeless on benches,” said Noah Harrell, who works with Bread and Puppet in summer. “And they went there for the bread, and they saw the show.
“They would stick around afterwards and eat bread and mingle with the other people who didn’t live in the park,” he said. “When would those two people spend time together? And share bread together?”
Mr. Harrell said that Bread and Puppet tours all over the world in a variety of venues. He said the theater did a show in Tuscany, Italy, last month, where Bread and Puppet was the highlight performer of a big festival. But the theater has also worked in Palestine, and in Haiti after the massive earthquake in 2010.
“Usually when we tour abroad it’s organizations that have enough money to bring us. Unfortunately, that’s the reality of it,” he said. “Often the groups that would benefit most from the Bread and Puppet style of performance aren’t necessarily the ones that could afford to bring us, so there are a lot of festivals, puppetry festivals, performance festivals, music festivals.”
When he’s not in Glover, Mr. Harrell runs a small theater company of his own in his native North Carolina called the Rural Academy Theater. He said Rural Academy provides horse-drawn theater that tours mostly in the southeast.
Mr. Harrell studied theater and has a master’s degree in directing.
“I often say that to join Bread and Puppet, I had to unlearn that training,” he said.
He said his time at Bread and Puppet has informed his company’s work.
“It’s hard not to see the influence,” he said. “I’ve learned at Bread and Puppet not to make things too carefully, and that’s not a criticism of Bread and Puppet at all. One of the strengths of Bread and Puppet is leaving something for the audience to do, not finishing a visual piece completely, giving a hint at something and letting the audience participate.
“It’s not a polar opposite to traditional, Western theater,” he said, of the Bread and Puppet style. “But there’s a lot more emphasis on the group, and the strength of a group of performers, as opposed to individual performers.”
He said it can sometimes be difficult for an actor to let go of the ego of being the solo performer, “but the effect can be powerful.”
Bread and Puppet’s work is well known in the arts world. The theater has received numerous awards, including the Obie Lifetime Achievement Award, in 1984, which is given by the New York City newspaper The Village Voice, for off-Broadway productions. That year Mr. Schumann also accepted the Erasmus Prize, a major arts award in Europe. Other past Erasmus winners include Charlie Chaplin, Ingmar Bergman, and Peter Sellars.
“Bread and Puppet has been around for 50 years, so the name is familiar enough and the style has become familiar enough to a lot of people that that reputation alone can sometimes be what brings us on tour,” Mr. Harrell said. “But at the same time, in the U.S., even in New England, people have never seen us before, and that’s exciting. Bread and Puppet isn’t mainstream. There’s a big following and a big family, but it’s still somewhat under the radar.”
“Some people come for the theater and get the bread, some people come for the bread and get the theater, and the message is somewhere in the middle in there,” he said.
Mr. Schumann will turn 80 years old next year. When asked if he envisions a future for Bread and Puppet beyond his own life, he surprised this reporter by giving a direct answer.
“We’re talking about that a lot, naturally,” he said. “It’s complicated — the farm, the agriculture, the living situation, the print shop, the storage, which has way more than the museum.”
“Some of Bread and Puppet is continuable, and some not,” he said. “It’s a problem. I have no answer for this.”
As a member of the core company, Ms. Elbow has been working on the issue some.
“About five years ago, we created a new board, to talk about what’s going to happen when Peter’s not here,” she said. “Do we want to tour? Perform here? Do we want to forget about it? No major decisions have been made.”
Ms. Elbow said that Mr. Schumann is the company’s artistic director. “And that’s the only director we have.
“He thinks up these ideas. Sometimes he even comes down to us with a script or with a good outline of ideas. Other times he has vaguer ideas, like ‘go out to the shed, find some stuff, start having some conversations, and tell me what you got,’” she said.
“Sometimes we’re successful, sometimes we’re not. Sometimes the best ideas have come up when we’ve broken for lunch. Sometimes it comes from fooling around and Peter says, ‘yes, yes, that’s a good idea,’ so it depends on the resident company and all the interns we have.”
She said that though Bread and Puppet’s cast of workers all collaborate on the shows, Mr. Schumann is, ultimately, the decision maker.
“I’ve always thought of him as the big eyes and ears,” she said.
For now, Mr. Schumann has ideas on how the circus should proceed. This year marks the beginning of a return to the old style, of just one complete show.
In years past, the Sunday shows have been divided into two parts: the circus, which takes place in the field, which is followed by a short break, then the pageant portion of the show, which happens uphill. Then comes the bread.
“It was too comfortable,” Mr. Schumann said, of the two-part shows. “Now we make it so you have to come uphill to see the rest of it.”
Mr. Schumann called this new form, which is really the old form, “a landscape piece.”
He said it’s “something that is an attempt to create what Greeks did, Chinese, Balinese, to make a total, complete whole, or an incomplete thing — a giant, arrogant idea. We’re still chasing it, we’re not done.”
Bread and Puppet’s Total This and That Circus will continue every Sunday, starting with smaller, side shows at 2 p.m., through August 25.
contact Natalie Hormilla at firstname.lastname@example.org
by Joseph Gresser
GLOVER — An annual community event with a weight of tradition always faces the risk of becoming stodgy. Glover Day, with its Chamberlain Run, bicycle race and puppet show re-enacting the story of Runaway Pond, could easily become a snooze. But the citizens of Glover are too resourceful to allow that to happen.
For the 2013 edition of the town celebration Glover mined a new vein of history and came up with a unique competition — the Johnnie Prindle lookalike and song contest. In the latter part of the nineteenth century Mr. Prindle was a successful vaudeville performer, who, when not touring the country, made his home in Glover.
Earlier this year a group of his descendants presented a collection of his papers to the Glover Historical Society. That was the inspiration for this year’s contest, which brought out a group of talented performers each trying to outdo the others as they played and sang some of the songs that brought Mr. Prindle fame and some degree of fortune.
Glover Selectman Jack Sumberg served as the master of ceremonies for the contest, and introduced a novel mode of deciding its winner — the “silent clap-o-meter.” Mr. Sumberg and his partner in judgment, Linda Elbow, claimed to be able to detect the enthusiasm felt by spectators as they thought about applauding for contestants in the lookalike competition. He did not reveal the method by which the judges reached their verdict on the best performance of a Johnnie Prindle song.
Mr. Prindle’s songs were written in a wide variety of styles, and some were clearly not intended to be performed by him. One that was, though, was “I’m Not As Green As I Look,” a piece used in his personation of Ruben Glue, a hayseed from Glover.
Bread and Puppet stalwart Jason Hicks, outfitted in a seersucker jacket and top hat, was backed by Lily Paulina on baritone horn and Hannah Temple on accordion. Mr. Hicks was progressively drenched by Erin Bell, in accord with the admonition repeated in the song’s chorus — “Let’s push it down into the brook.”
When Mr. Hicks finished the song Ms. Bell threw him over her shoulder and ran off with him toward the Barton River. He returned, soaked to the skin, during the second act on the bill.
That was a winsome trio made up of Joan Alexander, Lynne Birdsall and Celia Latham vamping their way through “Ma’s So ’Fraid We’ll Get Stole.” As they peered over their fans and flirted with the audience, Ma’s fears appeared to be well founded.
Johnnie Prindle’s attempt at topical satire was taken on by Geoff Goodhue. With accompaniment by Lindsay McCaw and bubbles provided by Maura Gahan, Mr. Goodhue sang about a series of impossibilities including police officers making a hundred dollars a day and women getting the vote.
These and other amazing eventualities were predicted to happen “Not this year, but some other year.”
When Susie Perkins and Sophia Cannizzaro took the stage in tatterdemalion with dirt-smudged faces, the program took a sharp turn toward the pathetic. Accompanied by Ms. Cannizzaro’s fiddle, Ms. Perkins shook a small tin with a few coins in it as the pair sang “The Little Waif.”
Their rendition of the tear-jerker was affecting enough that members of the audience spontaneously left their seats to add coppers to Ms. Perkins small store of wealth, much to the performers’ surprise. They pulled in enough over the course of the song for Ms. Cannizzaro to buy a refreshing ice cream cone.
Greg Corbino accompanied himself on accordion as he asked the musical question “Who Am I?” The enigmatic song was billed as Mr. Prindle’s great specialty, but Mr. Corbino, who performed the chorus as a sing-along, failed to supply the answer.
The contest concluded as Lila Winstead sang a sad piano bench song to a lunch bucket. Ms. Winstead said Mr. Prindle wrote the many, many verses of
“The Little Tin Bucket” in an apparent attempt to capitalize on the market for sentimental ballads. She said she remains unsure whether the Glover tunesmith was copying the trend or satirizing it.
Mr. Sumberg’s silent clap-o-meter determined that Mr. Goodhue was the person who bore the closest resemblance to Mr. Prindle and awarded him a set of sunglasses ornamented with a steel-cut engraving of the master.
Ms. Perkins and Ms. Cannizzaro took the golden Barbie trophy as best interpreter of Mr. Prindle’s songs.
Other Glover Day novelties included the defeat of Tara Nelson for the title of fastest woman in the 5.5-mile Chamberlain Run. Ms. Nelson had held that distinction since 2005, but was outpaced this year by Leah Frost.
Ms. Frost is from Maine, but plans to remain in the area and has been engaged by North Country Union High School to coach its cross-country team.
Red Sky Trading Company attracted a big crowd as owner Cheri Safford played host to a celebration of local foods. Visitors were able to sample from a farm-to-table tasting menu featuring locally made cheeses and meats, along with produce from local farms. Bethany Dunbar also read from Kingdom’s Bounty, her illustrated catalog of local food producers, to provide context for the meal.
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by Joseph Gresser
GREENSBORO — Secrets are notoriously hard to keep in small towns. But Greensboro has managed to keep a thriving arts organization quiet for eight years.
With its tent theater set up on the green in front of the Town Hall in the middle of town, the Greensboro Arts Alliance’s days of flying under the radar have likely come to an end though.
That suits director Sabra Jones just fine. The New York actor and acting teacher said in one of her increasingly rare free moments Sunday that her organization has been so busy trying to get its shows together that it’s had little time left for publicity.
Ms. Jones said she hopes this year is different.
She has been putting on staged readings and fully staged shows in Greensboro over the past eight years, she said. In previous years the company performed in a barn near Caspian Lake and in a tent behind the Lakeview Inn on Breezy Avenue.
By moving to the lawn in front of the Town Hall the group is nearing its ultimate goal — renovating the building’s existing stage so it can be a permanent home for the company. Greensboro selectmen have appointed a committee to study the idea.
With a new space and a pair of shows running the last two weeks of July into the first week of August, the arts alliance is looking to build its audience, she said.
At a recent rehearsal of Thornton Wilder’s play Our Town, Ms. Jones told her cast that even for professional actors repertory theater is challenging. (The company will perform Meredith Wilson’s The Music Man on alternating nights.) Her group has an advantage, Ms. Jones told them in that “our company is the whole town of Greensboro.”
If that’s an exaggeration, it’s not much of one. While one group of actors worked on their lines at the Fellowship Hall of the Greensboro United Church of Christ, crews were working on turning an ordinary tent into a space for theater in the round.
The designer of the ingenious stage, Richard Alexander, is also a leading actor in The Music Man, playing an anvil salesman with a grudge against the hero, Harold Hill. His son Elye, who was also a force in the construction of the temporary theater, performs in Our Town.
Wardrobe mistress Sonia Dunbar is also in the musical’s chorus. On the Friday before the show’s opening, she received a delivery of band uniforms for the show’s final scene.
The man who brought them cautioned her that they were not to be altered. Ms. Dunbar smiled serenely.
“No problem. The stage directions describes them as ‘ill fitting.’” she said.
Ms. Jones has gotten some serious help in running the enterprise. She is sharing directing chores with her son Charles McAteer, who is at the helm of Our Town, and local theater eminence Rosann Hickey Cook, who earlier in the season directed a reading of Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology.
In addition, the casts of the two fully staged shows include professional actors. Marla Schaffel, who plays Marion the town librarian in Music Man, created the role of Jane Eyre in the Broadway musical of the same name and was rewarded for her performance with a Tony nomination. Harold Hill is played by Anthony Wills Jr., whose long list of credits includes serving as artistic director of Artistic Pride Productions and an award-winning production of Master Harold… and the boys.
David Beck plays George Gibbs in Our Town. He starred with Ms. Schaffel last year in the arts alliance’s production of The Sound Of Music. In New York his credits include The More Loving One, a New York Fringe Festival award winning play, and The Long Ride Home, performed at the Cherry Lane Theater.
Ms. Jones considered more than just acting ability in choosing her guest performers. In rehearsals she stresses the need for performers to “love each other.” Watching the professionals work with the local performers, one can see that ethos in action.
One afternoon music director Justin Jacobs worked with Andrew King, one of two actors who will play the role of Winthrop Paroo, the lisping brother of Marion in Music Man. The ten-year-old performer was having trouble with a difficult song, which was at the top of his singing range.
Mr. Jacobs explained what needed to be done and encouraged Andrew as he struggled to figure out how to hit the notes in the passage. Mr. Jacobs’ patience brought forth a super human effort from the young singer, and the two shared an evident sense of triumph when Andrew mastered the song.
Similarly, Ms. Schaffel showed real tenderness while rehearsing a scene with Abigail Demers, who plays Amaryllis and yearns to be Winthrop’s love interest.
Ms. Jones said she believes that “everybody is famous, everybody has talent.” She laughed delightedly when Krissie Ohlrogge, whose talent has hitherto been largely confined to her vast literary output, improvised a pratfall in Music Man.
After making sure she hadn’t hurt herself, Ms. Jones whooped with laughter.
“This is so brilliant, we’ve got to keep it. We have to practice it, but we’re certainly going to keep it,” Ms. Jones said.
The choice of plays was also clearly well thought out. All three of the alliance’s main offerings are examinations of small town life. Even though the smallest of the fictional communities depicted in the shows — Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire — is quite a bit bigger than Greensboro, aspects of the town’s life still ring true.
Ms. Jones has helped to bind the townspeople together in a common effort as much as Harold Hill in Music Man does with his boy’s band.
And the arts alliance makes much sweeter music.
Our Town opens on July 23 with performances on July 26, 28, and 30, and August 2 and 4.
The Music Man premieres on July 24 with shows on July 25, 27, and 31, and August 1 and 3.
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