Sterling College hosts Governor’s Institute on Farms, Food and Your Future

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High school student Toby Marx-Dunn of Jericho attempts to plow a straight furrow under the guidance of Sterling College draft horse manager Rick Thomas (at left), while Sterling students Lee Droste (at right) and Dave Martorana (immediately to the right of Mr. Marx-Dunn) help with the animals.  Sterling hosted the first Governor’s Institute on Farms, Food, and Your Future.  Photos by Bethany M. Dunbar

High school student Toby Marx-Dunn of Jericho attempts to plow a straight furrow under the guidance of Sterling College draft horse manager Rick Thomas (at left), while Sterling students Lee Droste (at right) and Dave Martorana (immediately to the right of Mr. Marx-Dunn) help with the animals. Sterling hosted the first Governor’s Institute on Farms, Food, and Your Future. Photos by Bethany M. Dunbar

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.

High school students at the Governor’s Institute on Farms, Food and Your Future walk through the turkey pen to see the pasture at Sterling College in Craftsbury.

High school students at the Governor’s Institute on Farms, Food and Your Future walk through the turkey pen to see the pasture at Sterling College in Craftsbury.

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.

contact Bethany M. Dunbar at bethany@bartonchronicle.com

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Bread and Puppet celebrates half a century

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Pictured is Peter Schumann, with many other puppeteers, opening the Total This and That Circus in Glover on July 28.  Photo by Natalie Hormilla

Pictured is Peter Schumann, with many other puppeteers, opening the Total This and That Circus in Glover on July 28. Photo by Natalie Hormilla

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.

Pictured is a scene from a Bread and Puppet circus which ran in the Chronicle on September 1, 1982.  The caption read, “Giant washerwoman and garbage man puppets performed a square dance just before the grand finale of this year’s Bread and Puppet circus in Glover on Saturday and Sunday.”  Photo by Jim Doyle

Pictured is a scene from a Bread and Puppet circus which ran in the Chronicle on September 1, 1982. The caption read, “Giant washerwoman and garbage man puppets performed a square dance just before the grand finale of this year’s Bread and Puppet circus in Glover on Saturday and Sunday.” Photo by Jim Doyle

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.

This photo ran in the September 1, 1982, edition of the Chronicle.  The caption read, “The giant apes — operated by puppeteers on four stilts — are among the more imposing features of the afternoon Bread and Puppet circus.”  Photo by Jim Doyle

This photo ran in the September 1, 1982, edition of the Chronicle. The caption read, “The giant apes — operated by puppeteers on four stilts — are among the more imposing features of the afternoon Bread and Puppet circus.” Photo by Jim Doyle

“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.

This is a shot of the circus and the crowd at Bread and Puppet from the August 17, 1983, edition of the Chronicle.  The photo accompanied an article that wrote about the fact that show goers left almost no litter behind after the circus weekend, despite a crowd estimated at 15,000 on each day.  File photo

This is a shot of the circus and the crowd at Bread and Puppet from the August 17, 1983, edition of the Chronicle. The photo accompanied an article that wrote about the fact that show goers left almost no litter behind after the circus weekend, despite a crowd estimated at 15,000 on each day. File photo

“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 circus

 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.”

This is a shot of the crowd at the 1997 Bread and Puppet circus.  This photo has not run in the Chronicle previously.  Photo by Cécile Daurat

This is a shot of the crowd at the 1997 Bread and Puppet circus. This photo has not run in the Chronicle previously. Photo by Cécile Daurat

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.

This photo ran in the August 13, 1997, edition of the Chronicle.  The caption read, “A dance of freedom by giant white birds happens at the end of the pageant.  A gigantic puppet holds the people in its arms and sets fire to a machine of oppression.”  Photo by Cécile Daurat

This photo ran in the August 13, 1997, edition of the Chronicle. The caption read, “A dance of freedom by giant white birds happens at the end of the pageant. A gigantic puppet holds the people in its arms and sets fire to a machine of oppression.” Photo by Cécile Daurat

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.

Pictured is the Bread and Puppet elephant puppet who runs the Run, Chamberlain, Run race at Glover Day.  In addition to shows the theater puts on at its farm in Glover, Bread and Puppet appears at community events throughout the year.  Photo by Natalie Hormilla

Pictured is the Bread and Puppet elephant puppet who runs the Run, Chamberlain, Run race at Glover Day. In addition to shows the theater puts on at its farm in Glover, Bread and Puppet appears at community events throughout the year. Photo by Natalie Hormilla

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.

The future

 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 natalie@bartonchronicle.com

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Glover Day honors a local vaudevillian

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Sophia Cannizzaro gazes in shock and awe at the Golden Barbie trophy she and Susie Perkins won for their rendition of “The Little Waif” at the Johnnie Prindle song contest.  Ms. Cannizzaro left after her rendition of the tragic ballad and returned to find that she had become the proud owner of the coveted award.

Sophia Cannizzaro gazes in shock and awe at the Golden Barbie trophy she and Susie Perkins won for their rendition of “The Little Waif” at the Johnnie Prindle song contest. Ms. Cannizzaro left after her rendition of the tragic ballad and returned to find that she had become the proud owner of the coveted award.  Photos by Joseph Gresser

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.

The first Johnnie Prindle song competition brings out the best competitors.  Here, from left to right, Joan Alexander, Lynne Birdsall, and Celia Latham vamp and preen for their adoring fans as they sing “Ma’s So ’Fraid We’ll Get Stole,” a warning of the dangers faced by those too amply supplied with beauty.

The first Johnnie Prindle song competition brings out the best competitors. Here, from left to right, Joan Alexander, Lynne Birdsall, and Celia Latham vamp and preen for their adoring fans as they sing “Ma’s So ’Fraid We’ll Get Stole,” a warning of the dangers faced by those too amply supplied with beauty.

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.

Geoff Goodhue does his best Johnnie Prindle impression.  He was awarded a pair of sunglasses bearing the image of the Glover vaudevillian for his role in the first Johnnie Prindle song contest at Glover Day on Saturday.

Geoff Goodhue does his best Johnnie Prindle impression. He was awarded a pair of sunglasses bearing the image of the Glover vaudevillian for his role in the first Johnnie Prindle song contest at Glover Day on Saturday.

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

Dameon Russell is congratulated at the end of the 2013 Chamberlain Run.  Mr. Russell, who hails from Newport, finished with a time of 31:02.  Second place finisher Max Lockwood of Washington, D.C., trailed by more than half a minute with a time of 31:40.

Dameon Russell is congratulated at the end of the 2013 Chamberlain Run. Mr. Russell, who hails from Newport, finished with a time of 31:02. Second place finisher Max Lockwood of Washington, D.C., trailed by more than half a minute with a time of 31:40.

“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.

Leah Frost streaks toward the finish line of the Chamberlain Run Saturday.  With a time of 32:55, Ms. Frost ended the eight-year reign of Tara Nelson as Glover’s fastest woman.  Ms. Nelson finished with an excellent time — 35:12 — and took fourth place overall in the race.  Ms. Frost was third.

Leah Frost streaks toward the finish line of the Chamberlain Run Saturday. With a time of 32:55, Ms. Frost ended the eight-year reign of Tara Nelson as Glover’s fastest woman. Ms. Nelson finished with an excellent time — 35:12 — and took fourth place overall in the race. Ms. Frost was third.

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.

contact Joseph Gresser at joseph@bartonchronicle.com

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Greensboro Arts Alliance — a well kept secret

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Greensboro Arts Alliance Director Sabra Jones.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

Greensboro Arts Alliance Director Sabra Jones. Photo by Joseph Gresser

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.”

Andrew King gestures in the direction he hopes his voice will go as he works with music director Justin Jacobs in a song from The Sound of Music.  Like all of the professionals who worked with Greensboro residents, Mr. Jacobs exhibited a genuine spirit of respect and collegiality in working with performers with less experience than those he has previously performed with in his native Australia.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

Andrew King gestures in the direction he hopes his voice will go as he works with music director Justin Jacobs in a song from The Sound of Music. Like all of the professionals who worked with Greensboro residents, Mr. Jacobs exhibited a genuine spirit of respect and collegiality in working with performers with less experience than those he has previously performed with in his native Australia. Photo by Joseph Gresser

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.

Amaryllis (Abigail Demers) rehearses a scene from The Music Man with Marion the librarian (Marla Schaffel).  The Tony-nominated Broadway actress is performing with the Greensboro Arts Alliance for the second summer in a row.  Last year she played Maria in The Sound of Music.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

Amaryllis (Abigail Demers) rehearses a scene from The Music Man with Marion the librarian (Marla Schaffel). The Tony-nominated Broadway actress is performing with the Greensboro Arts Alliance for the second summer in a row. Last year she played Maria in The Sound of Music. Photo by Joseph Gresser

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.

Sporting a snappy boater hat, Professor Harold Hill (Anthony Wills Jr.) encounters an old friend in an unexpected place.  The part of Marcellus Washburn, the con man’s local contact, is played by Ed Donlan.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

Sporting a snappy boater hat, Professor Harold Hill (Anthony Wills Jr.) encounters an old friend in an unexpected place. The part of Marcellus Washburn, the con man’s local contact, is played by Ed Donlan. Photo by Joseph Gresser

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.

contact Joseph Gresser at joseph@bartonchronicle.com

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Edward Hoagland: 23 books and still going

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Edward Hoagland stopped in at the Chronicle office to do an interview.  Photo by Paul Lefebvre

Edward Hoagland stopped in at the Chronicle office to do an interview. Photo by Paul Lefebvre

by Paul Lefebvre 

When writer Edward “Ted” Hoagland turned 80 in December, he had 22 books under his belt.  Today, he has one more and is working on another.  Of course there’s an essay in the works, from the man writer John Updike called “the best essayist of my generation.”  And then there’s a journal he’s been keeping that will be published posthumously.

Some people who come to the Northeast Kingdom think there is nothing to do.  Not Hoagland.  He bought a house on Wheeler Mountain in the early ’60s, and has been living there ever since as a summer resident.

To the extent it is in the boonies, the Northeast Kingdom has undoubtedly contributed to his impressive literary output.

“I’m doing very well on what is my sixth novel because, well there is no phone, no electricity, which is fine at this time of year,” says Hoagland, who sat for a taped interview at the Chronicle’s office last week.  “I don’t use all the daylight there is; I fall asleep before it’s dark.”

Hoagland came to Vermont to buy a house and land when he was about 35.  He had been introduced to the state by a college friend whose father, the eminent historian Henry Steele Commanger, had a house in Newfane.  Hoagland says the house was “crammed with books” and rural enough to take walks on dirt roads and see tracks from wildlife, “which, of course, I loved.”

A love of wildlife and wilderness landed Hoagland in southern California as a young, hotshot firefighter in the early ’50s.  Poking through the country on his off hours, he became so intrigued by mountain lions that he traveled to far-away places, such as the mountains of Alberta, Canada, to see one.  This obsession may account for his willingness to risk life and limb when he became a caretaker for MGM’s signature lions, who appeared to produce a loud roar at the beginning of every picture the movie company made.

The company had a retirement home in California for all the lions it had employed since the ’40s.  It was also keeping “a very sweet female mountain lion,” which happened to be in heat when Hoagland was there.  He says he would often sit next to her cage when no one else was around.  Until one day when he was struck with “the impulse to crawl into her cage.

“She was very surprised, and she went to the back of her cage, turned around and sprang at me,” he says.

But as she went to strike him in the face with a paw, she withdrew her claws.

“It was a love tap,” Hoagland says.

Hoagland doesn’t say whether the experience taught him to conquer his fears.  But to this day he strikes a fearless posture in the face of adversity.

“If I saw a black bear in the woods, I would say, ‘You are not a grizzly.’  I love animals.  I am not going to make you unhappy, but you are not going to scare me.”

Or when he encountered a potential mugger on the street he would say, “You are not a tiger,” and continue on his way.

When Hoagland came to Vermont looking for a place, he was living in New York City, a connection that appears to have helped him find what became his heart’s house.  From Avis Harper he got passed on to Em Hebard, who had lived in New York, Greenwich Village, Hoagland’s old neighborhood.  And together they found the place on Wheeler Mountain.

“I loved the house to start with,” he says.  “I knew it as soon as I saw it.  And it wasn’t just the house, it was also the cliffs.”

He figures he’s spent a third of his life there.

“When people ask me about it, I say I’m going to my heart’s home.”

Hoagland says he came to Vermont rather than Maine, New Hampshire, or the Adirondacks because of the people.  Prior to Hoagland’s purchase, the man who had lived in the house made corn whiskey and brewed bathtub beer.

“For a long time after I bought the house, old customers would periodically drive up and would be disappointed there was no white lightning,” he say.

From living in Barton, he got to know Phil Brooks, a taxidermist, and Paul Brochu, who owned an exceptionally clever hound dog.

“Paul could call the dog and point to the fox, and the dog would stop chasing the coon and follow the fox. And if they happen to come onto a bobcat track, which is much more valuable, the dog would just pick up the bobcat track.”

The state shared physical characteristics that he had seen elsewhere in his travels.  But there was something else.  The people.  And not just those who shared his interest in mountain lions or wildlife.

“Vermont combined the landscape of the West, I mean it looked like Idaho,” he says.  “But the people of the East I have always loved.  I’ve been to Alaska and British Columbia, too, nine times.  But I don’t like the people who live there as much as Vermont.”

Vermonters, he says, have “more of a sense of conservation.”

At the time he bought the house, he had written three books and was working on his fourth.  Although he’s a prolific writer, Hoagland writes with the concentration of a monk. He says it takes him three or four months to write an essay, and four to five years to write a book.  He routinely goes from fiction to non-fiction with the facility of a Northeast Kingdom native who can switch from English to speaking French.

If he becomes stymied while writing a novel, he picks up where he left off writing an essay.  And often, working on the essay, he figures out the next conversation or scene to use in the novel.

Since Hoagland only spends summers in Vermont, he had never written a book from beginning to end while residing in Barton.  But, perhaps not surprisingly, he was in residence at Wheeler Mountain when he wrote the essay, “Hailing the Elusory Mountain Lion,” which was published in 1971 by The New Yorker.

Other essays of Vermont origin include “Of Cows and Cambodia,” and the “War in the Woods,” after an outing with houndsman Paul Doyle.  During the ’70s, Hoagland also wrote “The Moose on the Wall,” which took its title from a head mount inside the Howard Bank and featured his taxidermist pal, Mr. Brooks.

But among Kingdom readers with long memories, Hoagland may best be known for the essay he wrote about the girlie shows at the fair, which caused the uproar that led to their early and premature demise.

“Unfortunately,” says Hoagland.  “It was not my intention.”

The shows continued for three or four years elsewhere before they were banned.  Hoagland says his essay took the church-going people of Barton by storm.  “Of course they stay away from that so didn’t know what happened inside until I wrote about it,” he says.  “But they found out why boys went to the fair as boys and came back men, which they had never known before.”

After his spate of Vermont essays, Hoagland traveled to Africa.  He went twice during the ’70s; once in 1976 and again in 1977.  He went during a time when there was a lull in the fighting.  On his return, he wrote African Calliope: A Trip to the Sudan, first published in 1979.

War had returned to central Africa and the Sudan — “that I love so much” — when Hoagland made a second round of visits, once in 1993 and again in 1995.  The war caused widespread famine and Hoagland says he had to be there.  Strafed by MiGs and living in a church compound close to the war zone, his experience this time around resulted in what some critics believe is his best book, Children are Diamonds.

“It took me 20 years to produce this novel because the experiences are based on my own experiences,” he says.  “I did do a couple of pieces for The Nation, but I couldn’t exorcize them through those pieces.”

Hoagland was working as a freelance journalist when he accompanied a transport of food into a relief workers’ compound where thousands and thousands of starving refugees had gathered.  It was the first shipment of food since the killing of four UN aid workers four months ago.  The scene beggars description.

“They had eaten all the insects, all the grasshoppers, all the song birds,” Hoagland says.  “All the area smelled of smoke for in order to smoke out the insects and the rodents, they had burned everything off.”

There were 58 trucks in the transport, carrying corn.  He recalls watching children running alongside the lorries, gathering spilled kernels that they would bring to their mothers after acquiring a handful.

It was that moment, he says, that he had the most powerful experience of his life.  Hoagland was in his sixties at the time and his hair had turned prematurely white.  The women and children equated white with power, and in Hoagland they saw someone they believed to be their deliverer.

“So, they asked me if I was the head of the United Nations,” says Hoagland, who after all these years still chokes up with the memory.

“Are we forgiven?” they asked him.

Hoagland told them he had just arrived from America, and he says they looked at his boots and asked if he had walked.

The most powerful emotion he experienced came moments later when he heard the mothers tell their children: “That white man can save your life.”

And, just like that, he remembers it happened.  “These wobbling, staggering children with huge bellies came up and touched me.”

Throughout his career, Hoagland focused on being the best American essayist he could be.  But it’s an attitude he’s extended to the very craft of writing, and one that leaves no regrets.  Every book he has written, he says, “was the very best I could do at the time.”

contact Paul Lefebvre at paul@bartonchronicle.com

For a review of Mr. Hoagland’s newest book, Children are Diamonds, click here.

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Rian Fried: a capitalist with a social conscience

One of Rian’s happiest moments was the wedding of his daughter Dorigen to Jon Hofmann.  To celebrate, Rian arranged for the Oscar Meyer Wienermobile to show up at the Stannard church.  Dr. Hofmann drove the classic rig as he worked his way through college.  My only photograph of Rian was of him making a self-portrait with the Wienermobile in the background.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

One of Rian’s happiest moments was the wedding of his daughter Dorigen to Jon Hofmann. To celebrate, Rian arranged for the Oscar Meyer Wienermobile to show up at the Stannard church. Dr. Hofmann drove the classic rig as he worked his way through college. My only photograph of Rian was of him making a self-portrait with the Wienermobile in the background. Photo by Joseph Gresser

by Joseph Gresser

STANNARD — The new agricultural businesses that have flourished in the Northeast Kingdom over the past decade could not have grown so quickly without capital.  Many of the necessary resources were found by Rian Fried, a pioneer in the field of socially responsible investing who preferred to work quietly behind the scenes.

He was 65 years old when he died after a brief illness on July 3.

Rian, who I had the pleasure of knowing and with whom I served as selectman for many years, was instrumental in the success of many of the signature ventures of the Northeast Kingdom’s burgeoning agricultural renaissance.

I don’t remember when I first met Rian.  I do recall the first time I met Rachel Hexter, his wife.  That was the day I moved to Stannard about 40 years ago, when she was Town Clerk.

She left that job and went to work for the Orleans County Council of Social Agencies (OCCSA), an anti-poverty agency from the days when the federal government thought it could do something to help people who were struggling economically.

Rian also worked at OCCSA, an agency with an operatic history, and he turned up in Stannard one day.  OCCSA, whose director went out of his way to aggravate the powers that be, did not last much longer and Rachel and Rian went south to the Boston area.  He to get a master’s degree at the Kennedy Center for Government at Harvard and she to study law.

Rian ran an economic development agency in Brockton, Massachusetts, while he waited for Rachel to finish her schooling.  Wherever he set up his office after that he brought with him framed photographs of boxer Marvin Hagler, who hailed from Brockton and was undisputed middleweight champion of the world for seven years, including the time Rian spent in his hometown.

Soon after Rachel and Rian came home, he met Doug Fleer and the two took their mutual interest in stock trading and created a small investment company headquartered in an upstairs room at the house in Stannard.

In the early 1980s a dial-up connection was good enough to keep a couple of traders afloat, and they had the luxury of a dedicated telephone line.  Their specialty was what they called “ethical investing.”

Like any investment firm, Rian and Doug would check out companies to see if they were well run and were likely to make money.  Unlike almost any other firm, they also applied what they called social screens.

That is, they would see if a company produced armaments, did business with South Africa or discriminated against women or minorities.  Those companies were excluded from consideration no matter how profitable they might seem.

Nowadays that is called socially responsible investing and it is big business.  Even conventional mutual funds often have a socially responsible fund as one of their options.

In those days the two partners had to explain what they were doing to skeptical reporters and brokers who thought it strange to leave even dirty money on the table.

Rian and Doug were looking at the long term, and said an ethical company would not be as liable to lawsuits, strikes or other problems as unethical companies, and would eventually outperform them.  They also weren’t looking to get rich quickly.

I often found myself drifting over to their headquarters, which had some of the qualities of a tree house, only with a lot more paper.  At some point, Rian asked me to start writing editorials for their newsletter, a loss leader they called The Clean Yield.

Rian was a hard editor, but it was fun to write for the newsletter, and I really enjoyed the checks.

The newsletter became so successful that the company took its name.  It also outgrew the tree house and moved into downtown Greensboro.

Rian liked the Greensboro office, but was faced with a problem.  Clean Yield needed broadband Internet service to make its trades and none was available.  As an old community organizer he knew what to do, and got together a group of people who shared his need.

They combined resources and brought a high-capacity line into Greensboro.  The engineers set up an antenna that beamed a signal to a tower in Stannard that reflected it back to Greensboro.

It wasn’t long after that Verizon noticed that Greensboro had its own broadband service and brought a DSL connection to the town.

About 15 years ago Rian was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a serious form of blood cancer.  After a great deal of research he decided to seek treatment in Seattle, Washington, at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

He received a bone marrow transplant, a harrowing procedure that was fatal to most of those who began treatment at the same time as Rian.

After that Rian spend countless hours talking with people who were in the same situation, answering questions, helping them to understand their options and calming their fears.  So quiet was his generosity that I only learned after his death that he had spent hours talking with my ex-wife, who remains a good friend, when her second husband faced a possible bone marrow transplant.

As the socially responsible investment movement grew, Rian saw new possibilities.

Tom Stearns, the founder of High Mowing Seeds, said “Rian for a long time realized that using money and investment to say ‘No’ to things like apartheid, armaments and discrimination was not the only possibility.”  By finding ways to put money into businesses that shared his values, Rian found a way for people’s resources to say ‘Yes,’ Mr. Stearns said.

Before Ryan figured out a different way to do it, businesses that needed capital to expand had to become publically traded companies.  Eventually those companies, like Ben and Jerry’s, faced irresistible pressure to sell the company to the highest bidder, regardless of the founders’ desires.

Mr. Stearns said that Rian figured out a way to allow his investors to put money into High Mowing while insulating the company from such pressures.  He said the company recently started sending those investors big checks in repayment.

He said that Rian counseled and supported many of the other businesses in the Hardwick area.

One of those was Claire’s, a restaurant that was financed by selling shares to community members.

Its owner, Linda Ramsdell, said, “His passion and love for what we were trying to do there was invaluable and really special.”

She recalled his visits to the restaurant.

“It was always fun to see him in Claire’s.  He was always having a good time, no matter who he was with.”

Rian’s enthusiasm also extended to his hometown.  He was the chairman of the town’s planning commission for many years, a body on which I serve.  I’ve stayed on the planning board through many rewrites of the zoning bylaws and the town plan, in large part because I enjoyed working with Rian.

He was a fount of information and a great talker.  We shared a love for the blues and constantly tried to top each other with obscure knowledge.

I never succeeded in getting the better of him in those conversations or — if I’m honest — in any others.

When I told him about seeing the great blues harmonica player Junior Wells at a small Chicago club in the 1970s, Rian responded with the story about spending a strange evening with the musician at a long-ago party.

Rian, along with his nearest neighbor Jan Lewandoski, spent years trying to persuade Stannard residents Harold and Mavis Nunn to allow the Vermont Land Trust to have a preservation easement on their farm — one of the oldest in town.

Shortly after the documents were signed, the Nunns died.  Today Tom Gilbert and his family live in the old farmhouse and are preparing to start growing vegetables and running a small school on the land.

Rian was recruited by Sterling College to serve as a trustee, an honor he cherished.  When I saw him at Sandor Katz’s lecture there a few months ago, he regaled me with an enthusiastic account of a day-long strategy meeting he and his fellow trustees had just finished.

Most of all Rian was devoted to his family.  He was happy beyond measure when his daughter Dorigen join Clean Yield.  He told anyone who would listen that she was much better at the job than he was.

Rian was raised in Vienna, where his father was a diplomat.  One of our odder connections was the discovery that we had the same high school principal, even though he went to school in Austria and I was in New York City.

He was the eldest of six brothers who, despite distance, remained extremely close.

After his bone marrow transplant Rian always said he was not going to live to be an old man.  He regarded that as a simple fact and dismissed any attempt to dissuade him as wishful thinking.

In his business he had the same clear sightedness.  Because he had moved into an area of investment that, in less ethical hands, could have been an invitation to fraud, Rian had to be punctilious about Securities and Exchange Commission regulations.

One of the reasons that so few other people ventured into his area of expertise was that most people were unwilling to invest the necessary hours of painstaking research.

Nevertheless, Tom Stearns recalled, Rian insisted that his investors were more radical than he and pushed him to find opportunities to put their money to work to create social change.

One of the last projects Rian was involved in was the Northeast Kingdom Tasting Center now taking shape on Main Street in Newport.

Its director, Eleanor Leger, said Rian was dubious at first, but eventually came around.

She said Rian asked insightful questions and “never let you think he was saying it was a terrible idea, even when he was.”

Rian’s investors made the difference between success and failure for the center, she said.

Even now, after knowing Rian for 30 years, I’m not sure whether his path from the anti-poverty programs of the 1970s to a twenty-first century program of creating new sustainable businesses through socially conscious investing was planned.

My guess is that it wasn’t, but that Rian, guided by his innate decency, found a path for others to follow.

contact Joseph Gresser at joseph@bartonchronicle.com

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Circus Smirkus opens season with Oz theme

Jenny Ritchie, the Circus Smirkus rope coach, looks up at a pair of aerial performers.  At this rehearsal, her main focus was on the three troupers lying on their backs.  They had the job of spinning the ropes to which the acrobats clung.  Performers in the show often assist their fellows in this tightly knit company.  Photos by Joseph Gresser

Jenny Ritchie, the Circus Smirkus rope coach, looks up at a pair of aerial performers. At this rehearsal, her main focus was on the three troupers lying on their backs. They had the job of spinning the ropes to which the acrobats clung. Performers in the show often assist their fellows in this tightly knit company. Photos by Joseph Gresser

by Joseph Gresser

GREENSBORO — A crowd of Circus Smirkus troupers moved around the ring here at choreographer Matt Williams’ instruction early Friday morning.  Dressed in rehearsal clothes, the performers looked much younger than they do in their flashy show outfits.  That is, they look their age, which is, for the vast majority of the 27 youngsters, between 15 and 17.

It was toward the end of the second of three weeks, and they and a crew of directors, coaches and technicians had to put together a show they will perform 69 times during a seven-week tour.

Two thirds of the way into the rehearsal period, there was no show.

There was no lack of skilled performers and carefully honed routines, but Circus Smirkus is more than a collection of acts.  The company has, over the course of 25 seasons, earned a reputation for presenting ensemble shows built around a central theme.

This year the theme is Oz Incorporated, a slightly jaundiced take on the world created by L. Frank Baum in a series of children’s books.  Ringmaster Troy Wunderle plays a cross between a bumbling wizard and a spaced-out tycoon.

Right now, though, Jesse Dryden, the company’s creative director, is working with Mr. Williams to get troupers properly arranged in the ring for the charivari.  That’s the opening act of the circus, in which the entire cast parades through the ring, performing feats of balance or acrobatics in rapid succession.

In this year’s circus the charivari also sets the stage for the story of Oz, the string on which all the separate acts are strung like beads.

Dorothy, the little girl from Kansas is to make her appearance from above, circling on a rope swing.

The choreography is complicated and needs to be performed energetically to sweep the audience into the show.  At this stage the main issue is getting performers to their assigned places in the available time.

In actual performance there will be music, but now the performers are moving to counts shouted out by Mr. Williams.

Mr. Dryden watches closely as the performers walk around the ring.  Some aren’t hitting their marks in time.  The question is whether they aren’t moving fast enough or if the distance is too much for them to travel.

Speed is the answer, and the portion of the dance is redone until everyone is getting to his or her place.

Mr. Dryden, who was in the same class at the Ringling Clown College as Mr. Wunderle, has the overall responsibility for getting the show ready to go on the road.  Once it’s finished he will hand the keys to Mr. Wunderle, who will be responsible for the show during the tour.

This year Mr. Dryden is struggling a bit.  The show isn’t jelling as he might expect it to.  The problem, he says during a break, is that a lot of the most experienced troupers graduated from the company last year — the company’s age limit is 18 — and the group of leaders isn’t as big as it usually is.

In fact, he says, the two youngest troupers are the most experienced.  These are Emily and Ariana Wunderle, the ringmaster’s daughters.  Despite years of performing, Ariana, nine, is technically a “trouper in training,” but 12-year-old Emily is a full member of the company.

For some years, Ariana mostly worked in acts with her father, but this year she is all over the show.

Mr. Wunderle says the fact that his children work with him in the ring and his wife, Sara, is part of the front office crew is one of the delights of his job.

In the ring, the troupers repeat the dance and get the feel of the space.

Acrobats just mark their stunts, running into the ring and wriggling slightly to indicate the place where a flip would start and dash off to the side to make way for the next performer’s move.

Cuban coach Emilio D. Sobrino Sensiales instructs 13 Circus Smirkus troupers as they form a giant, spinning pyramid.

Cuban coach Emilio D. Sobrino Sensiales instructs 13 Circus Smirkus troupers as they form a giant, spinning pyramid.

Similarly, the balancing acts, including a human pyramid, are indicated by the performers moving from the starting to the concluding position.  After an hour of this work the group divides.

A trio of flyers rehearse on the ropes in the circus tent, while a gaggle of troupers head over to another tent to practice spacing for their trapeze act.  An upstairs room in the circus barn is the destination for some clowns who need to polish their routines.

In the sunshine of what will turn out to be the last sunny day in June, tractors are thrumming in a nearby field as farmers work to get their hay in.  In a tent with its sides rolled up for ventilation, performers are running elaborate patterns on a gym mat.

They are putting together a chase scene in which the Wicked Witch of the West and her minions pursue Dorothy and the Scarecrow on a trampoline.  The equipment can’t be used until the rope rehearsal is done, so the trampoline crew is reduced to marking the act.

Over in the circus barn Sarah Tiffin, a third-year trouper with a strong clown personality, is working on her part of a duo act.  As Glinda the Good, she is to battle Sam Gurwitt, who plays the evil witch.

Ms. Tiffin goes through her paces under the watchful eye of clown coach Jay Stewart, while both wait for Mr. Gurwitt, who is off with the trampolinists.

Brin Schoellkopf hovers above the tight wire.

Brin Schoellkopf hovers above the tight wire.

When he shows up the pair mug as they fire bolts of magic power at each other.  The idea of the sketch involves a magic reversal that reveals itself when Mr. Gurwitt cracks his knuckles and hurts Ms. Tiffin’s hands.

This causes a comic escalation as Ms. Tiffin stamps on her foot and Mr. Gurwitt hops in agony; he holds his breath until she passes out.

Another exchange of magic causes the situation to return to normal without Mr. Gurwitt realizing it.  There the act has come to a standstill.

Something has to happen to Mr. Gurwitt to knock him out, but the clowns and Mr. Stewart are having a hard time figuring out what it should be.

The idea of something big and heavy falling from the sky on his noggin is proposed, but there is no way to hide anything of size from the audience.  Ms. Tiffin suggests that Mr. Gurwitt ask another clown, Chase Culp, who is known in the troupe as Mongo, to hit him on the head with a club.  Rather than hurting Glinda, the result would be a knockout of the Wicked Witch.

There is no resolution of the problem when the rehearsal breaks up.

Six days later, on Wednesday, June 26, the troupers are back in the ring working on the charivari.  It’s damp and cool, so Mr. Dryden warns the acrobats to hold off their tumbling to avoid injury.

The troupers go into the opening dance, but for the first time they are working to the music that will be in the show, not just Mr. Williams’ counts.

At one point in the routine, the dancers make sharp typewriting gestures, then swivel into the movement of pulling a lever.  The music includes mechanical sound effects that mimic the movements.

“I saw you smiling,” Mr. Dryden says, “now you know how the music fits.”

He is bubbling with energy, despite almost three weeks of sleep deprivation.  The energy will be needed, because the rehearsal is going to be slow with frequent stops for lighting designer Anthony Powers to create cues.

Mr. Dryden grabs a microphone and does the Smirkus version of stand-up comedy.

“That was very wonderful,” he says after a portion of the charivari has gone well. “I’m sure that somewhere, someone loves you.”

Today, the pyramids are tried out, including one three-level extravaganza made up of 13 troupers in a formation that stretches from one side of the ring to the other.

Slowly, the pyramid rotates around the ring as coach Emilio D. Sobrino Sensiales watches.

Mr. Sensiales is one of three Cuban coaches who are with Circus Smirkus this year.  Mr. Wunderle said he and Mr. Dryden traveled to Cuba during the off season and worked with performers at a national circus school there.

The exchange is one result of that trip.

Two days later, Mr. Dryden is still working on the charivari.  A dress rehearsal has been put off, despite the fact that the show’s first performance is only a day away.

“If this is what it’s going to look like, we need another week of rehearsal,” Mr. Dryden tells the cast.  “Don’t think the audience is going to give us all this energy.  You give the energy, so the audience is blown away.”

The wear and tear on the troupers is showing a bit.  Mr. Sensiales is running a kind of ringside clinic, bandaging one performer, showing another a strengthening exercise.  Surrounding him is the pungent scent of Tiger Balm, a strong Chinese liniment.

Dorothy (Alyson Mattei), looks sympathetic as the Cowardly Lion (Chase Culp) showers a delighted crowd of children with tears.

Dorothy (Alyson Mattei), looks sympathetic as the Cowardly Lion (Chase Culp) showers a delighted crowd of children with tears.

Mr. Wunderle has a crew working on carrying him in and out of the ring.  He is up on stilts with a large animated face strapped to his back, but he can’t enter the tent standing upright.

He is borne into the tent on the backs of six or seven cast members and set up on his feet with his back facing the audience.  The huge face is that of Oz, the Great and Powerful, but the audience will be let in on the trick when Mr. Wunderle turns around.

Mr. Wunderle has crafted the mask himself, a reminder of his days as an art student.  In conversation, the ringmaster explains that he found the circus while in art school in Baltimore.

As an example of an advertising brochure, one of his classes was shown a flyer from the Ringling Clown College.

The year he attended, Smirkus founder Rob Mermin was co-directing the college and Mr. Wunderle discovered he could pursue his passion in Vermont, his native state.

Today, in addition to running the Circus Smirkus show, Mr. Wunderle is director of clowning for Ringling Brothers.

The Greensboro circus lot is soggy on Friday and a small bucket loader is spreading woodchips to keep patrons’ feet dry.

By Saturday afternoon, the time for the first show, the weather hasn’t improved and cars pulling in to park in a nearby field squeegee torrents of water from the earth with their tires.

It isn’t raining, though, and the crowds are lined up waiting to get into the tent for the first show of this year’s tour.  The aroma of popcorn wafts out of the concession tent and the candy butchers are doing good business.

Many of those waiting wear a plastic card with their name on it hanging from a lanyard around their neck.  These are troupers’ parents.

One, whose card says Greg, announces that he is from the Upper Valley.  Rumor has it that his son has been cast as the Scarecrow, he says.

When the tent is packed full, the crowd begins to clap slowly as if to bring forth the show.  Sure enough, Mr. Wunderle strides into the ring in his wizard regalia and they’re off.

The charivari goes smoothly and the audience oohs and aahs, especially at the spinning pyramid.  Dorothy comes down from the sky, dons her ruby slippers and sets out.

The audience is with the players, but the performance isn’t pinning them to their seats, yet.

A few acts draw strong reaction, including the duel between Glinda and the Wicked Witch.  They’ve added a bit of business in which Ms. Tiffin does a split and Mr. Gurwitt reacts by clutching his groin, bending in his knees and letting forth a long, high screech.  This brings down the house.

Mongo isn’t available to slug Mr. Gurwitt — he’s engaged playing the Cowardly Lion — but Alyssa Kim, as the head flying monkey arrives at the end of the battle.

She punches Mr. Gurwitt and flings his unconscious form over her shoulder and carries him out of the ring.

The trampoline act is properly frenetic, but at intermission the show still has the feel of a collection of disparate acts.

Something has happened when the show starts back up.  Maybe, Mr. Dryden has given a half-time pep talk, or maybe the troupers have realized the show’s possibilities for the first time.

At any rate, the energy level is much higher when they return for the second half of the show.

The acts race by and the audience reacts to the story more strongly.  By the time the Wicked Witch has been dispatched with a bucket of water and Dorothy has flown back to Kansas, swinging high above the ring, the audience is fully with the performers.

The final dance finds the crowd applauding and cheering from beginning to end.

Asked afterward when he knew he had a show, Mr. Dryden replies, “By the middle of the second half.”  He is, perhaps, a little ungenerous.

From here, Mr. Dryden turns over the vehicle he has created to Mr. Wunderle.

He will have the entire tour to polish the show, rearranging acts, if need be, or even cutting those that don’t work.

Mr. Wunderle says it’s important for the show to breathe.  While in the ring, he says, he can tell how things are going by listening to the crowd.

While out of the audience’s view, he watches from one of the three entrances.

By the time the troupe returns to Greensboro for its final performances on August 17, Oz Incorporated will be a finely tuned machine roaring through the ring.

And then the company will be gone, its performers scattered to high schools around the country, while Mr. Dryden and Mr. Wunderle dream up ways to top themselves in next year’s show.

contact Joseph Gresser at joseph@bartonchronicle.com

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In Newport: Scott performs everyday job at country club

Lieutenant Governor Phil Scott helps a grounds crew at the Newport Country Club clear grass and spread new sand in a bunker between the ninth and eighteenth fairways.  “He knows how to use a shovel,” joked head golf professional Kim O’Neil.  “You can tell he’s done this before.” Photos by Micaela Bedell.

Lieutenant Governor Phil Scott helps a grounds crew at the Newport Country Club clear grass and spread new sand in a bunker between the ninth and eighteenth fairways. “He knows how to use a shovel,” joked head golf professional Kim O’Neil. “You can tell he’s done this before.” Photos by Micaela Bedell.

by Micaela Bedell

NEWPORT — Lieutenant Governor Phil Scott continued his tour of “everyday” Vermont jobs on Wednesday, June 19, by working alongside the grounds crew at the Newport Country Club (NCC).

Mr. Scott helped the crew from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., focusing primarily on spreading new sand and cleaning unwanted grass from the sand bunker between the ninth and eighteenth fairways.

When NCC board treasurer Sharon Booth first invited the lieutenant governor at the annual North Country Chamber of Commerce meeting in late May, she was half-joking.

“When he said, sure!  I didn’t think he was serious,” Ms. Booth said.  “But then he called and we were setting things up.”

Head golf professional Kim O’Neil said it was refreshing to have a politician pull through on something like this.

“Very rarely do you see this from a politician,” he said.  “He’s here for a full four hours today.  I offered to let him work in the pro shop, and he said he’d rather work outside.  You can trust we’ll put him to work.”

Good news for Lieutenant Governor Scott, because work is exactly the point of his “Vermont Everyday Jobs Tour.”  He described it as “taking a pulse of Vermont” by seeing different aspects of multiple industries, all the while learning what people are feeling and what pressures they do — or don’t — have.

“I’m a bit of a hands-on learner,” he said with a laugh.  “Always have been.”

The lieutenant governor has also installed utility lines with Green Mountain Power, made rounds at the emergency room in Porter Hospital in Middlebury, and taught spelling and reading comprehension to Union Memorial Elementary School second-graders in Colchester.

Lieutenant Governor Phil Scott (far right) listens to Newport Country Club Superintendent Ryan McCaffrey (center) explain how to clear a sand bunker as his co-workers for the day get started.  Pictured, from left, are Dylan Bohlman, Denis Comeau, Mr. McCaffrey, Laurent Leblanc Jr. and Lieutenant Governor Scott.

Lieutenant Governor Phil Scott (far right) listens to Newport Country Club Superintendent Ryan McCaffrey (center) explain how to clear a sand bunker as his co-workers for the day get started. Pictured, from left, are Dylan Bohlman, Denis Comeau, Mr. McCaffrey, Laurent Leblanc Jr. and Lieutenant Governor Scott.

Lieutenant Governor Scott said he thinks it should be easier for everyday Vermonters to feel represented by their politicians, and by working beside them he hopes to also hear them. The consensus from the crew and staff was that he did.

“He’s a guy that listens, and listens to both sides,” said four-year crew member and four-hour co-worker Denis Comeau.  “I like that.”

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Gold panning and bingo help a good cause

Joanne Warner of Green Mountain Prospectors demonstrates how to pan for gold.  Bryce Donahue, who said he's panned for gold dozens of times, looks on.  Photos by Tena Starr

Joanne Warner of Green Mountain Prospectors demonstrates how to pan for gold. Bryce Donahue, who said he’s panned for gold dozens of times, looks on. Photos by Tena Starr

by Tena Starr

WESTFIELD — Terrie Davis-Perry has long supported cancer research, maybe more than most people.  She’s regularly donated to the American Cancer Society and fund-raising events, and she sponsors a Relay for Life team member.  But when the disease hit home last winter with her brother-in-law’s diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, she was inspired to do a little more aggressive fund-raising than she’d done in the past.

So on Saturday, Ms. Davis-Perry and her husband, Mark Perry, put together a special day of events and camping at their Barrewood Campground in Westfield.  Proceeds from the $5 fee ($2 for children) for daytime activities went to Paul Perry for out-of-pocket costs for his treatment: camping fees throughout the weekend — three nights — will go to Relay for Life.

barrewood boy

Five-year-old Ryan Nathan Rice of North Troy was one of the few who decided to go swimming Saturday at Barrewood Campground’s cancer benefit.

Saturday turned out to be a rare sunny day, although the wind was brisk enough to knock over some of the tents that vendors had set up on the big green at the campground to sell jewelry, crafts, baked goods, books, clothing, and other items.  Inside the pavilion, a rousing game of bingo was in progress called by Debbie Lucas, who donated her time, and Mary Lee Daigle was serving a hot lunch.  Pauline Couture of Couture’s Maple was on hand with a variety of maple products, and several members of Green Mountain Prospectors demonstrated how to pan for gold.

There was plenty of interest in that activity — nearly as much as in the bingo game.

The first thing you learn about panning for gold is you’re not likely to get rich.  The second is that it isn’t nearly as easy as it looks when an expert is handling the pans.  My own efforts netted one tiny flake that I might not have recognized were it not for Joanne Warner’s careful eyes, although gold is quite striking and definitely stands out if you know what you’re looking for.

Ms. Warner and Donald and Tracie Cassady were on hand to demonstrate the skill of panning and had small vials of gold, as well as garnets, to show for their own efforts.  Mr. and Ms. Cassady are from New Hampshire and said the river near Littleton is “loaded with garnets,” a deep red, semi-precious gemstone that, like gold, is heavy and settles in the bottom of the pan.

Ms. Warner offered up a small vial of startlingly bright gold flecks that she’d gathered. They were worth about $30 or $40 — not a huge take for a tedious job.

“Most of the gold in Vermont is glacial, you won’t find big nuggets,” Ms. Warner said.  That means glaciers ground the gold down to fine particles, as opposed to out West where actual nuggets are more likely to be found,

These three Green Mountain Prospectors don’t sell the gold they find, although they know some who do.  Foundries will buy it, as well as jewelers and some collectors, they said. The garnets also have some value.

Mark Perry and Terrie Davis-Perry, owners of Barrewood Campground in Westfield, held a special day of activities Saturday to help their brother Paul Perry with out-of-pocket expenses for pancreatic cancer treatment.  Proceeds from camping for three nights went to Relay for Life.

Mark Perry and Terrie Davis-Perry, owners of Barrewood Campground in Westfield, held a special day of activities Saturday to help their brother Paul Perry with out-of-pocket expenses for pancreatic cancer treatment. Proceeds from camping for three nights went to Relay for Life.

At this point, I have to admit that my notes kind of vanished on me because I gave panning a shot under Ms. Warner’s able guidance.  I was decidedly inept and soaked myself and my notebook, ending up with a runny blue blur instead of careful notes.

So — winging it.  We started with a shovel full of material from the bottom of the nearby brook, and Mr. Cassady did a sift to filter out the biggest stones.  Those bigger stones are worth looking at, he said, because there’s lots of quartz among them, and that’s where gold comes from.  But keeping in mind that chunks of gold the size of white quartz aren’t likely to appear in Vermont, the next step is to get to the littler stuff that looks mostly like sand.  And that’s when it gets tricky.

The prospectors used green pans with ridged openings on one side.  The idea is that you mix the sand and its potentially valuable contents with water, then slur it around, constantly dumping off the top layer through the pan’s openings.  You trust that the heavier stuff, the valuable stuff, will stay at the bottom, and what you’re sloughing off is just sand and tiny worthless pebbles.

The equipment is neither complicated nor expensive.  Most any kind of filter works up to a point.  Mr. Cassady said his wife is always telling him to leave her flour sifter alone.

If you’re not too overzealous, or just sloppy, it works.  The heavy stuff does stay in the bottom of the pan, and after a while the dirt changes color.  It darkens as the lighter, and lighter colored, sand goes out the pan’s slots, and what remains is what’s of possible value.  “Tap it, and the gold goes to the bottom,” Ms. Warner advised me.

Pauline Couture of Couture’s Maple in Westfield was on hand at the fund-raiser with a variety of maple products.

Pauline Couture of Couture’s Maple in Westfield was on hand at the fund-raiser with a variety of maple products.

Gold is 19 times heavier than water, someone said as I slopped muddy water all over myself. Trust it.

I sloshed the pan around in the water, then sifted out the sand and did see the color eventually darkening, but it wasn’t easy, and I was clumsy, and I soon appreciated Ms. Warner’s skill.  She said she’d won an award in a panning contest, which didn’t surprise me once I’d tried it myself.  She makes panning look easy.  It isn’t.

At the end, I had one flake of gold.  It didn’t look real, and, nope, I wasn’t going home rich.  Ms. Warner had planted it, and it went back into her vial via a special little bottle that sucked it up and returned it to where it came from.

But there are entirely worse things to do with one’s time than wade around in a brook in the hope of finding gold.

“It’s like fishing,” Ms. Warner said. “You can be out all day and you may not get a fish.  But you enjoy being out there.”

barrewood don

Don Cassady of Green Mountain Prospectors sets up some of the gear used to pan for gold.

Green Mountain Prospectors has members from all over New England, as well as New York State, and many of them are members of a national prospecting club, as well.

Meanwhile, back in the pavilion, my 13-year-old son had settled in with a couple of his great-aunts and was avidly playing bingo.

Bingo used to be a game I understood, but apparently no longer.  There’s still the traditional way of playing, where you win if you get straight hits in a horizontal, vertical, or diagonal line, but there are “specials” I’ve never heard of, like a check mark.  Colton and his great-aunts were each playing eight cards.

The last game was something I’d never heard of, a coverall.  My aunts, being the experienced bingo players they are, knew just what that meant — the winner would be the first person to fill up an entire card.

Prizes for the bingo winners were donated by local businesses and others and included gift certificates, homemade pies, and jewelry.

Later in the day, there was a potluck dinner at the campground, as well as live music, and a bonfire.

contact Tena Starr at tenas@bartonchronicle.com

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In Newport: New gallery features art reflecting social concerns

Artists Sam Thurston and Abigail Meredith check out the artwork at the opening of the 99 Gallery Sunday afternoon.  The gallery will also serve as a meeting place for NEK 99%, a grassroots organization for social change.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

Artists Sam Thurston and Abigail Meredith check out the artwork at the opening of the 99 Gallery Sunday afternoon. The gallery will also serve as a meeting place for NEK 99%, a grassroots organization for social change. Photo by Joseph Gresser

by Joseph Gresser

NEWPORT — A new addition to Newport’s art scene opened Sunday, offering an exhibit with a title — “Politically Incorrect” — that pointed out the path the gallery means to follow.

According to Diane Peel, its founder, the 99 Gallery is an outgrowth of NEK 99 %, an organization inspired by the Occupy protests of 2011 and made up of local activists.  The gallery is tucked into a lovely old carriage house on School Street, just off Main Street.

On Sunday the space was filled with artists — some of high school age — and visitors.  On the walls, a variety of works was displayed, most of them reflecting social concerns.

Abigail Meredith’s acrylic “Shockwave” shows a woman with her hair blowing back in a blast of intense white light.  The North Country Union High School junior said the painting was meant to remind viewers that the peril of nuclear weapons remains.

She said she came up with the image when she heard that the energy of an atomic bomb can burn the silhouette of a figure into a nearby wall.

In Ms. Meredith’s image, though, the figure is not the result of a catastrophe.

“I put it in the middle of the explosion rather than the aftermath,” she said.  “Movement is very interesting to me.”

Ms. Meredith, along with North Country freshman Ryland Brown, whose intricate pen and ink drawing of a skull and guitar also graced the new art space, is studying at the school’s Arts and Communications Academy.

One of their teachers, Natalie Guillette, also contributed a painting to the show, an eerie image of a face shrouded in a mask.  According to her artist’s statement, Ms. Guillette was moved to create a series of similar paintings by a visit to a World War II museum where gas masks were on exhibit.

Other artists from the community also brought their works for the initial show.  Jack Rogers showed a trio of pencil drawings, which included an image of a hand blocking the lens of a camera and Rodney King being menaced by the baton of a police officer.

In a very different vein, Sam Thurston of Lowell offered a drawing of a street life under a New York elevated train and a watercolor illustration of a verse by Percy Bysshe Shelley.

An improptu manifesto was chalked on the sidewalk in front of the 99 Gallery Sunday afternoon.  In addition to presenting art shows, the gallery will also provide a home for NEK 99 %, according to its founder, Diane Peel.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

An improptu manifesto was chalked on the sidewalk in front of the 99 Gallery Sunday afternoon. In addition to presenting art shows, the gallery will also provide a home for NEK 99 %, according to its founder, Diane Peel. Photo by Joseph Gresser

The 99 Gallery, while it offers a home to artists living in and around Newport, was created in large part to display the work of a painter and sculptor who spent very little of his life in the area.

Ms. Peel’s father, Donald William Peel, was an active artist for most of his 89 years.  He started making paintings in the magic realist style in the 1950s, moved on to abstract sculpture, and finally back to surrealist paintings in his final years.

Mr. Peel achieved recognition, especially on the West Coast, where he lived most of his life.  His work is represented in museums and university collections in the Pacific Northwest.

Ms. Peel said that after her mother, a fashion designer, died in 2001 she wanted her father to move to Vermont and build a home and a studio that could handle the big painting he was making.  Sadly, Mr. Peel died in 2010.

Left with a large collection of her father’s works, Ms. Peel said she had to make a choice.  She could store the big surrealist paintings, but then they wouldn’t be seen and, without climate control, would suffer permanent damage.  She decided on the alternative of creating a space in which her father’s work can be shown and, she hopes, purchased by collectors.

Her plans call for interspersing shows by living artists with displays of her father’s paintings.

Ms. Peel said she wants the new gallery to serve as a home for work that might not fit in at the MAC Center.  Her gallery is not intended to compete with the more established art space, Ms. Peel said, but is meant to broaden the options available to artists and art lovers in Newport.

She said she hopes to offer “edgier” art than might be possible for a space that relies on sales to keep its doors open.  The 99 Gallery, Ms. Peel said, is paid for out of her earnings as a nurse and can keep going whether or not any paintings are sold.

The gallery, like the NEK 99 % organization is nonpolitical, Ms. Peel said.

“We’re not involved with the political process,” Ms. Peel declared.  “We’re involved with the people process.”

Pointing to Mr. Rogers’ drawing of the blocked camera, she said the image depicts the “surveillance state.”  Government intrusion into the private affairs of citizens is not a political issue, but a people issue, Ms. Peel said.

She recalled criticisms of the original Occupy protests, which questioned the movement’s lack of leadership and formal structure.  Those objections, she said, were based on a misunderstanding of the movement’s intentions.

“Occupy was trying to organize a horizontal system at the grassroots level,” she said.  The 99 Gallery, Ms. Peel will embody the same principles.

Those who want to see how these principles look on the walls of a gallery can see “Politically Incorrect” through the end of July.

contact Joseph Gresser at joseph@bartonchronicle.com

For more free articles from the Chronicle like this one, see our Featuring pages. For all the Chronicle’s stories, pick up a print copy or subscribe, either for print or digital  editions.

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