In Superior Court: Attempted murder charge against North Troy stabber dropped

Jennifer Ahlquist, right, sits with her lawyer, Jill Jourdan, at her arraignment in March.  Ms. Ahlquist admitted stabbing her husband and on Thursday, December 5, received a sentence that did not include jail time.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

Jennifer Ahlquist, right, sits with her lawyer, Jill Jourdan, at her arraignment in March. Ms. Ahlquist admitted stabbing her husband and on Thursday, December 5, received a sentence that did not include jail time. Photo by Joseph Gresser

copyright the Chronicle December 11, 2013

by Joseph Gresser

NEWPORT — Jennifer Ahlquist, who stabbed her husband after finding him at a 19-year-old’s house, will not do jail time.  Under the terms of a plea agreement, Ms. Ahlquist, 41, of North Troy, saw the most serious charge against her — attempted second degree murder — dismissed by the state.

She pled guilty to felony charges of first degree aggravated domestic assault with a weapon and unlawful trespass in an occupied residence, as well as to simple assault.

Sentencing for the aggravated assault charge was deferred for seven years and six months, said Judge Gregory Rainville, who presided Thursday, December 5, in the Orleans Criminal Division of Superior Court.  That means the charge will be expunged from Ms. Ahlquist’s record if she does not get into further legal trouble in that period.

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Ruminations: Start a new tradition with Christmas cookies

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Some of our Christmas cookies from a previous year.  Clockwise from the bottom center, are:  Cuccidati, or Italian fig cookies; pizzelle; almond cookies (recipe not provided here); merenguitos; and more pizzelle.  Photo courtesy of Natalie Hormilla

Some of our Christmas cookies from a previous year. Clockwise from the bottom center, are: Cuccidati, or Italian fig cookies; pizzelle; almond cookies (recipe not provided here); merenguitos; and more pizzelle. Photo courtesy of Natalie Hormilla

copyright the Chronicle December 11, 2013

by Natalie Hormilla

Some years ago, when we got tired of too many Christmas gifts with too little meaning, we started to give away Christmas cookies.

The whole process is beautiful.  We bake together, listen to Christmas tunes, talk about the people we’ll give them to, sip amaretto, and just hang out as a family.

The best part is giving them.  The cookies we make for Christmas make their appearance just once a year.  They have a way of inspiring talk about those past family members who carried the recipes into the present.

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In Newport: Merchants get creative to compete with Internet

At All About Home in Derby, Cindy Moylan stocks high-end merchandise and matches online prices.  The strategy brings in business, but leaves her with a limited profit margin and makes it hard to add staff for the store, she said.  Photos by Joseph Gresser

At All About Home in Derby, Cindy Moylan stocks high-end merchandise and matches online prices. The strategy brings in business, but leaves her with a limited profit margin and makes it hard to add staff for the store, she said. Photos by Joseph Gresser

copyright the Chronicle December 4, 2013

by Joseph Gresser

NEWPORT — A random sampling of local merchants suggests they are experimenting with new ways to compete in what has become a global marketplace.
The beginning of the 2013 Christmas shopping season looked pretty good, they said, but they are all looking over their shoulders at their real competition — the Internet.

Like most of the other storeowners, Cindy Moylan of All About Home in Derby, said she faces stiff competition from online retailers such as Amazon.  Her solution is to match their discounted prices on an everyday basis.

“People are conscious about how they spend their money,” she said.

Ms. Moylan said her customers often come into the store looking for the kitchenware and appliances she stocks, and they’re armed with lists of the lowest prices available on the Internet.  Because she bases her prices on the lowest allowed by manufacturers, those informed shoppers know they’ve found a good deal, she said.

Although one might like to think people will be willing to part with a little extra money in order to support a local business, Ms. Moylan said most people just go with the lowest price.

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Tenants prepare to leave historic Spates Block

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Betty McQuillen’s father, Harold Jenks, bought Farrant’s Flower Shop in 1927 from John Farrant the son of its founder.  It was started in the nineteenth century and is the oldest continuously operating business in the city.  Ms. McQuillen said it will be centered on Farrant Street after its Main Street shop closes in December.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

Betty McQuillen’s father, Harold Jenks, bought Farrant’s Flower Shop in 1927 from John Farrant the son of its founder. It was started in the nineteenth century and is the oldest continuously operating business in the city. Ms. McQuillen said it will be centered on Farrant Street after its Main Street shop closes in December. Photo by Joseph Gresser

by Joseph Gresser

NEWPORT — John Daggett carefully placed boxes, pieces of furniture and random possessions into the back of a box truck parked on Main Street here Friday.  Over the past couple of weeks, Mr. Daggett said he’s helped around five households move out of the strip of buildings on the south side of Main Street known as the Spates Block.

The buildings, which run from Center Street up to Second Street, will be demolished in late winter to make way for a retail and hotel complex known as the Renaissance Block.  In preparation, landlord Doug Spates is clearing them of their tenants.

Mr. Daggett said he moved out of the J.B. Police building not long ago and into a new apartment that is also owned by Mr. Spates.

The new apartment is “beautiful,” he said.   “It’s definitely going to be a big change from here.  Where I was living everything was included.  Now I have to pay my own heat and light.”

Mr. Spates is charging a lower rent for the new apartment than he was for the old one, Mr. Daggett said.  That will make it easier to afford the new bills.

On a warm September day John Daggett pauses for a moment as he loads a truck with the belongings of Spates Block residents who are rushing to move before their October 1 deadline.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

On a warm September day John Daggett pauses for a moment as he loads a truck with the belongings of Spates Block residents who are rushing to move before their October 1 deadline. Photo by Joseph Gresser

“Sometimes I get a little behind on my rent,” he said, but he added that Mr. Spates is willing to work with his tenants.  He said Mr. Spates has given him odd jobs to help him out when he’s short, and he’s helped prepare new apartments for people who are being displaced from Main Street; he’s even helped some move.

Stephanie Forest also moved from the Spates Block recently.  She now lives in Derby Line in a bigger apartment that, at $500 a month, is $50 less than the one she rented in Newport.

Mr. Daggett said the change is going to be hard on some people, even if they get help from Mr. Spates.  For many, he said, “It’s definitely a tough adjustment.”

“With all these cutbacks it’s going to be hard on people the first year,” he said.  “I hope when they tear things down and put things up it straightens out the economy.”

Bill Stenger, the co-owner of Jay Peak Resort and one of those seeking to replace the Spates Block, told members of the press earlier this month that he hopes to contribute to an improvement in the city’s economy by building the Renaissance Block, a hotel and conference center on the site of Waterfront Plaza, and a biotech research and manufacturing facility on the site of the old Bogner building.

All of the projects are to be financed through the EB-5 visa program.  Foreign investors in a job-creating business are able to get a green card and eventual citizenship through this federal program.

The Spates Block in 2013 is a faint echo of what it used to be.  Soon even that echo will fade when the block is demolished this winter to make way for new shops and a hotel.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

The Spates Block in 2013 is a faint echo of what it used to be. Soon even that echo will fade when the block is demolished this winter to make way for new shops and a hotel. Photo by Joseph Gresser

In order not to cause more harm than necessary to city businesses, Mr. Stenger said he will wait until after the Christmas season to take ownership of the Spates Block.

He said he wants to allow the businesses to get through the big retail season before they have to move.  When it comes time to build the Renaissance block, Mr. Stenger said the work will be done from the rear of the building to avoid creating traffic problems on Main Street and interfering with other businesses in the city.

“It will be like construction in New York City with the fence with holes in it to watch the workers,” he said.

When complete he said the hotel will boast 64 suites, a pool, a brew pub, and retail space on Main Street.  Mr. Stenger said he expects the hotel to appeal to researchers working on projects at the biotech center as well as regular visitors to Newport.

The building will be open for business in 2015, he said.

The Renaissance Block will replace a collection of buildings that have seen better days, but represent a significant chunk of Newport history.  When the city submitted its application to join the state’s designated downtown program, it prepared a listing of historic buildings in the Main Street area.

According to that document, the J.B. Police building, in which Mr. Daggett lived until recently, was one of the three oldest on the Spates’ Block.  It was built around 1900, 18 years before Newport was organized as a city.

The building was first called the Arlington Block, but received its current name after Police’s Fruit Store moved into the ground floor.  The store was owned by Gasper Borella, who moved from Italy to Plymouth, New Hampshire.  There he added Police to his name.

Carol Bonneau cooks breakfast for Newport residents at Family Recipe, her restaurant.  She plans to keep feeding people until she has to leave and, if possible, to go out with a big party on Main Street.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

Carol Bonneau cooks breakfast for Newport residents at Family Recipe, her restaurant. She plans to keep feeding people until she has to leave and, if possible, to go out with a big party on Main Street. Photo by Joseph Gresser

His son John B. Police took over the store when his father returned to his homeland.  His name is still emblazoned on the front of the building.  The Police family owned the building for the next 61 years.  The only store now open in that building, and one of only four businesses on the block, is Newport’s oldest continuously operating business, Farrant’s Flower Shop.

Betty McQuillen was minding the store on Monday.  Her father, Harold Jenks, bought the business from John Farrant in 1927, Ms. McQuillen said.

He, in turn, had it from his father, Thomas Farrant, who Ms. McQuillen said, came over from England and started selling flowers in the late nineteenth century.

“He owned all of Farrant’s Point,” she said.

She said she doesn’t see how her business will be able to afford to move back to Main Street once construction is done on the Renaissance Block.  Her plans call for basing the business on Farrant Street near its greenhouse.

That option won’t work for Carol Bonneau, the owner of Family Recipe, a restaurant that specializes in breakfasts and is only open mornings.  Ms. Bonneau said she’s seen business decline and thinks it’s because people don’t realize she’s still open.

She is and said she plans to stay open until December 1, the date she’s been given to leave the building.  Like Ms. McQuillen, Ms. Bonneau said she doesn’t think she can find another storefront to rent on Main Street.

Her plan is to keep serving breakfasts as long as she can and then to look for a job, she said.  When it comes time to shut her restaurant’s doors she said she wants to go out in style.

If the city allows it, “We’re going to throw a big party on Main Street,” she said.  “We’re going to give out some food.”

She plans to keep all her restaurant equipment and hopes to raise enough money to buy a food truck and take it around to events where she can again cook for people.

Ms. McQuillen said that not having the Main Street storefront will mean a loss of walk-in traffic.  But the business will be able to keep on delivering orders from customers, she said.

The Spates Block has been losing businesses for years.  The Great Outdoors of Newport, a sporting goods store that once occupied two storefronts, moved to Waterfront Plaza in 2006.

Other businesses closed more recently.  Myers Jewelry shut its doors earlier this year when its proprietor, David Myers, retired.

Jocelyn and Cinta’s Bake Shop moved across the street into the newly opened tasting center, and Debi Meade moved her store to the Hood Building on Coventry Street, in the process changing its name from Fabric to Ewe-phorium.

Aside from Family Recipe, the only businesses that remain open are a second-hand store run by Northeast Kingdom Community Action (NEKCA), and TNT Tattoos, which is located in the oldest building on the Spates Block, the mansion built by Converse Goodhue Goodrich around 1870.

Now it shows little trace of its origin, but it may have been the home of Mr. Goodrich and his wife, Almira, whose legacy is the library that bears their name.

The Goodrich mansion sits on the corner of Main and Second streets.  Over the years, it has been repeatedly refashioned.  The building appears as a home in an 1881 map.  By the turn of the century, though, it was home to a millinery business located on the first floor.  In 1925 there were three storefronts and apartments along Second Street.

The main storefront has been vacant since Your Name Here Embroidery was bought by the owners of Majestic Trophies and Northeast Kingdom Signs and moved across the street to their store.  TNT Tattoo, on the Second Street side of the building, is the only business operating in what was the old Goodrich mansion.

On Main Street, Mr. Daggett waited at the truck as a bare-chested man carried a large glass fish out of the building and entrusted it to his care.

He introduced himself as Shawn Hildreth.  Like Mr. Daggett he was helping people move their belongings to their new lodgings.

It was a matter of kindness, Mr. Hildreth said.  “I’m trying to help people.  It’s true, when you do that it comes back to you.”

Mr. Hildreth said he has lived in Newport for 30 years and stayed in Main Street apartments “off and on.”

Looking up at the buildings, he said. “I don’t want to see it go.  I think it’s bad news to see it go.”

Thinking it over for a moment, he added.  “Maybe it will help get some of the hoodlums off Main Street.”

Mr. Daggett smiled broadly and said, “I used to be one,” he said.

Mr. Hildreth laughed.  “So did I,” he said.

contact Joseph Gresser at joseph@bartonchronicle.com

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Potter spins yarn of magic in trilogy debut

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cheryl potter bookReviewed by Joseph Gresser

Fantasy novels generally fall into the pattern set for the genre by J.R.R. Tolkien in his Lord of The Rings trilogy.  A group of men with swords, axes, clubs and other whacking and hacking implements go off to set a wrong to rights.

Barton author Cheryl Potter sends her heroines out on their perilous mission armed with knitting needles, needles used for their intended purpose, not for stabbing or even poking.

She has conjured up a world where a group of past-their-prime women must find a way to use their style of domestic magic to save the world.

That world is on the verge of dying either by fire or by ice in accordance with a prophecy.

Their world is not necessarily the one in which we live.  Its history includes an earlier calamity that resulted in its original inhabitants being buried under a glacier.

Now, a renegade member of the Potluck Twelve, a group of women devoted to the magic of the dye pot, leads the forces of the south in an attempt to melt the glacier, for unknown but disturbing reasons.

Among the members of the long scattered twelve are Sierra Blue, a knitter whose work is not only beautiful, but is also imbued with magical properties that can enhance the wearer’s natural abilities.

She, her daughter, Skye, and her two sons Warren and Garth, are at the center of the first volume of the Potluck Yarn Trilogy.  They are required to brave the perils of a journey to the Northlands in answer to the summons of Aubergine, the leader of the knitting witches.

Most of the remaining members of the circle also feel Aubergine’s call and are irresistibly drawn to their former home where their leader hopes the group’s former magic can be revived.

Ms. Potter creates a lively community of women, talented but flawed.  Their journey to Bordertown is fraught with peril, but the women meet the dangers with cleverness rather than force.

That is exactly the point of the book, Ms. Potter said in a telephone interview Tuesday.  Ms. Potter, who lives in Barton where she runs Cherry Tree Hill Yarn, spoke from Arizona where she was on a book tour.

Most fantasy adventures, she said, “are about men who like to hurt each other and are full of blood and guts.  I want to empower girls.”

For this reason, Ms. Potter said she centered the first of her projected trilogy around the magic of women.  As a fiber artist herself, Ms. Potter said she feels close to the witches conjured up by her imagination.

Those involved in the spinning community speak of the magic of the dye pot.  Yarn, she explained, reacts to dyes in unpredictable ways, but the fibers are forgiving.  If a batch turns out unsatisfactorily it can always be returned to the pot for another try.

Ms. Potter makes the connection between knitting yarn and a yarn as a long tale explicit in her book.  The witches’ power comes not only from the mystic crystals they use to color the fleeces they will spin.

It also grows from the tales they tell as they do their work.  Sierra Blue, one of the most powerful of the sisterhood, is also the one entrusted with the keeping of almost all the group’s stories.

Telling the story of The Broken Circle is a new endeavor for Ms. Potter who has achieved success in her business life and who has previously published six books of knitting patterns as well as several short stories.

She said she is most of the way through the second volume of the trilogy and, judging by the hints and spoilers she let drop during her interview, has a clear idea of where the twists and turns of the yarn will eventually lead.

Ms. Potter was willing to say that the second volume would investigate the lives of Sierra’s sons, who as boys are excluded from the magic circle.

She said the first three chapters and a picture of the second volume, Secrets of the Lost Caves, will soon be released on her website, potluckyarn.com.

The site also contains other materials that Ms. Potter hopes will make her books useful to teachers and home-schoolers.  The student workbook, which is available as a free download, includes vocabulary lists, discussion questions and questions devised to prompt analytical reasoning, Ms. Potter said.

She also created a separate book of patterns inspired by the magical garments featured throughout the book.  The pattern book is available for sale in a paperback edition or as an e-book, Ms. Potter said.

Ms. Potter said the novel can be appreciated without knitting any of the patterns and said it was intended to enhance some readers’ experience.

She said that she decided to publish the book herself because she wanted to create materials such as the pattern book and the student workbook, which she said commercial publishers would consider a waste of money.

Self-publishing, Ms. Potter added, allowed her to decide to devote resources to making the book attractive.  No other publisher, she said, would have been willing to hire the artist Frank Riccio to do the cover painting and the drawings that appear throughout the book.

Ms. Potter also said that large commercial publishers might not be as willing to provide books to small independent bookstores in quantities they can afford.

She said that she is committed to encouraging young people to read and is eager to speak to groups whenever and wherever it is possible to do so.

In the meanwhile, Ms. Potter said she is hunkered down in a cabin putting the finishing touches on Secrets of the Lost Caves and creating new tangles for the yarns of the knitting witches.

contact Joseph Gresser at joseph@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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NCUHS board favors plans to hire police officer

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by Joseph Gresser

NEWPORT — After a discussion that occasionally veered toward the contentious, the North Country Union High School board decided Tuesday to move forward on negotiations with Newport aimed at hiring a city police officer as a community resource officer in the school.

The board was acting on a recommendation from its human resources committee, which favors hiring the officer.

Newport representative Richard Cartee said he is worried that the $40,000 available to pay for the officer will be too little, and the school will find itself spending money it doesn’t have.

Principal Bill Rivard pledged not to spend more than the amount given to the school out of Medicaid funds.

“I’ll hold you to that,” Mr. Cartee said.

“Please do,” replied Mr. Rivard.

Mr. Rivard said the $40,000 represents new Medicaid money above and beyond the money now used to pay for a half-time school psychologist and a behavior specialist.

Mr. Rivard said he has spoken with Newport Police Chief Seth DiSanto and come up with a draft of a memorandum of understanding outlining the responsibilities of the school and the police department.

Under the terms of the memorandum the officer will “provide specialized assistance… to the school’s administrators, teachers and parents.”

The agreement also lists the officer’s duties as providing instruction to students, investigating criminal activity, and dealing with other police matters concerning the school or students.

Newport Mayor Paul Monette, who attended the school board meeting along with Alderman Dennis Chenette, said the council has yet to see the agreement.  Mr. Monette said he is concerned about any potential cost to city taxpayers.

“The bottom line is that we already have a million dollar police force and we don’t want to increase that,” the mayor said.

Mr. Cartee said he was disturbed to hear people saying that he attended the city council meeting Monday night in order to oppose the board’s plans.

He had gone to the meeting as a Newport taxpayer, he said, to express his concerns about the possibility that the city would get stuck with unforeseen expenses.

Richard Nelson, a board member from Derby, said he has mixed feelings about the proposal.  While he understands that the cost of the program’s first year will be covered by the Medicaid grant, “all good things come to an end,” he said.

Nevertheless, Mr. Nelson continued, most of the people he’s spoken to about the proposal have favored hiring a school resource officer.

“I spoke with some police officers,” he said.  “They’re eager to see it, see how it works.  It could be a benefit to the school and a benefit to the students.”

Mr. Nelson said the school has an ex-state trooper serving as truancy officer, who is “a hell of a good guy doing a good job,” but he will retire someday.

The school could think about combining the two positions, Mr. Nelson said.

He said that although some people worry about having a law enforcement officer in school “I always believe, if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear.”

The board need not worry about negotiations, he suggested, because any changes made by the police or city officials would have to be ratified by the school board.

Scott Boskind, another of Derby’s representatives on the board and himself a former school principal, said that it’s important to think about the question of school safety.

“While no one wants to talk about the most horrific events,” he said, the violent attacks in Newtown, Connecticut and Columbine, Colorado, should never be forgotten.

Mr. Boskind even cited a school massacre in 1927 in Michigan “where a school board member planted a bomb because he was disgruntled.”

Mr. Cartee laughed.  “I appreciate that,” he said.

“While I’m glad that we have a board member who is cognizant of finances, we all have a passion to make sure students come to school and are going to be safe,” Mr. Boskind said.

“I think that never, ever, ever can you say I am not concerned about safety of students,” Mr. Cartee said.  But all too often the school approves spending on a program and then exceeds that amount, he continued.

He said that a good example is the cost of the school’s new running track, the bulk of which was to have been paid for through private fund-raising events, but which was largely paid for with public funds.

If hiring a resource officer costs $50,000 a year, and voters approve the expense, that would be fine with him, Mr. Cartee said.

Mr. Rivard said that the cost of a Newport officer would vary depending on the amount of experience the officer has.  Should a very senior officer decide to seek the post, that might mean fewer days on the job.

For instance, Mr. Rivard said, it might mean the officer is in the school 125 days a year rather than 175.  In no event, he said, would the cost exceed $40,000

Maggie Griffith, one of Newport’s representatives, asked Mr. Rivard if officers are called to the school often.

Mr. Rivard said he didn’t have figures, but they are there “some.”

Mr. Nelson said the officers he talked to said there ought to be a school resource officer because they are called to the school four or five times a week.  He made a gesture indicating that he didn’t believe those statements.

There were no votes cast in opposition to the plan to seek a school resource officer.  Mr. Nelson abstained from voting.

contact Joseph Gresser at joseph@bartonchronicle.com

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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

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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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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