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      I saw FUN HOME at Millbrook Playhouse near Loch Haven last week. These thoughts are less about the powerful impact this production had on me than on a strong encouragement to attend theatre wherever you can.

      I could go on and on about the incredible actors in this very contemporary musical. Yeah, a musical...but on the order of NEXT TO NORMAL. There is no cutesy sentimentality about this musical; it's all grit and punch. Based on a graphic novel, it chronicles the coming-of-age of a young woman who grows up in a funeral home (the siblings would play in the coffins...fun!) and discovers little by little that she is a lesbian. Did I mention this is a true story? Add to that the fact that her father is a closeted gay man who must deal with his own fears and secrets and conflicts and you have what one wouldn't normally consider fodder for a musical. No song and dance here; oh, wait, yes there is one over the top happy chorus number with the cast of seven that actually mocks the put on a happy face typically found in such a number. The rest...oh, man...it's powerful.

      Each summer we welcome one or two young people who work for nearly three months in all aspects of the HG production process. They are always involved with the summer camp program—this year there were three camps in Elkland, Blossburg, and Wellsboro—and in whatever productions and programs we're working on.

      Katey Pacific and Jay Ritter worked hard all summer and wore a variety of hats. Besides traveling to each of the camps and working with upwards of sixty lively kids, they threw themselves into the big summer musical MAME, performed on the MU campus. They each helped with hauling all the set pieces/furniture, lumber, tools, paint over from Wellsboro.  Both were IN the show. They worked on costuming the whole thing—a cast of over 40. And they did this all in the evenings while camp was going on during the day! Then came the tedious job of putting everything away. (I don't like that part of the job!)

      It’s wonderful to work with people who have worked with other directors. The rehearsal process becomes something new—we’re traveling a new road together. A few times one of them has indicated that this is not what they are accustomed to; not in a complaining way, just a statement…and I think an acknowledgement of being willing to take the new road.

      After reading through the whole play for the first time together, I encouraged them never to say those lines in the way they just read them. Try something new each time. I’ve said this before in rehearsals with mixed results. The next rehearsal, sure enough, the lines were read in completely new and different ways. I found myself thinking—whoa, why are you saying these lines that way? Realizing they were actually doing what I had asked I settled in for even more assurance that we were in for a ride with this process. Each time we read through a scene that next rehearsal, the lines were read differently. It was a freeing experience—a bit scary— sort of free-falling.

      We had our first rehearsal of PROOF a few days ago. There is a distinct shift in the process once the first rehearsal has occurred. Just before that shift is the challenging, often frustrating, difficult casting phase. I believe it is the most difficult—at least for me—aspect of the whole production process.

      The origins of a production are the years before wherein I see a play on stage (in NYC or while traveling or in one of the area community theatres or…), or see a movie based on a play, or read about a play in AMERICAN THEATER magazine or in NYTimes, or receive a program from an HG supporter who saw a wonderful production whilst visiting their cousin in Oregon, or hear about a play from one of the members of the Artistic Planning Committee. Ideas for possible plays for HG to produce germinate through years, oftentimes; often the ideas die or fade away or hide for a while or flourish quickly.

      We’ve had three performances of the Festival of HG Radio and they’ve all been fun. They wonderfully embrace the spirit of our mission: to provide opportunities for people of all ages to enrich and empower their lives through community performing arts. This project does that.

      The youngest in the group is either Bryson Fuhrer who attends Westfield Elementary, or Katie Burke from Mansfield. Either of these—both of these—kids are a joy to work with, and a joy to watch. They are high energy and full of expression and spirit. The oldest in the group—oh, geez—I’m not sure who is the oldest. Larry Biddison may get the prize. Or maybe Bill Bauer. Ed McQuaid is getting up there. There are a few women who may be the winner, but I’m not comfortable listing their names. Sorry for making assumptions.

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