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New Scotland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, July 23, 2009
Going out for theater in the shadow of the Helderbergs
By Maggie Gordon
NEW SCOTLAND The sound of crickets and birds tangles with iambic pentameter in an herb garden as the Classic Theater Guild prepares for the third annual Helderberg Theater Festival on a rare, dry evening in July.
The festival, which features local actors and directors in four plays scattered around the grounds of Indian Ladder Farms, is free and will be open to the public from July 30 to Aug. 9.
It all begins with two Director’s Projects scenes from Neil Simon’s The Good Doctor, and a one-woman show called The Syringa Tree followed by Charlotte’s Web and Much Ado About Nothing.
“The best part is that it’s local, organic theater,” said Ed Bablin, the festival’s executive producer. “It’s minimalist theater, just the sky, the chairs, and us.
“It’s a bring-your-own chair production,” he said while sitting on a grassy hill beneath the lights set up in front of the herb garden as the Shakespearean actors rehearsed their opening scene. “Bring a picnic, and a bottle of wine, and it can easily be an all-day event,” he said.
The Syringa Tree is the first one-woman experiment for both director Rachael Schaeffer and actress Chelsea Mauger, and both are enjoying the experience. “A one-woman play is more of a collaboration than larger productions, because you don’t have to split your focus it’s a partnership,” Schaeffer said.
“The play is about a young girl in South Africa, during apartheid, her experiences, and how she feels about her experiences,” said Schaeffer. Though the story takes place in a far-away location, the story elements and the way the story is told are relevant to everyone, she said.
But while it may be relevant, it is far from traditional. Unlike actors in many one-person shows, Mauger will portray several roles, without using props or changing costumes. While she admitted to being a little nervous, she said she’s excited about the play.
“It’s relevant to our society. It’s about freeing your spirit from the cage you put around yourself, and the cage the environment puts around you,” Mauger said. “It really is a great play.”
The Good Doctor and The Syringa Tree will be in the Apple Barn July 30 and on Aug. 2, 7, and 9 at 7 p.m., and Aug. 1 and 8 at 2 p.m.
Hammin’ it up
A dozen kids sat cross-legged in front of a newly built stage as their director, Matt MacArevey, prepared them for a rehearsal. “No hamming it up,” MacArevey told them.
“I try to say that as often as possible,” he said with a smile.
There was a lighthearted mood on the set, as MacArevey substituted the traditional director’s chair for a camping chair, making notes on a sheet of paper with a pink pig pen. His cast includes about 20 local children and adults, who will perform Joseph Robinette’s adaptation of E.B. White’s classic Charlotte’s Web.
The children’s novel tells the story of a pig named Wilbur who is saved from slaughter by a smart barn spider named Charlotte.
“This is a great place for a show that takes place in a barn,” MacAvery said, pointing behind the set where the mountains rise upward from the land. “We’ve got the mountains and the trees, and the outdoor smell of cut grass.”
But outdoor rehearsals can present challenges during an uncharacteristically wet summer. “We’ve canceled one rehearsal and had to put off building the set,” he said. “We don’t have a rain location, so I had to tell everyone that we might have to cancel a performance or two.”
The director is hoping for good weather, so the audience can appreciate all the hard work the actors have put in, and the beautiful scenery the venue provides. “It’s going to be a great show,” he said. “It’s always fun to see characters you know done in different ways.”
Charlotte’s Web will be near the berries on July 31 and on Aug. 1, 2, 7, 8, and 9 at 5 p.m.
Shakespeare in the herb garden
This marks the third year the festival will feature one of William Shakespeare’s plays. “We were originally thinking of doing King Lear, but we thought it would be a great idea to do a comedy this summer,” said Roxanne Wegman, director of Much Ado About Nothing, which will be performed in the herb garden.
“A lot of people can’t go on the vacations they normally have in the past, given gas and food prices, the loss of jobs, and all the things that seem to be going on in the world,” Wegman said. “Theater gives us a chance to step outside of reality and feel as though all those problems have gone away even if just for a moment . . . I hope that people will come to our show and leave with lighter hearts than when they came.”
Wegman, along with the actors, has been working on the production since March, and she’s ready for an audience. Even though the play was written almost 410 years ago, Wegman said she’s confident that a local audience will appreciate the romantic comedy.
“It’s local, organic theater. You don’t have to travel all the way to Lenox to see Shakespeare,” she said. “It’s great for the whole family, and it’s one of the easiest Shakespeare plays to understand, no matter what your background is in Shakespeare.”
The whole festival is great, Wegman said. “It’s in hands-down, one of the most beautiful venues in this area for outdoor theater, with some of the most talented, young, local actors,” she said.
Much Ado About Nothing will be at the herb garden on July 31 and Aug. 1, 6, and 8 at 7 p.m., and on Aug. 2 and 9 at 2 p.m.
Indian Ladder Farms is located in New Scotland on the Altamont-Voorheesville Road, Route 156, about three miles from Voorheesville and about five miles from Altamont. All performances in the Helderberg Theater Festival are free and open to the public.