ALL GOOD THINGS
ALL GOOD THINGS by Barbara Biddison
Well, these good things are not, to my knowledge, coming to an end, in
any permanent sort of way, but both have reached a point when we
appreciate the "intermission" where we gather our thoughts and reflect
on what we've accomplished. Always a good thing to do.
Sunday afternoon, May 21, featured the HG Spring Choir at the
Presbyterian Church. It was packed. I sat in the back row, could see
perfectly and hear pleasurably. We heard CHILDREN'S CHOIR TOO, and
these littlest ones are not only fun to listen to but lovely to watch
as well. It is a joy to see children that young actually paying
attention to their director. And we heard CHILDREN'S CHOIR (which is
next up in age and the first group when HG kids began singing). And
then the YOUTH CHOIR which is basically high school gals and guys.
Such concerts always take me back to my own long-ago high school days
in Mc Allen High School where we had an extraordinary director who
rehearsed our ACapella Choir before school because so many football
players wanted to sing and football practice was after school. Then
he added the Methodist Church to his choir directing, and we all
became Methodists for the time. These music experiences live for a
long time with a person.
Now for the other regular programming that has gone on break for the
summer. Acting Up began in2002 and Larry and I began co-coordinating
this idea in 2005. It is still going now with very few changes in
concept. We get together and we read aloud. No memorizing. Just
speaking with expression and listening. The basic format each 2nd and
4th Tuesday of the month is simple. All who gather are invited to
find and practice a short bit to offer to the group. Everyone listens
to these offerings with interest and appreciation. Then whichever of
the two of us is "in charge" provides copies of a short play or
several poems or anything that "reads aloud well." We never know
who's going to show up. Numbers range from 8 to 20, but about 12-18
is usual. Some stay with us for decades and others just show up and
continue when they can. So now we are on break for the summer. We're
meeting on the 2nd floor of the Deane Center now, in one of the
smaller group rooms. It's handicapped accessible in every way.
including elevator as well as stairs. This kind of reading and
listening stays with a person for a long time as well. Good things.
THE MOONS OF JUPITER ARE RISING
THE MOONS OF JUPITER ARE RISING by Barbara Biddison
I've cared passionately about HGWP since we created it and named it in 2016. And here we are with a full length play featuring all genders in a large cast. I sat in on a rehearsal a few days ago, about a week before opening, and I was enchanted. I'm only somewhat familiar with the play, having read it and then having sat in on a 'read-around' with 20-some others, but I'm not involved in directing/acting/set-building/tech for the production. So it is all a treat for me! Lilace is directing and Jessie is working on the set, and my cast list has about 20 names on it. Keep in mind that about a week from opening almost anything could happen, which might include things that I didn't see.
I'll just move right into a couple sets of characters that intrigued, and amused, me. Actors Dawn and Nikki and Yolie and Rachel jump right into the skins of Newton and Galileo and Einstein and Darwin. Who would have expected to see them there? And who could have guessed how clueless they are about some things? They don't seem to have many "life skills" as such, but they are great fun to watch. (It's sorta like going to see a Beatles concert assuming you will hear familiar tunes and discovering that they don't know how to tune a guitar.) And then there is Zeus and his amorous relationship. And three of his daughters, all goddesses. And you can't miss the astrophysicist!. Or Cody as son of the king of the gods. Many audience members will remember Diamond and Nikki and Megan from last year's INTO THE BREECHES..
Back to the overriding premise, the earth is running out of water!! We are talking about climate change here, and there comes the reason that one performance day falls on the real Earth Day on this real earth that we all live on. They have to substitute vodka for water
Staging is simple. Actually the total stage picture was not in performance-ready order when I sat in for an hour or so. But I did see a raised "mini-stage", and on it I saw an ornate "throne" belonging to Zeus (and perhaps to others when the whole story is told)..
Now the Greek Chorus was not called to be present for this rehearsal, but I know that there is one and I look forward to such an addition. I heard that they even do some Beetles songs There are many twists and turns, so come to the show ready to pay attention, to laugh, to figure things out. It's in the Warehouse Theatre and plays April 21, 22, 23.
FROST, THOMPSON, BRANDT and WORDLE
Frost and Thompson and Brandt and Wordle by Thomas Putnam
The NYT Wordle word the other day was “staid.” I mentioned on FB that I liked the word; it seems hopeful to me, even comforting. A person commented that it's in one of the songs that the Festival Chorus at MU is singing in a few weeks; lyrics a poem by Robert Frost with music by Randall Thompson. It's the last word in the last song of the song cycle called “Frostiana.”
The song is “Choose Something Like a Star” and it ends like this:
It asks of us a certain height,
So when at times the mob is swayed
To carry praise or blame too far,
We may choose something like a star
To stay our minds on and be staid.
It could very well be my imagination, but it seems like there is increasing incidence these days wherein the “mob is swayed to carry praise or blame too far.” Public opinion seems to change direction as quickly as the climate-changed wind veers one way and then another way and then back again.
We're producing a play this September called Elephant's Graveyard by George Brandt. It is a disturbing play. It is a play wherein the “mob is swayed to carry praise or blame too far.”
I saw a play at the Geva in Rochester last week about Russian manipulation of American social media in a recent election. Oh, my. It seems evident that our American mob was indeed, swayed.
Frost suggests we choose something like a star. Something steadfast. Something that can use language we can comprehend. This “something” does, indeed, ask a little of us here; we have some responsibility. But, oh to have something we can go to, depend upon; something “to stay our minds on and be staid.”
I hope we can dialogue about this in the coming months. I urge you to join me at the Festival Chorus Concert in late April at MU. I urge you to get tickets to see Elephant's Graveyard in September. I urge you to stop and chat about it when you see me on the street. Heck, I even urge you to play Wordle every morning. And I invite you to “choose something like a star.”
THE VERY FULL WEEKEND
THE VERY FULL WEEKEND by Barbara Biddison
I think Hamilton-Gibson, Mansfield University, and Cowanesque Valley HS all got together and said, "Could we all plan together and do a show on the same weekend, so that our theatre lovers would have a show every afternoon and every night?? And they all said YES, and we audience members obliged! So here's how I did it with family and friends.
Friday, March 3. Opening Night for EXIT LAUGHING. Hamilton-Gibson. The threat of challenging snow had us all wondering if we would have it. Well, there was some snow and slush and rain, but the show went on and about 30 of us enjoyed laughing the stormy night away. When we got out, there was only a bit of rain and no significant snow accumulation. And the sound of 30 people laughing was enough to keep the cast of five going! We all stayed for the Opening Night party/gathering/food and conversation after the show. And, as far as I know, all got home safely. It's a really fun show with 3 who have been on the HG stage before, and 2 who are new to us. Thomas Putnam directs. There are three more shows, next Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and I plan to see it again on Sunday the 12th at 2:30.
Saturday, March 4. In the middle of a March 2-5 run for THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. Mansfield University. I have seen lotsa shows in this Straughn Auditorium Theatre, and this time Straughn was packed!! Children, MU students, and community of all ages. The pre-show energy was high. The show was powerful. The singing was outstanding! And the dancing and blocking, and the dialogue, and the costumes, and... everything! And except for a few characters it was double cast. Peter Davis directed. Todd Ranney was music director. Alexandra Fisher and Rebecca Hawkinds were choreographers. And the chandelier was positioned to come down without frightening the audience under it! I think it's safe to say that we were all captured by the talent and dedication of everyone involved.
Then there was Sunday, March 5. And off we went to see MATILDA THE MUSICAL produced by the Cowanesque Valley HS Drama Club. Our dear friend from past HG days, David Wert, is director of theatre there. Last year he produced CHICAGO and this year he has gone in a whole different direction with these young people and given them Roald Dahl's MATILDA. And they grabbed hold of it and ran with it. I just love to see young people do this. And I know that it takes that kind of director to get that kind of performance. They are fortunate to have an orchestra of local professional musicians to play with them, and the whole group sings well. I counted 37 "cast and crew bios" and I think only 4 of those are adults. The students really plug into this theatre experience and it is a joy to watch them perform.
Yes, it sure was a good weekend. I'm full, for the moment.
I'LL BET YOU'LL EXIT LAUGHING
I'LL BET YOU'LL EXIT LAUGHING by Barbara Biddison
On Wednesday night I saw a "next-to-final dress rehearsal" for this Hamilton-Gibson comedy called EXIT LAUGHING There were 4 of us in the chairs that we hope to have filled on Friday night. My favorite
comments from two of them when the show was over were variations on "Now, that was funny!"
The three bridge-playing women have been gathering together for years and they have come together to mourn the loss of the fourth She's gone , but her ashes have arrived and somehow found their way to the house where the foursome played together. We don't know what the fourth member was like, but we soon see how different the other three are. It makes for lively and crazy interactions .As well as for wondering how the deceased woman's ashes got there, and what to do about it.
There is also the daughter who lives in that house, and she makes it clear that her lovelife is in shambles and there is no hope for her to ever have any kind of guy and everything is ruined! Then in walks a
fellow who has taken on a pretty unusual job in order to earn money for his very ambitious future plans. These five carry the show with the help of a cat that we never see and one dead person's ashes.
Now I'm just assuming and hoping that we'll have a fine night for opening on Friday and that this wonderful cast can play to a full house. I plan to be there. I should also mention that HG has gone
back to two Sunday matinee shows instead of just one. I think I'll see it again on the second Sunday just to see what it's like, and because I like to see shows twice. This is a fine cast. It's been a while since we have seen Natalie Kennedy,, and it is a pleasure to see Deb Sawyer back on the HG stage again. And a couple first-timers too. I encourage all to step out for an evening of good humor.
WHERE WERE YOU WHEN YOU HEARD PAUL MCCARTNEY DIED? By Thomas Putnam
I can remember when the news broke about Paul McCartney's death. I had this huge wave of despair and emptiness and heavy sadness. I can remember where I was, lying on the couch in our living room. Somehow, however, I seem to remember it in the living room of my childhood and not the one of my high school years; somehow the dates don't match up. I know I couldn't have imagined such news, but how do the dates not match up? The rumor began, I think in '66 and really gained speed in '69.
Radio and records were not really a big thing for me when I was growing up. The Beatles were certainly part of the landscape, and I clearly remember watching the Ed Sullivan Show in '64 and wondering why everyone was screaming, but thinking “Oh, that would be kinda cool to have everyone screaming for me.” Yeah...well...at that point I couldn't play guitar or drums or write songs; though I wasn't particularly thrilled with “Yeah, yeah, yeah” as anything of much worth.
A whole host of forgotten memories have been flooding back the past few months as the HG Choirs prepare for an “All Beatles” concert on March 18 and 19. I'm not sure how the idea came about, but one morning as I was slowly waking up (slowly seems to be the operative word these days for my mornings) the thought kept wafting through my brain that there are so many incredibly good songs written by the Beatles that our HG kids ought to sing some of them.
A REALITY CHECK hit me when I realized that some of these songs are nearly 60 years old. These kids weren't born yet. Heck, some of their parents and grandparents hadn't been born yet. I'm seeing this as an educational experience for these kids who love to sing. As I began to introduce the songs to them, a few kids admitted they had never even heard of the Beatles, let alone such haunting tunes and lyrics found in “Eleanor Rigby” or “Yesterday.” I asked them a few weeks ago what was the appeal of the song “Blackbird” and one of them said “It's comforting.” One said they could identify with Eleanor Rigby, “...wearing a face that she keeps in a jar by the door.” And “Ob La Di Ob La Da” sure is a lot of fun to sing. And what is the back story to these characters: Jude and Eleanor and Lucy and Desmond?
Yeah, I remember when I heard that McCartney had died, but I'm so glad he didn't and I'm so glad that I can explore these songs with cool harmonies and haunting melodies and challenging lyrics with the HG singers. (Well, maybe not “yeah, yeah, yeah.”) Hope you can join us and Penny Eckman and Houston Baker and his band on March 18 and 19 at the Coolidge.
WHERE WE ARE, TWO WEEKS OUT
WHERE WE ARE, TWO WEEKS OUT by Thomas Putnam
So, two weeks from tonight we're opening a show. One of my sons (now mid-30s) has always said that the few weeks prior to a show opening I was a total nut case, a mess, a distracted lack-of-a-father. He's still talking to me, so I guess he survived a multitude of “the few weeks prior.” At first I rejected his assessment, but I've come to realize that it's a true one.
So where are we, two weeks out? Well... The set is getting close to being finished: walls are painted, most of the furniture has been located and now inhabits the stage, lights and sound still need some very focused attention. Costumes are contemporary, so not a big concern...except a few novelty items, but they've been ordered from eBay and are on the way. And the cast?
We're at the place where I sit back and admire my casting ability. Actually, it's more like overflowing with gratitude that these folks auditioned and are perfect for their roles. The process of the whole production is probably the most fulfilling for me. To begin with five people—actually we began with three of the five cast members and just recently secured the other two—who had not worked together before and who have a wide variety of acting experience and who have lives that sometimes don't allow them to be present for rehearsals and who slowly begin to memorize lines and find a character, and who now, two weeks before opening are cracking me up with their easy repartee with each other and their delivery of lines and engagement with the scene...well...it's glorious.
Last night we had a very cool rehearsal. We're digging into a portion of the play that has been less visited than others and slowly worked through it. To take those words on a page and turn them into something alive and fun and meaningful and honest is something wonderful.
Two weeks out? We're at the place now where I can hope everyone will see this production. There's plenty to chew on and admire and appreciate, and there's plenty of laughs to help you through these gray days of late winter. EXIT LAUGHING...wouldn't we all like to. See you in two weeks.
BRAVO BUTLER'S LION KING!
MIDDLE SCHOOL PRESENTS THE LION KING JR by Barbara Biddison
The Wellsboro High School auditorium was packed with little kids and adults and big kids, and there was an excited buzz in the air on the night of February 10th. It was Opening Night!! Sixty-some names appear on the program as cast and ensemble as well as staff and crew and interns. A few of this number are adults and high school interns, but the great majority represent the middle school.
This was an extraordinary opportunity for so many to participate in live theatre. Of course there were lots of lions. But I think I was most enchanted by the girafes. And this brings me to costume making which was clearly an important part of this show. There is so much more than acting when a school puts on a production like this.
Parents and school teachers and cooks and backstage and technical production staff, and I'm sure adults in charge of getting all these young people fed here and there along the way. And making arrangements for rehearsal space, and figuring out all the technical aspects It's a grand learning experience.
Wellsboro schools have been good at trying to offer this experience over many years In the
time between now and 32 years ago there was no Hamilton-Gibson to fill in and provide an even broader experience. When the now Middle School was a Junior High, Pat Davis managed to produce THE WIZARD OF OZ with 7th through 9th graders. And around the same time the same high school auditorium that we have now offered my older son the
opportunity to play Frank Butler in ANNIE GET YOUR GUN and, a few years later, my younger son the role of Tevya in FIDDLER ON THE ROOF.
Now HG offers multiple theatre experiences for our area youth, including drama camps for the whole surrounding area. And the Wellsboro schools continue, when they can, to offer theatre and chorus and band. and all those good fine arts activities.
KUDDOS to all those who make this happen right here where we all live!!!!
NEVER AGAIN. NEVER FORGET
NEVER AGAIN. NEVER FORGET by Thomas Putnam
Today, January 27, is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. There was a saying following World War II regarding the extermination of 6 million Jews, 15,000 people who identify as homosexual, and nearly a million people who were formerly known as Gypsies and now more accurately identified as Roma. That saying is/was “NEVER AGAIN.” And yet, the intolerance for those who are different from ourselves seems to be increasing rather than never happening again.
HG has some ties with the Holocaust. The HG Choral Program began as a result of a production of I NEVER SAW ANOTHER BUTTERFLY with lyrics by children of Terezin in what is now the Czech Republic. We produced it, we sang it; we took two busloads of singers and their families to The Czech Republic and visited Terezin. We visited the Holocaust Museum in D.C. shortly after it opened. We produced a play called AND THEN THEY CAME FOR ME about Jews in The Netherlands who are imprisoned during WWII.
When we hear of anti-Semitic attacks recently, the resolute “NEVER AGAIN” doesn't make sense. How can we be going backwards? How can people continue to believe that Jews and Roma and Gays and any who people who are different from ourselves are a threat or inferior or dangerous simply because they are different? Where is the simple exercise of kindness, of welcoming, of acceptance?
In the past year I've seen two theatre productions regarding persecution of people who are Jewish. At Chautauqua I saw Paula Vogel's INDECENT and was simply blown away by the power and beauty of this exploration of antisemitism and homophobia. In NYC I saw the incredible production of Tom Stoppard's LEOPOLDSTADT; three generations of people who are Jewish and the devastatingly tragic effects of antisemitism.
I've quoted playwright Lauren Gunderson a number of times in the last few years. Something like “Theatre's superpower is empathy.” Empathy. Exercising empathy. Oh, what a dream that is where empathy is manifest. Can—should—HG exercise empathy? Is there anything that HG could do to further the resolute hope of “NEVER AGAIN?” Let us remember. NEVER FORGET.
LOOKING BACK at the CHORAL CELEBRATION of the MISSION OF MLK by Barbara Biddison
It certainly was a celebration on January 16 at the Wellsboro HS
Auditorium. Six local choirs/choruses/ensembles, and soloists, as
well as five individuals presenting "The Radical Legacy of MLK" in
spoken word. The auditorium was nearly full. And the audience joined in singing familiar songs from "Lift Every Voice and Sing" to "Blowin' in the Wind." Informative, inspiring, appropriate--all of it.
We do love to sing here in Wellsboro! The youngest HG children looked to be maybe 9 or 10, and I won't guess at ages for the Women's and Men's Choruses but some of them aren't 50 anymore! And we love to
speak too, as evidenced in the spoken word sections. This may be the only time during the year that we get to sing together, on the same stage. So who do we get to thank for all this reminder and celebration and annual attention to Martin Luther King Jr. It all runs so smoothly that we don't even think about "Whose idea was this?
and how did all these singers have something so appropriate to offer?" Well, of course the singing groups rehearse on their own, and that demands a commitment. But it's Thomas Putnam who starts it up, gets the ball
rolling, has new ideas (such as the spoken word component this year) and of course rehearses his own choirs who will sing.. It is a noble reminder that we all appreciate and benefit from each year.
There are many reasons to love living in Wellsboro, This Choral Celebration is one of them. It's way at the top of my list!
[Many thanks to all the directors and accompanists of the choral groups, all the singers and instrumentalists, all the tech folk, all the behind the scenes folk, all the readers, and Ashley Wilson. It takes a village... twp]