Write on Wednesday – Maine Welcomes The Santa Diaries – December 18, 2018

Maine wasn’t as cold as we expected, but it does get dark early. It was a short flight from Baltimore and by the time Laura Ambler and I landed at the Portland airport and were in the rental car (complete with ice scraper) it was getting dark. It was an hour drive to Bath. We checked into our hotel, found a place to eat dinner and walked to the theater to see the opening night show at the Chocolate Church Center for the Arts.

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Thom Watson, the producter, told us before the show that the light board had gone out that afternoon and they were using dimmers and spots. The show must go on and it did to a full house. We were entranced.

Chocolate Church Center for the Arts is a wonderful theater space. The bones of the original church are still there, and it has great acoustics. We were told that on Friday afternoon two hundred school children kids had attended a performance of The Santa Diaries, many of them seeing their first live stage performance. The photo below was taken before Saturday’s matinee. The light board was back up.

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The director of the show was Dennis St. Pierre, an Actors Equity  and Screen Actors Guild member with 20 years of professional work in the theater, tv and music industry as an actor, singer, director and producer.  He is currently the interim Executive Director for the Chocolate Church Performing Arts Center and recently created an Arts Education program that allows for collaboration with local school programs. It was that program that brought all those school kids to see The Santa Diaries. What a wonderful gift to the students.

In the opening scene of the show, cute elves deliver packages to Sandy Hawes who believes he has a calling… to be Santa.

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The large cast exemplifies a line in the play…”It’s community theater. Anyone who wants a part, gets a part.” The photo below doesn’t show all the adorable elves who occasionally escaped their wranglers backstage and made an early entrance!

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Chocolate Church did something clever to facilitate scene changes. They created three wheeled set pieces: a left and right window and a center piece that was the fireplace in Sandy’s living room (not seen in photo above). Each of these set pieces could be turned around to show something different on the other side. And for the finale (the community theater renovated after a fire) Christmas lights were turned on to show decorations in the actual theater. The audience went, “Awwww.” It was beautiful.

Before the show on Friday night we walked around the quaint main street of Bath. There was  a snowman with a fire in his belly and kids were roasting marshmallows. With lots of adult supervision, of course. The only thing missing was lightly falling snow.

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If we had stayed longer we would have attended the free community carol sing at Chocolate Church, a tradition on the last Monday evening before Christmas. And we would have spent more time at the Maritime Museum where the Christmas tree was made out of lobster pots.

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At home, on the Chesapeake Bay, we have crab pot Christmas trees .

After three traveling weekends it was lovely to be home and put away my suitcase. Requests for perusal scripts have been coming in from theaters around the country, so it will be interesting to see where The Santa Diaries finds community theater homes in 2019. We already know one production will be in Tennessee.

 

 

Write on Wednesday – The Sugar Creek Players Do Us Proud – December 5, 2018

You know you are in Indiana when your rental car comes with an ice scraper, but the weather Gods smiled on Laura Ambler and me the first weekend in December 2018. We never needed the scraper, but I was glad I’d packed an umbrella.

We flew into Indianapolis and drove to Crawfordsville. An hour on the interstate led us right to the Vanity Theater.

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It’s a thrill to see our play in marquis lights.

On opening night the house was full and we were escorted to our seats by two of the cast members who play volunteer firemen in the show.

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After welcoming remarks by Director Keith Strain, the firemen escorted us to the stage where Crawfordsville Mayor, Todd Barton,  presented us with a proclamation announcing this week as The Santa Diaries week.

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The stage at the Vanity Theater is tight…just 22 feet wide. It’s deep however, and the director made use of several levels including a scrim (you can see it on the photo above with a photo projected on it) and a small raised area which served as Timmy’s bedroom.

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Sandy, Will, Martha, Brandeee and Josh. Then the Casserole Ladies begin to arrive.

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When most of the cast is on stage, it’s crowded, but risers in the back help.

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Adorable elves help Sandy read letters to Santa.

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Marley Dog, Timmy and Will.

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There was an after party on Friday night where all the cast and crew gathered.

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On Saturday Director Keith Strain and his wife, Betsy, took us to lunch. And in the afternoon a local cooperative art gallery hosted a reception for us. Laura and I supported the local ecomomy and bought jewelry and met people from this vibrant community.

On Saturday night we saw the show again. The staging of every production is unique and every actor interprets his/her character differently. It’s why we travel to see productions. Sometimes there’s a bit of business that we want to keep. This time it was a reprise of At Christmas I Believe (an original song in the show written by Laura Ambler) sung by Will’s mother’s ghost. It was a nice touch. It would give a director an option for the character of Alice.

Community theaters across America provide a cultural venue for their communities. Sometimes they serve as the focal point for the revitalization of a small town. And for some, they are a place where people come together — regardless of politics, religion, gender or sexual orientation — to put on a show. And that’s just what the Sugar Creek Players did at the Vanity Theater last weekend. They put on a great show and did us proud.

 

 

Working My Way toward Christmas

On Sunday Carpe Diem Arts* (in conjuction with the St. Michaels Community Center) presented A Winter’s Eve of Revelry at the St. Michaels High School auditorium and my younger brother, Ross, and his wife, Linda, performed a Scandinavian dance.

I’d made Ross and Linda a batch of Mala’s Crack Pecans and Walnuts but forgot to take them to the school. My husband went back to get them while Ross told me this story when I asked him about the vest he was wearing.

The Stewart tartan made it’s way into Norwegian history this way. Apparently some Scots were hired as mercenaries to attack the Norwegians — probably by those dastardly Swedes. The wiley Norwegians caught them in a valley and rolled huge logs down the hills mowing them as flat as scythed wheat. The local women collected the fabric from the fallen and the Stewart tartan made it’s way into Norwegian history. Sounds like a plot line from The Vikings! (Ross, this is quite possibly a totally wrong version of what you told me. If so, correct the tale in a comment.)

Family lore on our mother’s side is that we are descended from Harald Fairhair, the king who unified Norway. He was also a total badass. He’s the one who brought his enemies to a peace confab, locked them in a log long house and set it on fire. The Fairhair dynasty includes Eric Bloodaxe, Halfdan the Black (father of Harald Fairhair) and Haakon the Good.  I’d like to think that I have more genes from Haakon the Good. The tv show, The Vikings mashes different historical events into the same time period. There is now a Harald in the cast of characters. I wonder when he will lock up his enemies and set them on fire.

Also performing at Sunday’s event were Grammy nominated Andrea Hoag who played the Norwegian Hardanger fiddle and Meliss Running, one of a very few masters of the incredible nyckelharpa from Sweden. I had never seen this instrument before. There were Ukrainian and Balkan singers and dancers, all in traditional costume. People who keep these traditions alive are saving history in a very personal way. It was another step on our way toward Christmas.

We are staying home this year. It was our year to go to Montana, but our granddaughters are young adults with complicated lives. We decided to see them last May and not in December. Last year I sent them kransekakke form pans so they can carry on the tradition even if I’m not there.

The local shops and our small-town main street are festive with decorations. Attending Sunday’s concert got me humming the Carol of the Bells which originated as a Ukranian carol. My only attempt at decorating this year was putting lights on a potted tree on the deck and redoing arrangements on the mantelpiece. The photo was taken when we had snow the day of the St. Michaels Christmas parade. The tree is small, but we can see it outside while we sit by a warming fire.

Merry Christmas to all. May you connect with friends and family and be grateful for all your blessings. God Jul.

 

*Carpe Diem Arts is a non-profit organization founded by an Eastern Shore treasure, Busy Graham who lives just down the road in Royal Oak.Here’s what their website says about their mission.  “Carpe Diem Arts presents multi-generational and multi-cultural community events, concerts, summer arts camps, after-school programs, workshops and residencies, creating opportunities for all ages to participate in the visual, literary and performing arts, while also partnering with other arts and social service organizations to facilitate outreach to under-served audiences, positive youth development programs, and arts integration in education.  In addition to benefiting thousands of children and teachers, at-risk youth, special needs populations, families and seniors, Carpe Diem Arts supports the livelihood of master teaching and performing artists by providing meaningful and impactful work in our schools and communities.”

 

 

 

 

 

The Garden Gets Put to Bed

Almost all the leaves are off the trees. This year I’m having a guy come who has a big mulching mower and can dump the mulched leaves where I direct him. Not all goes in the wire corrals I created, but most of it does. His machine makes finer mulch than my little self-propelled mower with a bag. Chris has been here once and I’ll have him do another pass in a few days. Then I can put those mulched leaves on the flower beds and my four raised vegetable beds at home.

I currently have three beds at the St. Michaels Community Garden. One is a bed that nobody wants. It’s under a big maple tree and requires extra attention. It’s planted in garlic at the moment, although I am thinking about planting it with some hardy flowering shrubs next spring. Another bed is covered in heavy black plastic to keep the weeds down. I’ll uncover it in the spring, add some amendments and dig it before planting seeds. The third bed, where I had my tomatoes last summer, was planted at the end of August with fall crops: radishes, turnips, collards and two kinds of kale.

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Last week I put a floating row cover on it. I’m always surprised that most people at the community garden never think about fall crops. Our temps are moderate here on the Eastern Shore. We didn’t have a hard freeze until  two weeks ago. Friday was the first day I had to scrape frost off the car to go to my early morning yoga class. The row cover will allow me to harvest greens all winter long.

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The garden across the alley from this bed is the Wilson Reading Garden at Carpenter Alley which I helped create and maintain. A vacant lot when we started, it’s outside the St. Michaels branch of the Talbot Country Free Library. A winding oyster shell path and benches offer an inviting place to sit and unwind.

The land the Community Garden is on is owned by the town. The town council just approved our second five-year lease. Another friend and I have, for the last four years, been primarily responsible for keeping the Community Garden going. Recently we sent out an email that others needed to step up as we would be stepping away from our leadership roles next year. We got two “thank-you for all you do” emails in response, but no volunteers for the behind the scenes work that keeps the garden going. I’m not sure what will happen.

One of the original goals of the community garden was to create more opportunities for the small black community which borders one side of the garden to interact with the rest of the community (or the other way around). We were more successful with that in the beginning because the pastor of Union United Methodist church was very involved in the garden. A couple of years ago he moved to another church and the new pastor isn’t interested in the community garden project. That is not a criticism. Not everyone is a gardener.

Non-profits ebb and flow. Change happens and sometimes things get better. Sometimes they don’t. We’ll see how interested the community is in continuing to have a Community Garden. In the meantime, I’m off to the garden to harvest red turnips for a dinner party tonight.

 

 

A Busy Weekend

Next year will be the 20th year of the St. Michaels Farmers Market. It was started by a couple of women who then helped start other farmers markets in the area. They called them Fresh Farm Markets and the parent organization provided insurance, organizational help, etc. Fresh Farm Markets are now primarily on the Western Shore (Annapolis, DC, etc.) and this is the last year they will be the umbrella organization for the St. Michaels market. We are in transition this year but have wonderful vendors with terrific products. It’s fun getting to know the farmers.

I volunteered to help get out the weekly market reminders on MailChimp. It was something I knew how to do and enjoy. And my husband and I have been volunteering some Saturdays to help with market set-up. We are scheduled to do that again this weekend. Last Saturday was rainy and I woke up this morning at 3:30 to the sound of rain. It seems to have moved off for now, but even if it rains, people come prepared.

By the time we got to the market at 7:30 it was 65 degrees and not raining. The market was bustling by the time I left at 10. I’d walked over to the Community Garden to take a look at a bed nobody wanted. I’ll weed it this weekend and plant some blue hubbard squash I raised from seed. The beds at the Community Garden are 14 feet long so the plants will have plenty of room to run.

Last week at the Farmers Market I bought a loaf of low gluten bread. What a treat. We don’t keep bread in the house because my husband has gluten sensitivity. We had the last few pieces last night – toasted and topped with homemade guacamole – while we played rummy.

The town will be chockablock this morning. Besides the Farmers Market, it’s the weekend of the St. Michaels Wine Festival. People who live in town have to put up with more than the usual weekend foot traffic – and some drunken shenanigans. We helped one of the first years of the Wine Festival when it was held at the Maritime Museum grounds. Now it is spread all over town at inside venues and tented spaces.We usually don’t go into town on Wine Festival Weekend unless we need to.

This afternoon we are helping with an event to be held at the Avalon Theatre in Easton. It is a fund raiser for the Talbot Interfaith Shelter. People will gather to sing together, raising positive vibrations in our community for this very good cause. Here’s the link to the inspiration. It gives me chills every time I watch it.

I’ll let you know how it turns out. When I get home I’m working in the garden. I have Amish paste tomato plants to get in the ground and my husband is going to mow at the Community Garden. This is the time of year when sometimes the grass needs to be mowed twice a week.

 

What’s Up

Saturday is the opening of the St. Michaels Farmers Market. The husband and I signed up to help with early set-up.  As a reward we get to be some of the bell ringers to open the first day of the market. I was a bell ringer last year, too. It was a chilly morning, hence all the layers.

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I’ve never helped with the market before, but it’s in a transitional phase and I want to do everything I can to help the market continue. I grow most of our green food, but supplement at the market.

I volunteered to keep the MailChimp mailing list and send out market reminders. The first one went out on Wednesday morning. I plan to take a lot of photos this year to add visual interest to the market reminders.

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Garden chores keep on. I’ve planted the dahlia roots I grew from seed last year. A week ago I planted the elephant ear tubers. I am hoping to get huge leaves so I can do more cement castings in late summer. The castings have been in the garage all winter and as soon as I get some time I’ll paint them.

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I also programed the drip irrigation systems and installed them. This year I did the programming while sitting on the garage stoop instead of doing it once I’d put them on the hose bibs.

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That required me being on my back trying to read the directions and program at the same time. I’m embarrassed to admit that I did that several years before I figured out I could do it another way.  I tested one system that’s is my window boxes and it’s okay. I need to test the other, much larger, system and see if any fixes need to be made.

I’ve started some seeds inside the house but nothing is up yet. In the garden beds garlic, potatoes, arugula and turnips are sprouting. I’ve ordered Molokai Purple Sweet Potato (6 plants cost $18) and Ginger root but they haven’t arrived yet. Those sweet potatoes are supposed to be full of healthy stuff since they’re purple and Japanese who eat them live to be 120. Maybe $18 is cheap.

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I got a new computer Wednesday and my genius tech guy is coming today to transfer files and make sure all is well. I already have the latest Microsoft operating system so that won’t be a learning curve. But for someone of the generation who bought one refrigerator and one washer and dryer and had them last for thirty years, the notion of having to replace electronics frequently is hard to get my head around.

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I started a singing class two weeks ago. It was advertised in the ALL (Adventures in Lifelong Learning) and both my yoga instructor, Paulette Florio, and I read the summary of the class as being for people who wanted to sing but didn’t think they could. At the first class it turned out that most of the people had some background in singing. They’d sung with local choral arts groups, some professionally. All felt their voices had changed as they got older. Heck, I just wanted to see IF I HAD A VOICE. Paulette and I spent that first class trying not to laugh at ourselves. And the blurb in the ALL brochure didn’t say what we thought it did. Wishful thinking on our part.

However, I am learning things about breathing, where you tongue goes in your mouth, the mechanics of the body parts that produce voice, etc. so I think I’ll try and stick it out for awhile. If I don’t it wouldn’t be the first time I signed up for a class and decided it wasn’t for me. It would free up some time for writing and working in the garden.