Editor’s note: The Advocate is pleased to introduce a new theater writer. Jarice Hanson was a professor in the Department of Communication at UMass Amherst, and has been active in theater in the Valley and beyond for over 30 years.
She’s a member of AEA, the professional association for stage actors, and SAG-AFTRA, the union for film and television performers. On stage locally, she has performed at the Majestic Theater, New Century Theater, Pioneer Valley Summer Theater and in a variety of independent productions at the Academy of Music as well as other Valley venues. She’s reviewed theater from Hartford to the Berkshires.
With a Ph.D. in Radio-TV-Film from Northwestern University and a Performance Studies BA from Northeastern Illinois University, she has been involved with every form of media, but loves live performance more than any other form.
She is replacing The Advocate’s longtime theater writer Chris Rohmann.
The pandemic has not been kind to theater companies or audiences who crave live entertainment, but finally, flowers are starting to emerge and a busy summer theater season is shifting into high gear. As we move from one season to another, theater in our area is metaphorically blooming with new company configurations, rebirth, renewal and celebrations.
First Person Fresh solo performance festival
Storytelling may be the oldest theatrical art, but it has had a resurgence as a popular art form, especially as story slams and solo shows feature true stories. These intimate performances thrive because theater gives us the opportunity to make a human connection, and who isn’t interested in that, after a long spate of home-based streaming entertainment?
True stories are particularly challenging because writers have to dig deep, sometimes into uncomfortable places to craft memory and feeling into a performance suited for the stage and the judgment of the audience. The appeal of the solo show — a longer, more in-depth exploration of personal stories, is now being staged by the creative Pauline Productions in association with the KoFestival in the “First Person Fresh: Women’s Solo Performance Festival” at CitySpace, The Blue Room of Easthampton’s Old Town Hall, April 28, 29 and 30.
The project of Jeannine Haas, who formed Pauline Productions in 2006 to “tell stories by and for women,” Sabrina Hamilton, who ran the KoFestival for more than 30 years, and Liesel De Boor, this festival is ambitious in scope and content. As Hass says, “I think solo pieces are among the most difficult to conceive of and perform.” Hamilton agrees, and reminds us that the process of creating solo performances epitomizes what she calls the audience’s “hunger for authenticity.”
One of the unique features about this festival is that the women gathered over a period of three months to collaborate and give feedback to each other as the seven very different stories emerged.
As writer/performer Beth Filson said, “While we use ‘solo’ to describe the seven performances, it’s been anything but.” Laura Wetzler summed up the process: “…we all together created a theater festival of seven brand new, first-person narratives by women writers. … It’s been a wonderful experience.”
The stories told by these women are sometimes funny, intimate, touching, and always deeply honest. There are seven author/performers in this festival, presented in two groups. Sue Tracy, Alice Barrett, Beth Filson, and a short piece (full disclosure) by yours truly represent Group A. Group B features the work of Vanessa Adel, Jo-Anne Hart, and Laura Wetzler. Program A performs Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday at 3 p.m. Program B performs Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. For a complete schedule, list of performances, and to purchase tickets, go to https://kofest.com/individual-show-tickets/
STCC’s night of dark comedy
Springfield Technical Community College (STCC) theater program is having a rebirth after going dormant for the last three years. Prior to the pandemic, STCC maintained a program for 50 years that created theater for the campus and open to the community, but the loss of students, a budget cut, and retirements threatened to end the program.
This year, according to Phil O’Donoghue, the one remaining faculty member, “The students wanted to bring this back. Thanks to a hard working group of students and an amazing group of volunteers, eight students will perform six, 10-minute shows. The theme that holds all of the shows together is dark comedy because ‘these are the times we live in.’”
“Laughing for all the Wrong Reasons: A Night of Dark Comedy,” features short theater pieces written by established playwrights, and chosen by the students themselves. The topics are diverse, but with a decidedly dark, yet funny twist on reality that reflects the adult students’ sense of the world we not inhabit.
So how does a program put on a show with few financial and personnel resources? Many volunteers have cobbled together sets, props and costumes, with some set pieces scrounged from anywhere they can be found. As O’Donoghue reported; “there has been a lot of creativity and a lot of sweat generated by volunteers building sets, scrounging props, creating costumes, assistant directing, and in every other way.”
As we spoke, O’Donoghue’s pride in his students and volunteers was obvious. “Theater has a way of building confidence in a person,” he said. “I’m so proud of what these people have accomplished.”
Performances will be held May 4, 11 a.m., May 5, 7 p.m., and May 6, 7 p.m., at the Scibelli Theatre, Building 2, Springfield Technical Community College. Admission is free, with donations to STCC College Theatre Workshop gratefully accepted.
Majestic celebrates 25 years with the Buddy Holly story
Broadway is currently awash with a plethora of revivals, so why shouldn’t the Majestic Theater in West Springfield conclude its 25th anniversary year with one of the most popular shows from the diverse offerings of new plays, “old chestnuts” (often repeated, classic and popular shows) and energetic musicals?
Twenty-five years ago, Producing Director Danny Eaton refurbished an old movie theater to become one of the sweetest live theaters in our area. “Buddy! The Buddy Holly Story” was the first show on the new stage. Since then, according to Eaton, audiences have continually asked to bring Buddy! back.
The show tells the story of Buddy Holly, the influential rocker from Lubbock, Texas who wrote and performed some of the best music of the 1950s, with his talented group, The Crickets. The story centers on Buddy’s influence on rock music, along with The Big Bopper and Richie Valens. These talented actors play instruments, sing, and virtually channel Buddy and the band.
The new anniversary version of Buddy! opened April 13 and runs through May 28. Tickets are in demand, so if you plan to see it (and I’d suggest you do), you can contact the box office for ticket availability by calling 413-747-7797.
Coming up: ‘What the Constitution Means to Me’
In the realm of creative co-productions, WAM Theatre and Berkshire Theatre Group will present Heidi Schreck’s contemporary examination of human relationships and our founding document, the “Constitution” at Berkshire Theatre’s Unicorn Theatre, Stockbridge, from May 18-June 3. This production is directed by WAM’s founder, Kristen van Ginhoven, and features two-time Tony nominated actress Kate Baldwin, and Easthampton’s own Jay Sefton.
Coming up in the next edition: The Berkshire summer scene explodes with new directions, co-productions, and the answer to the question of why Easthampton’s Jay Sefton is the “workingest” actor in Massachusetts this summer.