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October 28, 2016
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Where there’s a will...

The Newburyport high school cast of “Hair” traveled to Bethel for the Woodstock Experience and enjoyed a bonus concert by Rusted Root as well.

If there was ever a doubt, this past week was proof positive that variety is indeed, the spice of life. As the Upper Delaware Valley began to return to normalcy, our hearts continue to be with those who are still digging out in Sandy’s wake. Thrilled to be home, I cleaned up the mess and got back to business, although I still have not found one of my missing shutters.

Traditionally, November ushers in special concerts at the Event Gallery (www.bethelwoods.org) in Bethel, NY and I made plans to check out Rusted Root playing the venue last weekend. The Pittsburgh-based band (www.rustedroot.com) has been around since the early ‘90s and has toured the world with notable groups, including Santana, The Grateful Dead, The Allman Brothers and Dave Matthews Band. Upon arrival, two things immediately struck. The lack of seats (standing room only takes on a whole new meaning) and the plethora of young folks milling about.

I chatted briefly with Matt McNeil, director of event marketing, who was “excited to have youthful energy in the house” and he gave me some (hitherto unknown) background on the band, including the fact that RR has been featured on wildly popular soundtracks for TV and film, which filled in some of the blanks. Not only has the group been heard on shows like “Party of Five,” “Charmed” and “Homicide: Life on the Street,” but NASA engineers also chose to use their anthem “Send me on my Way” as wake-up music for the Mars Exploration Rover “Opportunity.” That tidbit, combined with the Roots’ contribution to the animated blockbuster “Ice Age” aided in understanding why there were so many teens in the house.

I pulled a few kids aside to inquire about their attendance and was informed that there was a large contingent of students who had arrived by bus from out-of-state. Pointing to their chaperones, I learned that the gang was part of a theatre group from Newburyport, MA and had made the trek to the Catskills to take in the “Woodstock Experience” interactive museum at Bethel Woods. Their teachers, Lisa Zaleski and Stephanie Williams explained, “We’re here to give the students an opportunity to immerse themselves in the “counterculture” of the Woodstock Music Festival, as they prepare to perform the ‘Tribal Love Rock Musical: Hair’ at the high school,” Zaleski shared. “Rusted Root was a bonus.”

When asked for details about the hours-long trek to Bethel and the commitment to give these kids a rare opportunity to soak up the ambiance, I inquired about the cost of such an adventure. Williams and Zaleski spoke enthusiastically about the school’s support of the arts programs and the students’ rabid desire for learning. “Yes it cost money,” Zaleski said, “but where there’s a will...” Feeling ancient (and desperately wanting to sit!) I endured the opener “Lauren Mann and the Fairly Odd Folk” (‘nuff said?) and moved on after snapping a pic of the cast of “Hair.”

As one season gears up, another takes a final bow and I was curious to check out the last show of the year presented by the creative team at the NACL in Highland Lake (www.nacl.org). Vern Thiessen’s “Shakespeare’s Will” is a one-woman play based (very loosely) on the life of the playwright’s wife, Anne Hathaway, and the director’s notes explained that “her story is one of literary history’s great mysteries” since little is actually known about the Bard’s “better half.” This production was (IMHO) brilliant and a fitting closing chapter for the NACL season. Company cofounder Tannis Kowalchuk starred, breathing rich, layered life into the character, who is interpreted as funny, wise and burdened, as she regales the audience with her experience being married to the world’s most famous playwright.

Collaborating with writer Thiessen (who was present for the Q&A) made for a greater understanding of the material and every aspect of the show was (again-IMHO) more than spot-on. Mimi McGurl’s direction was (I don’t say it often!) flawless, and music and sound designer Kurt Knuth’s contribution more than noteworthy. The entire production was enhanced with a great use of the space, props, costumes and lighting (provided by the multitalented Zoot) and Kowalchuk’s performance a tour de force, causing me to believe every word she spoke, whether it was true... or not.

I found the show to be fascinating (Shakespeare had a son named Hamlet?), haunting and lyrical, and having Thiessen in the house to address the audience after the show, a fabulous bonus. “There is very little known about Anne” he explained “and frankly, I don’t care. Yes, there is an actual will” he continued “and available online to be read, but this play is really about a woman raising children on her own, and what a marriage contract really is,” he added. If I had to find fault with this production, it would be that there are no more performances scheduled, but Kowalchuk and company promise that opportunities will arise. Details must be worked out for future dates with the Shakespeares, but where there’s a will...