Vermont Vaudeville debuts in Barton to sold out crowd

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Brent McCoy (left) and Maya McCoy, the stars of The Secret Circus, don their action suits for a feat of skill and daring.  The couple will demonstrate their marksmanship and comedic talents Saturday evening at Barton’s Memorial Building.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

Brent McCoy (left) and Maya McCoy, the stars of The Secret Circus, don their action suits for a feat of skill and daring. The couple will demonstrate their marksmanship and comedic talents Saturday evening at Barton’s Memorial Building. Photo by Joseph Gresser

copyright the Chronicle January 29, 2014
by Joseph Gresser

BARTON — Vermonters have always had a yen for local entertainment.  Most towns, including Barton, boast theaters that once hosted traveling shows that toured the country.

Barton’s Memorial Building will welcome a revival of that tradition Saturday night, when Vermont Vaudeville comes to town.

The group, made up of a four-person core and guest performers, has embarked on a nine-town tour of Vermont over the next six weeks as part of its campaign to revive locally produced and consumed entertainment.

Justin Lander, Rose Friedman and Brent and Maya McCoy started their troupe five years ago with an inaugural performance at the Orleans Municipal Building.  Since then they have presented several sold-out shows at the Hardwick Town House every year.

In a conversation on an icy January evening at the East Hardwick home of Ms. Friedman and Mr. Lander, the performers reflected on their journey so far and their plans for the future.

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Chronicle jack-o’-lantern contest winners speak

A jack-o’-lantern imprisoned in its own shell won a subscription to the Chronicle for Meredith Holch.  It was one of 48 entries in the 2013 Great Chronicle Jack-o’-lantern Contest held Sunday at the Barton Memorial Building.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

A jack-o’-lantern imprisoned in its own shell won a subscription to the Chronicle for Meredith Holch. It was one of 48 entries in the 2013 Great Chronicle Jack-o’-lantern Contest held Sunday at the Barton Memorial Building. Photo by Joseph Gresser

by Natalie Hormilla

“You have to look at the pumpkin, and see what it tells you,” said Lila Winstead of Glover, about one of her rules of pumpkin carving.

Ms. Winstead is usually a winner at the Chronicle’s annual jack-o’-lantern contest, and 2013 was no exception.

She was one of three winners in the adult category this year.  She won with a smaller pumpkin that featured an intricately carved face.

“That’s my fallback,” she said.  “Every year, I think, it should be a face.”

There was also the matter of practicality in coming up with her idea.

“I was tired, and I couldn’t think of a big project, and I do indeed have rules — I’m a classicist.”

The jack-o’-lantern face is meant to sit by the front door of a house to keep away gremlins this time of year, Ms. Winstead said.

“In my heart of hearts, that’s what I really believe, that the pumpkin is a face.  Nice things should not be depicted on the face.  Sweet things — that’s not Halloween.” Continue reading

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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

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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Reporter’s notebook: Filmmaker finds his voice, unexpectedly

 

Emily Anderson and Mark Utter at Bread and Puppet Theater. Photo by Joseph Gresser

copyright the Chronicle 8-22-2012

by Joseph Gresser

GLOVER — Mark Utter knows that his inner life is vastly different than his outward appearance might suggest.  He wants everyone else to realize that as well, and with the help of his friend, Emily Anderson, Mr. Utter is on his way to achieving his goal.

Mr. Utter visited Glover Thursday evening August 16 along with Ms. Anderson to give a presentation about I Am In Here, a film that he wrote, and with help from a successful Kickstarter campaign, has seen through filming.  A big crowd filled the ballroom at the Bread and Puppet Theater’s farm.

Ms. Anderson lived at the farm for years as a member of the theater, and during that time she and I became good friends and performed together frequently.

Since then, she has moved to Burlington where she works for VSA Arts, and directs the Awareness Theater Company, a group she describes as “a dynamic theatrical group composed of people with and without disabilities.”

It was through that work that she first met Mr. Utter, and because of his persistent insistence, began working with him.

Mr. Utter does not speak easily and is prone to make broad and hard to interpret gestures.  For much of his life he was not recognized as being the intelligent person he is.

Now, by using a computer keyboard and taking advantage of what is known as facilitated communication, he has proved a most eloquent advocate for himself and other overlooked people.

As Ms. Anderson gently holds his arm at the elbow, Mr. Utter, types out words slowly with one finger.  His progress is not linear, he misses his aim often and has to go back and retype to get the word he wants.

Sometimes, he glances up at the screen and smiles at what he reads, before continuing his writing.  Even a casual observer has to marvel at Mr. Utter’s patience.  It is very clear that his mind runs far more quickly than his slow hand can move.

Ms. Anderson afterwards said Mr. Utter has told her that her touch helps him focus and wards off his otherwise uncontrollable gestures.  She said that she will gradually move her hand up his arm until it just rests on his back.  In time, perhaps he will not need her help to communicate.

Already, he doesn’t need the projector.  He has an iPad configured so that his typing is rendered into audible speech.

As the audience entered the ballroom, Thursday, a short statement written by Mr. Utter was projected on the screen above his head.

“No so long ago people thought the most advanced way to deal with the dreadfully strange members of our society was to put them away.  Twenty years ago Vermont closed its institution but Vermont, along with the rest of the world, is still adjusting to those wretches returning.  The task at hand is for everyone to surrender their wishes for perfection and embrace our different ways of being human.”

These paragraphs serve as a kind of manifesto for his current work, but do not define his ultimate ambition.  Right now, Mr. Utter is concentrated on finishing his film which, in the form of a tantalizing snippet he previewed for the puppeteer audience.

In the one scene he showed, Mr. Utter goes to a film with a friend.  As his companion orders two tickets to what from the title is a particularly gruesome horror film, snickers erupt behind the pair.

There stand a couple of snarky teenagers.  The girl mocks Mr. Utter saying that he is a “retard” who should not be allowed to attend an R-rated film.

This is the kind of insult that Mr. Utter’s difficulties with spoken language once forced him to endure.  But in the world of the film, Mr. Utter has a secret weapon.

“A wonderful actor plays my mind,” Mr. Utter types.  And Paul Schnabel does present a wonderfully idealized portrait of Mr. Utter.

The two men stand together with crossed arms as Mr. Schnabel booms, in a way that Mr. Utter can only dream of doing, “You are wrong.  I am old enough to be your father.”

Mr. Utter found his voice unexpectedly.  He had taken a class in facilitated communication and didn’t see there was much in it for him.

Then he saw a film, Wretches and Jabberers, which portrayed the travels of Larry Bissonnette and his friend Tracy Thresher.

Mr. Utter knew both men and was interested to see that they used facilitate communication in their artistic endeavors.  Ms. Anderson worked with Mr. Bissonnette, whom she had met while working with the GRACE program, and Mr. Utter decided he would like to work with her as well.

As Ms. Anderson recalls it, Mr. Utter “sort of inserted himself in my life.”

“I asked her for so long I almost gave up,” Mr. Utter said.

Knowing that he was not a speaker, Ms. Anderson asked Mr. Utter to write a couple of lines for a play she was producing for the Awareness Theater Company.

From there, Mr. Utter was on his way.

“I wrote short blurbs first and then decided to go through a day in my life and filled it with the real facts with some humor,” he told the crowd at Bread and Puppet.

Much of the cost of the funds were raised through Kickstarter, a website that helps bring artistic projects to the attention of a wide audience, and allows people to make small contributions to help them succeed.

In the interest of full disclosure I was one of the many contributors to the project.  Ms. Anderson and Mr. Utter are still looking for more people to contribute to the project.

The film is scheduled to premiere in Burlington this October.

After that?   “My wish is to address love in my next movie,” Mr. Utter said.

When asked by Ms. Anderson to expand on that comment, he said, “I feel love is a thing wanted by all and experienced by few and it need not be so.”

After Mr. Utter’s presentation I spoke with him for a few minutes.  Ms. Anderson explained that I write for the Chronicle and asked if he had anything to say to the residents of Orleans county.

Mr. Utter thought for a moment and slowly typed out:

“Oh people of Orleans I look forward to sharing our movie with you and talking about all the ways we can effect changes in how people interact with each other.”

contact Joseph Gresser at: joseph@bartonchronicle.com

 

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Protesters stop Lowell turbine truck

A Lowell wind project protester confronts State Police Corporal Dan Kerin as he tries to clear people off Route 100 Monday. Opponents of the Green Mountain Power project stopped a truck hauling a section of a turbine tower for about two hours before a compromise was negotiated with police. Our story starts on page nineteen. Photos by Chris Braithwaite

copyright the Chronicle July 18, 2012

by Chris Braithwaite

LOWELL — Though it was billed as just a “rally” and an opportunity for opponents of the Lowell Mountain wind project to “greet the turbines” as they arrived, Monday’s confrontation here turned into a brief but intense exercise in civil disobedience.

Gathering across Route 100 from the gate to the 21-turbine wind project at 9 a.m., protesters seemed content to wave signs and sing songs that condemned the project.

But when a truck hauling a long section of turbine tower finally appeared, a handful of protesters rushed into the road and stopped it.  The quick arrest of two of them seemed only to draw others onto the highway in front of the idling truck.

Two Lamoille County deputies who had been hired by the project’s owner, Green Mountain Power, tried to “walk” the truck through the protesters, pushing them aside as they encountered them.  But that proved to be a futile exercise that one demonstrator described later as “herding an amoeba.”  Demonstrators flowed around the deputies to post themselves in front of the truck and bring it, once again, to a halt.

A group of Bread and Puppet performers had come to the scene in the Glover theater company’s distinctly painted bus, and their banners and fiercely beating drums brought fresh resolve to the protesters.  As the two deputies and uniformed security guards at the site stood by in frustration, the crowd chanted “Shame on you!” and “Turn it back!” at the bright red truck and its hapless driver.

As protesters line Route 100, watched closely by police officers, the turbine section finally pulls onto Green Mountain Power’s construction site.

It took some time for the first State Police officer to arrive.  And when Corporal Dan Kerin stepped out of his cruiser he encountered the same tactic that had confounded the deputies.  Each protester in turn yielded to the corporal’s direct order to clear the road, then stepped back onto the pavement when he moved on to the next protester.

But State Police officers started to arrive in force, backed up by Orleans County deputies and officers with the U.S. Border Patrol, Fish and Wildlife and VTrans.  Sets of hand restraints were brandished, and police dogs were sighted.  An onlooker who scouted the area on his bicycle reported counting 22 law enforcement vehicles at the scene.

Lieutenant Kirk Cooper, commander of the State Police Derby barracks, stepped into the middle of the crowd of demonstrators and appealed for a peaceful conclusion.

“You’re perfectly entitled to voice your non-support,” he told the demonstrators.  “But other people have to use this road.  That’s where we get in the middle.

“I’m not gong to give you a lot a crap,” the lieutenant continued.  If they didn’t move, he told the demonstrators, “we’re going to be forced to move you.  I honestly don’t want to do that.”

The officer’s plea was seconded by one of the Lowell project’s most determined opponents, Don Nelson.

“We’ve made our point, boys,” Mr. Nelson said.  “It’s time to back off.”

Some protesters heeded that advice, but some did not.  Police, gathered in a clump just beside the idling truck, seemed ready to move.  But leaders of the group were clearly anxious to avoid the confrontation that seemed moments away.

Pat Sagui, Steve Wright and Stephanie Kaplan, a lawyer who worked with opponents of the Sheffield wind project, talked to Lieutenant Cooper and Lamoille County Sheriff Roger Marcoux.

The deal they struck was that protesters would clear the highway if the sheriff released his two captives.  They were a key leader of the opposition, Ira Powsner, and his younger brother, Jacob.

Ira Powsner of Ira is placed under arrest moments after stepping out onto Route 100 to stop a truck carrying part of a wind turbine.

After they were issued citations to appear in court on September 11 to answer charges of disorderly conduct, the brothers stepped out of the sheriff’s vehicle to the cheers of protesters.  They sang “Happy Birthday” to Ira Powsner on the occasion of his twenty-sixth birthday.

The protesters returned to the side of the highway, the officers lined up to keep them there, and the truck finally hauled its long, white load through the gates and onto the construction site.

Watching from just inside that site, Lowell Selectman Richard Pion was less than pleased by the compromise.

“They ought to take half those people to jail,” he said.  If police lacked the vehicles to get them there, he added, “they should go get a school bus.”

“They can demonstrate, but there’s no need of blocking traffic,” Mr. Pion said.  “I thought this was the land of democracy,” he added, noting that a solid majority of Lowell citizens voted for the wind project.

Like most who tried to count the protesters, Mr. Pion estimated that there were about 100 of them.  “That shows there’s only a handful that’s opposed to this,” he said.

When traffic finally started to move past the Green Mountain Power gate, it consisted only of a handful of heavy trucks that had been held up in both directions, and one Army truck driven by what appeared to be a National Guardsman.  Most traffic was apparently able to drive around the obstruction on Mink Farm Road, which loops to the west of Route 100.

While Green Mountain Power’s chief executive, Mary Powell, was not visible at the scene, Vermont Electric Cooperative’s CEO, David Hallquist, was on hand.  His utility has agreed to buy a small share of the project’s power, at cost.

Asked by a reporter if he was upset by the demonstration, Mr. Hallquist replied that he would have been disappointed if no one had shown up.  Some of Mr. Hallquist’s remarks were recorded on film by his son, Derek Hallquist.  The younger Hallquist is working with the documentary filmmaker Aaron Woolf of New York State, whose best-known work is King Corn.

In the hard hat and safety vest provided by Green Mountain Power, Mr. Woolf and his crew were easy to mistake for employees of the utility.

Standing just inside the work site, facing the demonstrators across the road, Mr. Woolf noted that if people stood on his side of the road, they were pro-wind.  People on the other side of the road were anti-wind, he continued.

“And if you stand in the middle of the road, you get run over.”

The section of turbine tower had been held up on the highway for about two hours.  And as demonstrators headed north on Route 100 after the rally, they quickly encountered a second section of tower on its way to the site, closely followed by a long, slender turbine blade.

contact Chris Braithwaite at chris@bartonchronicle.com

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