Art Notes: In Thetford, from blank page to play in 24 hours

Emily Counts, the technical producer and festival manager, hangs lights at Parish Players in Thetford, Vt., on Saturday, Sept., 16, 2023, for One Night Only: a 24-hour play festival to be held on September 23. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Emily Counts, the technical producer and festival manager, hangs lights at Parish Players in Thetford, Vt., on Saturday, Sept., 16, 2023, for One Night Only: a 24-hour play festival to be held on September 23. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news — Jennifer Hauck

By ALEX HANSON

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 09-21-2023 9:27 AM

At 7 on Friday evening, a group of six would-be playwrights will receive writing prompts and then spend the night in the library at Thetford Academy, churning out short plays.

At 5 the next morning, they’ll hand off their finished plays to directors, who will then cast actors and hold rehearsals. The curtain goes up at 7 on Saturday night in Thetford Hill’s Eclipse Grange Theatre for the only scheduled performance of the four short plays that hadn’t existed only a day before.

Meet “One Night Only!” a 24-hour play festival that I think has to be the first of its kind in the Upper Valley. We’ve had multiple 48-hour film slams, but if we’ve had a theater version, it’s escaped my notice.

Rachael Thomeer, the festival’s founder and co-producer, participated in annual 24-hour theater events when she was a student at Skidmore College, in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., She wasn’t a theater major, so she liked the idea of committing to only one day and completing an entire production.

“It’s kind of like a relay race, is how I think about it,” Thomeer, who moved to New Hampshire after graduating in 2018, said. She now lives in Lebanon and coordinates research projects at The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice.

Her reasons for starting the festival are many.

She acted in the Tens, Parish Players’ annual festival of 10-minute plays (which is now taking submissions for February’s production) and enjoyed the venerable theater company’s welcoming ethos. The 24-hour festival is another doorway into making theater, she said.

Some of the participants are new to theater. One of the playwrights, Greg LeBlanc, said he’s been writing for years but hasn’t put his work in front of readers. The festival “feels like a really fun exercise that’s going to push and stretch me into places I’m not used to going,” he said.

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The nature of the writing challenge will depend on the prompt he and fellow writer Aaron Richter will receive on Friday, he said. He’s been reading short plays to try to prepare, he said, but the best preparation will probably be a good night of sleep the night before.

“The only way to properly prepare for it is not to think about it too much,” said LeBlanc, who lives in Lebanon and works as the coordinator of Dartmouth’s department of Spanish and Portuguese.

Another aim of the festival is to bring creative people together, Thomeer said.

“You have to be creative on a deadline, and you have to work together,” she said. She’s pleased with the number of people who jumped on board, around 30, in every area of theater production. Some are seasoned Parish Players members, while others are entirely new to theater.

“A lot of creative juices are going to be flowing at the same time,” Jonathan Rosenbloom, one of the actors who’s signed on for the festival. A professor of environmental law at Albany Law School, Rosenbloom is relatively new to acting, having performed in the Tens and in “The Play That Goes Wrong,” also at Parish Players, last year.

The idea of acting in a play without knowing who the writer or director will be, and without seeing the script until the day of the show, is “pretty nerve-wracking,” Rosenbloom said. “We’ll have to be pretty attuned to one another.”

The lure, he added, is experiencing a familiar art form in an unfamiliar way. He called the festival “a cross between a traditional piece of theater and experiential art.”

Emily Counts, a recent college graduate who works at the Saint-Gaudens National Historical Park in Cornish, said she signed on to co-produce, along with Thomeer, Beata Randall and Molly Raposa, because she knows Thomeer from the Upper Valley Young Professionals, an organization that generates community among area residents ages 20 to 40. (Thomeer is the group’s events chair.)

“I figured anyone else she brought on the project, I would trust her judgment and it would be a fun time,” Counts, a Denver native who majored in technical theater at Nebraska Wesleyan University, said.

Theater is heavily premeditated in the Upper Valley and angled toward impact. “Changing lives, one story at a time,” Northern Stage boldly proclaims. Maybe so, but “a fun time” might change lives for the better, too.

“My dream is for this to become an annual festival,” Thomeer said. An open door to theater, free from expectation, sounds like it should have staying power.

“One Night Only! A 24-Hour Play Festival” is slated for performance at 7 p.m. Saturday at Parish Players’ Eclipse Grange Theatre in Thetford Hill. Ticket reservations are required and are available online by filling out a form on the Parish Players website, parishplayers.org. There’s a suggested donation of $20.

Theater town

Shaker Bridge Theatre opens its season Thursday with a production of “The Victorian Ladies’ Detective Collective,” Patricia Milton’s 2019 homage to British detective fiction. This production, Shaker Bridge’s first in its new home in White River Junction’s Briggs Opera House, is notable for an original score by Upper Valley actor, musician and composer Tommy Crawford. Tickets ($18 to $40) are available at shakerbridgetheatre.org.

Two of 10

Congratulations to Ken Cadow and Dan Nott. I think this is the first time two Upper Valley writers have been longlisted for a National Book Award in the same category and the same year.

Cadow, a Norwich resident and co-principal at Oxbow High School, is the author of “Gather,” a coming-of-age novel set in Vermont. And Nott, a graduate of the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, drew and wrote “Hidden Systems,” a nonfiction visual exploration of the infrastructure that underpins modern life. Their books were among 10 selected for the longlist, which will be winnowed to a set of finalists on Oct. 3. Winners are announced Nov. 15, but just making the longlist is a victory.

Deep roots and blues

This is a good weekend for lovers of roots and blues music. Friday night brings the John Lackard Blues Band to Sawtooth Kitchen in Hanover for a set starting at 9 p.m. Tickets are a mere $5 at sawtoothkitchen.com.

And roots legend Tom Rush plays two shows, at 2 and 7 p.m., on Sunday at Flying Goose Brew Pub in New London. Rush, whose career stretches back to the folk revival, will perform with singer-songwriter Seth Glier. Tickets are $60. There’s a reservation FAQ page at flyinggoose.com, but if you’re an old hand you can just call 603-526-6899.

Classical for a cause

West Newbury (Vt.) Congregational Church is holding a benefit concert for the Ukrainian people at 3 p.m. Sunday. The performance pairs two acclaimed classical musicians, harpist Jennifer Hoult and Timothy Smith, former longtime organist and music director at New York City’s Riverside Church.

Tickets are $25 at the doors, which open at 2 p.m. for the 3 p.m. performance. Proceeds will go to the United Church of Christ, which has been raising money for humanitarian relief in Ukraine.

Alex Hanson can be reached at ahanson@vnews.com or 603-727-3207.