Hamilton-Gibson Productions began in 1991 with little else but a clear vision and purpose: we wanted to create a space where the arts could flourish...a place where people, from children to senior citizens, could tap into new areas of their lives and in so doing be enriched and empowered. Wellsboro has a long tradition of community arts. The first judge in Wellsboro, John Bannister Gibson used his log-cabin courtroom which faced the Green to play his fiddle and host dances after hours. The Bache Auditorium served as the focal point not only for performing arts such as concerts and theatre experiences, but also as a location for conferences, conventions and civic gatherings. There was even an Old Maids Convention. A Community Band played during the summer on the Green. Mansfield hosted a summer theatre under a tent drawing large crowds and providing arts experiences for many local participants.
Since Hamilton-Gibson began we have endeavored to enrich and enhance that tradition. We wanted to create a space for creativity...a space where all generations could find a safe place to be vulnerable, to explore, to create, to try new things...all generations...very young and very old. A space that is uniquely Tioga County. A grass-roots entity, so to speak, comprised of local people, people who live and work here...some were born here, some transplanted. A community space.
We didn't even have a name. We first met in a former farm implement garage midway between Mansfield and Wellsboro. We power blasted layers of oil off the floor and walls, we created a makeshift stage, and we bought a few lights. We held auditions for our first production of THE MIRACLE WORKER. People turned up for the auditions...some we knew, some were complete strangers.
That summer we worked for a name. Two women, Alma Roxie Hamilton and Clara Louise Gibson, were creative people. They were educators, musicians, artists. They loved children and exploring new things. We decided to incorporate all that they embodied in our name...so we began with Hamilton-Gibson. Productions seemed to fit since we didn't want to limit our creative space with only theatrical experiences, but felt that down the road we would embrace other aspects of the arts.
We held a contest to create a logo. Jeansylvia Anderson created a number of logos for the contest, and we embraced this. Within this simple design we find the creative space we were aiming for: We have the theatrical comedy and tragedy masks-one looking down and one looking up; the two women-Hamilton and Gibson, the tree image incorporates the sense of heritage: age, roots, branches, intergenerational, our past, our future.
We began with two productions in the summer of 1991. Each three performances, with average audience of 100. The next year we expanded to three productions with six performances each. One of these productions was a musical we staged at the Wellsboro High School, beginning our long partnership with the school district. The next year we began exploring programming during the school year. Programming was somewhat hindered since the only auditorium in town was at a school and was so often scheduled. We began to explore other potential sites and developed relationships with local churches, the county courthouse, the chamber of commerce, Mansfield University, and the other school districts and private schools in the county. Our partnering with the Wellsboro School District intensified when we were invited to move into the Don Gill Elementary school gymnasium in the summer of 1993. From then until 2005, all our summer programming was in the Don Gill gym, which we laboriously converted into an intimate theatre setting.
Over the years our theatrical programming has expanded so that we are now producing multiple main-stage productions per year. These have four to six performances each. The number of participants in these main-stage productions total over 100 each year...and that's just the performers. The backstage and offstage volunteers total over 200 per year. In the past five years that's over 1500 people exploring the theatre arts with only the main-stage productions. Audience members in the past five years-again for just main-stage performances--well exceeds 10,000.
Besides the main-stage productions we have developed other programming opportunities. In 2001 we began our ACTING UP group: theatre experiences for senior citizens. With grants from the Pennsylvania Partnership for the Arts and other local sponsors we have been able to offer opportunities for seniors to explore many aspects of dramatic arts. Workshops, reader's theatre and performance opportunities. The group has begun work with local school districts and nursing homes to present their material.
We have held ten-minute play festivals. The festival highlights edgy new plays and provides an opportunity for people to gain directing experience. The majority of plays have been directed by new people. In the last ten years we've had 16 new directors. We have also produced Summer Fringe Festivals that have included playwriting workshops, stage-combat, and others, as well as Reader's theatre, dance, music, poetry - many types of performing arts. Each summer we host Play Me--I'm Yours with painted pianos positioned on every block of Main Street inviting the passer-by to tickle thier ivories.
Since 2000, our educational trips to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Canada have allowed area residents to experience world-class theatre every fall. We now also offer a trip to the Shaw Festival at Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Since we began in 1991, Hamilton-Gibson has been committed to the children and youth of our community. Our first season featured the two plays THE MIRACLE WORKER and THE YEARLING. Each of these plays was not only appreciated by children and youth in the audience, but also featured children and the main characters. The next year included the musicals CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN and OLIVER, both featuring many children in the cast.
Our first performance during the school year was a moving exploration of the children of Terezin in Czechoslovakia. We incorporated music which was sung by 65 area children. (Over 100 auditioned.) Seeing the incredible response of these children to some very challenging music, we saw the need for an outlet for young singers. We began the HG Children's Choir with 20 singers in grades 4-8, growing now to four choirs with singers ranging from grades 2-12, from all three school districts and private and homeschoolers.
Since we began the choir in 1996, hundreds of children and teens have participated and have sung hundreds concerts. They were asked to sing with the Williamsport Youth Orchestra and the Mansfield University Symphony Orchestra. They were featured in Mansfield University's performances of Carmina Burana, both at Mansfield and in Corning. They have sung for the Little League World's Series every year since 1991 including being asked to sing when President and Mrs Bush were in attendance. They were selected as the feature choir to work with world-renowned children's choir director Jean Ashworth Bartle from Toronto at the American Choral Directors Conference in 2002. The choir was designated Tioga County's Singing Youth Ambassadors by the county commissioners, and also Pennsylvania's Singing Youth Ambassadors by the state legislature. They have conducted performance tours in Harrisburg, New York City, Washington DC, Toronto, performing with groups such as the Newark Boys Choir and the Maryland State Boys choir. In 2003 the combined choirs traveled to Prague, Czech Republic on a goodwill tour-we departed for Prague the day after we entered Iraq-and were able to visit and sing at Terezin. The Choirs embarked on a Goodwill Performance Tour to Brazil in March of 2006.
The HG CHOIRS have also completed a 67 INITIATIVE wherein they sang in every county in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, including Pittsburgh, Erie, Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Gettysburg and MANY small towns in between. The trip culminated where it began, in Harrisburg at the Capitol, in May 2015.
We began our Shakespeare in the Schools tours in 1993. Each year we took a play or adaptation into local schools. Hamlet had ten performances in 8 different schools and was seen by over 2000 students...many of whom had never seen a Shakespearean play...many had never seen ANY play before.
We also initiated a week long theatre experience in schools. In just one week children audition, rehearse, and perform for an audience. All three county school districts participated and are eager for more. Over 200 children were involved. Now our elementary/middle school shows produce shows in less than two weeks in schools around Tioga County.
We began our summer drama camp for kids in 1999. Over 1000 kids have participated and now we offer three camps, one in each school district in Tioga County.
In all of these programs our focus is on the enormous impact the arts can have on a child. Far exceeding the technical skills of the particular performing arts, we're building self-motivation, confidence, poise...enabling the inherent passion to develop and blossom.
Realizing that over 30% of all children in this county are below the poverty level, our commitment takes on added dimension. We are committed to change this. Participation in the performing arts has been proven to impact a child and help him or her to rise out of the cycle of poverty. We are committed to helping children meet their potential.
Throughout the years we have been fortunate to develop relationships and partnerships with many different groups and individuals. Our corporate sponsor list continues to grow. We participate in the Children's Health Fair & Family Day. We have developed active and vital partnerships with all three school districts. The several Tioga County foundations have been huge contributors, as well as the United Fund. Mansfield University has worked closely with us in performance opportunities, and venues providing clinics and workshops contributing in performance.
Since 1991, HG has seen thousands of volunteers in all aspects of production: on stage, backstage, off stage. Volunteers who meet every need. Tens of thousands of audience members from not only our local area, but all over Tioga County, plus many tourists and guests. Please contact us to get involved in any way.
We are also members of the Chambers of Commerce in Tioga County, Tioga County Visitor's Bureau, as well as the American Association of Community Theatres.