I'M THANKFUL FOR … by Barbara Biddison
It's time to make a list again. I had a birthday a day ago, and Thanksgiving is coming soon. So, I spent some time thinking about how fortunate I am that I get to be old.
When I was 11 we moved to south Texas where my parents began a new venture and opened Flavor Isle, and I spent time after school and on weekends singing with my mother in this ice cream shop. We harmonized.
I was never part of the "popular" group of girls, but I had a few really good friends. A couple of them lived just down the street from me, and they (sisters) had horses and rode them. They also had a pet bird that flew freely around the house. Another was also my debate partner. Yet another had older brothers which I didn't have, and I loved being part of their family too. So, there were good times even though this Minnesota girl didn't understand 90 degrees on Christmas Day! Wellsboro life began for my family (husband and sons) in 1969. At last, familiar winters!
Fast forward to now. I get to be old enough to have adult sons and their wives and to have grandchildren, and to have them actually want to visit a few times a year. (And to NOT have them live ",right next door," thus being able to admire how they have found their own
lives which they live admirable well.)
Thirty-some years ago I found Hamilton-Gibson as it was just beginning. And I am old enough to have seen its growth and its connection to the community where I live. In 1993 I was present for the beginnings of the HG youth choirs as children performed in "I Never Saw Another Butterfly." I saw "Driving Miss Daisy" in '95. and HG has not so far been able to cast that play since then--we've tried! I saw the first "You Can't Take It With You" and the first "Quilters" in 1998. And in 2000 I was one of 3 sisters in "Goodbye Howard," an hour-long one-act. I think 2001 was the first time for HG and the Red Garter Review. My first year to act in a full-length regular play was 2005 in which Thomas played "The Foreigner" in the play by that name. We were still in the Don Gill all-purpose room then for all "mainstage shows." In 2007 HG toured a children's show, "Once Upon a Shoe," in which I was Mother Goose and my husband was Mr. Smith, and the touring 8 children played children for 30 performances on gym floors and cafeteria rooms in surrounding counties.
I've been cast in lotsa plays, and there are no favorites. Except the “Our Town/Laramie Project” combination. Most of us were cast in both and we alternated shows night after night in a 3/4 round arrangement that has since become something else. That's probably a good place to stop this ramble There are many things that have become something else! It is good that they were what they were when they were that. And I'm thankful for now, and here comes Thanksgiving!
MERMAIDS LEAVE EARLY by Barbara Biddison
Their on-stage friend had to go away, and mermaids are such faithful creatures; they just couldn't go on without him. They had planned to stay for a second weekend, but that was not to be. We are left with good memories.
Coffee brewing at the Sea Hags B&B and a snowstorm brewing outside. A floundering bed-and-breakfast back to life and a mermaid rescued, too. True love found, and a surprise pet dog. A new mermaid on land meeting old, really old, ones. We all got to decide whether the old ones were foolish or not!
Women in tech and production positions: Director, Producer, Prop and Costume finders, Lights-and-sound runners, Backstage ins-and-outs of theatre production, graphics/poster maker. And thanks to set-building help from two guys. And nothing like this ever happens without promotion and sponsors, which for this production happen to be almost all women. Well, there we are.
We're sorry for those who are unable to see the show this weekend, but if we've learned anything the past two years, we realize that anything can happen and plans can be changed in a moment. Onward. We move on to December filled with Dickens and A Christmas Carol, and The Messiah...and we keep the good memories.
My New Friends, The Mermaids by Barbara Biddison
I met some new friends last night. Thomas's last blog encourages me
to let them "take up residence for as long as they'd like to stay."
Well, these mermaids seem to have ended up on dry land, and on the HG
Warehouse Theatre stage where I found them rehearsing for FOOLISH
FISHGIRLS AND THE PEARL. That made for a fun evening.. So, I'm going
to let them take up residence for a while.
The cast has some familiar faces (and acting history with HG). So
I'll smile remembering a few from past shows: Anne Acker as the
sister in THE LAST ROMANCE, Judith Sornberger in CALENDAR GIRLS,
Lexa VanDuesen as the dog in SYLVIA,, Pat Balon in WEDDING BELLES. and Titus Himmelberger as Pierre in THE MADWOMAN OF CHAILLOT. So in this FISHGIRL show they are all somebody else, including
not-yet-mentioned Robin Gaige and Brett Kennedy. (That's what happens in theatre--you get to be somebody else.). And, Linda Young, whose stage set/construction we have all admired before, is directing this show.
I saw this rehearsal on November 2nd. The show opens on November 11th. During those ten days is when all the extra bits and pieces come to life. I love seeing rehearsals at this point. No scripts in sight. Lines are there, except for a few flubs sprinkled throughout. Character interactions are clearly developing. The old mermaids and
the new are revealed to be what they are and how they got to be there. The newest mermaid has the sweetest "chirp" you've ever heard. Floyd starts out as a real pain, demanding his breakfast and such, and turns
out to be not quite what we thought. The audience should come prepared to laugh AND to pay close attention as this mermaid story develops. It is a fun show for sure, and still the story has more depth than you might expect from mermaids.
And now to end with my expression of gratitude for the HGWP (Hamilton-Gibson Women's Project). In 2016 Thomas Putnam expressed the need for "more opportunities for women" to participate in the HG family "We
have to do something." Linda Iseri looked at me and said, `` I guess that's us." Almost immediately thereafter Lillace Guignard joined in to make the initial trio. Soon Clare Ritter and then Jessie Thompson ....and if I try to go further with names I will leave someone out. Now it's all of us with room for those who "just want more" and for those who want to "give it a try." Even mermaids.
Muddy Pants Can Spark by Thomas Putnam
I was able to sit in on a rehearsal of the upcoming production of Foolish Fishgirls and the Pearl the other night. I sat there wondering what this playwright does in her spare time and what was the event or thought or item that might lead a person to come up with the idea of three women of a certain age...who just happen to be mermaids. We've read that “there's nothing new under the sun,” but I think maybe there is something new here.
Besides my curiosity about what sparked the idea for such a story (Remember Faulkner's spark for The Sound and the Fury was in one of his short stories, "Twilight." He had created the character of a little girl, Caddy, in this story. In a scene where Caddy has climbed a pear tree to look into the window where her grandmother's funeral is being held, her brothers are looking up at her and they see her muddy pants. Faulkner claimed he loved the character of Caddy so much that he felt she deserved more than a short story. And that lead to The Sound and the Fury!) I thought about the two main characters and the women who were playing them. It's one of the great perks of being involved in a small-ish community theatre to not only see the wide variety of sets that appear on the same stage, but even more to see people playing completely different characters in completely different plays.
Pat Balon and Anne Acker inhabit the little inn in which the story takes place. They're sisters. I wondered when the HGWP decided to produce this play who might show up for auditions and who might be cast in these roles. I was delighted upon discovering that these two had auditioned and were cast.
I first worked with Pat in a play called Wedding Belles. She had auditioned for Driving Miss Daisy, along with a number of other women, but we couldn't produce that one because we could not find a Hoke. So we substituted Wedding Belles and were able to cast nearly everyone who auditioned for Daisy, which has only one woman character. Pat was great in the play and my admiration for her dedication and talent began. A few years later we took the risk of scheduling a two person play, one man and one woman, and Pat auditioned and once again demonstrated her talent and commitment in a role in which she never leaves the stage. And did I mention that she's fun? She played in two of our short plays we produced during a Covid summer and again was delightful to work with in two very different roles.
I had heard about Anne for years before actually finally meeting her. She was in a number of productions in Coudersport where she then lived and I kept hearing about this talented singer and actor. She ended up moving to Wellsboro and I'm sure she did so she could be in HG plays! In The Last Romance she played an elderly bossy, hovering sister to her even more elderly brother. Every time she walked on stage one could sense the audience ready to welcome her, this lovable, funny old woman. You may have heard Anne sing in a variety of venues around the area, too!
Both of these women had never worked together, but it's clear they are working together in this play. It's great fun to see them in these roles. I wonder if the playwright had two aunts or two neighbor ladies who talked and yelled and loved and were just plain funny. And they probably had funny names...and maybe muddy pants... and they were endearing. and needed more than a short story. Sounds like a spark to me.
As Our Election Day Creeps Closer... by Thomas Putnam
Perhaps like me you are being inundated with political urgings via the USPost and emails and recorded phone calls. Perhaps like me you might be resisting urgings of frustration and despair and sometimes fear. Perhaps like me you are reminded or need to be reminded of the transformative power of art. I'm talking specifically of theatre and poetry and choral music. Perhaps I list these three forms of art since they are the ones with which I most often and intimately engage.
I'm concerned about the election and the future of democracy. I try to understand the political views of those with whom I do not agree, and I find myself grieved by the deep and what seems to me unreasonable polarity that exists in political thought.
As my despair and concern deepens, I'm finding my solace and nourishment from the arts becomes deeper still. Last week I finished a production of Grand Horizons. The experience of working with a wonderful group of talented committed people who are eager to offer a fine play for entertainment and thought is enriching and empowering. Add to that the meaningful discussion both before and after each performance and the edification becomes even greater.
Last week, too, I saw an incredible performance in Rochester of the play Somewhere. I won't go into the topic or themes, but the art of those two hours, and the experience of sitting with 300 other audience members all sharing that art, was enriching and empowering.
This past Sunday I had the wonderful opportunity to conduct the HG Children and Youth Choirs in the annual Autumn Chorale. We're down in numbers with the choirs, but the pure joy and dedication of these young singers is powerful. I don't think it would matter what they were singing, but in this case many of the songs were thought provoking and rich and harmonious and wonderful.
During the concert I shared a poem by Robert Frost, a familiar one that I've known for decades. It wends its way through my soul every fall and a clarity and assurance seems to settle in. There are a few other poems that seem to take up annual residence that are like old friends. During the concert Jessica Strouse sang a musical setting of another Frost poem that is an old friend. It was like seeing an old friend for the first time, in a new 'certain slant of light.'
I've been choosing repertoire for our spring concerts, including the MLK concert in January. I have discovered a few new pieces that are delighting me; first in the discovery, and then in the becoming more and more acquainted, and now in the anticipation of introducing them to the singers, and then in the anticipation of what it will be like when they perform these. The art of the composer, and the art of the poet, and the art of the merging of these creations is...yes, I'll repeat this again (and again and again)...enriching and empowering.
May I encourage you in these few days before the election, and in these days that you are going through whatever challenges you may be facing, to visit those old friends of music and poetry and theatre. Engage and let these old—and new—friends take up residence for as long as they'd like to stay.
I Ain't Gonna Study War No More by Barbara Biddison
I'm still singing that after hearing the last notes of the
concert--out the doors and down the steps of St. Paul's and home
again. The beautiful Wellsboro fall afternoon was just made even more
glorious by all four HG children and youth choirs and a guest
soloist....and accompanist, and directors....all back again.
I've sung with choirs all my life--since I was 16--with a few years
off here and there for other life demands. And I still sing today with WWC. I never tire of hearing, and seeing, the Hamilton-Gibson choirs. And I know how determined Putnam has been to revitalize the
choirs since Covid got in the way for a while. Seeing all "the little ones" up there tells me that we're coming back, that at least some of them will go on to the regular Children's Choir and the Youth Choir.
And that many will still be singing when they are older.
So on Sunday we were invited to sing I AINT GONNA STUDY WAR NO MORE with the choirs as the concert ended/. And I'm still singing as I write. Lovely.
[Note: The HG Children's Choirs will be singing on December 2 at 7:30 at St. Peter's Catholic Church, Wellsboro; the kick-off to the Dickens weekend.]