A year full of artistic energy
BRATTLEBORO — It has been a year of anniversaries and a year of new beginnings for the Brattleboro area's arts community. The Latchis Theater and Hotel celebrated the 80th birthday of its art deco building, now owned by the non-profit Latchis Arts, with a day-long birthday bash last September, this year's Putney Craft Tour celebrated its 40th, Sandglass Theater launched its 10th Puppets in the Green Mountains Festival: "Opening the Doors," and The Sarasa Ensemble's 20th anniversary was celebrated with a special program at the Brattleboro Music center, while several organizations had some fresh starts. Heather Geoffrey was named the new managing director of Main Street Arts, succeeding Margo Ghia, Brattleboro School of Dance quietly changed hands from Jennifer Moyse to Bridget Struthers, Jonathan Harvery took the Brattleboro Concert Choir reins from 30-year director Susan Dedell, Guilford Center Stage's home stage, the Broad Brook Community Center, is going through much-needed renovations, the New England Youth Theatre completed the creation of the Glendon Mayo Theatre, an outdoor amphitheater and classroom, and a new theater troupe Turbulent Times Theater cut its teeth at the Hooker-Dunham Theater.
Festivals attract outside visitors
Many annual festivals continued to provide audiences fun things to do, not only for those living here but attracting visitors from outside the area supporting local businesses. The Strolling of the Heifers Parade and weekend that has gained national attention drew thousands of bovine revelers again the first weekend in June, rounded out by music and performance entertainment on the Common in Brattleboro. The Brattleboro Film Festival again offered a cinematic feast of unique films, The Women's Film Festival also in Brattleboro celebrated with movies by women from around the world, as well as July's Southern Vermont Dance Festival, and October's Brattleboro Literary Festival returned for four days of celebrating all things literary making for another year of exciting events.
Plenty of opportunities to just dance
The Brattleboro School of Dance, under the new leadership of Bridget Struthers, continues to offer a wide range of class opportunities. Last summer the BSD's Senior Company presented "Together," an evening of duets, dualities and dance featuring original works of modern, contemporary and ballroom dance, as well as the schools annual Spring Show and holiday performance that raise funds for scholarships to allow many students to attend who may not be able to do so otherwise.
SoBo Studios in the Cotton Mill Hill complex also offer classes and is a big contributor to the Southern Vermont Dance Festival. The dance festival celebrated its 6th anniversary this year, launching the festival in July with an Opening Gala Concert. The festival offers over 90 classes in ballet, modern jazz, tap and contemporary in every single level during its four-day stint throughout Brattleboro. This year's theme was diversity with classes from belly dance, to ballet, to African.
The Vermont Performance Lab continues to provide support and resources for new performance works with access to state of the art dance and recording studios and community spaces for choreographer-composer collaborations. This year's The Confluence Project was a collaboration with the Connecticut River Conservancy to produce The Confluence Paddle in May in a joint effort to bring arts, youth, community groups, and educational institutions to the civic dialogue table to help create a deeper engagement around water and watersheds.
"Shall We Dance?" co-founders Lucinda and Ray Warren consolidated their lessons and dance time to once a month with Second Saturdays at Headroom Stages, 17 Elliot St., focusing on West Coast Swing lessons and expanding the dances after the lessons to include foxtrot, waltzes, tango, etc.
Art galleries and studios continue to thrive
The area's art community is the envy of many, with Mitchell Giddings, Gallery in the Woods, 118 Elliot, Vermont Artisans Designs Gallery, and the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center smack dab in the middle of Brattleboro, and CX Silver Gallery not far in West Brattleboro, Main Street Arts in Saxtons River, Gallery North Star in Grafton, and Canal Street Art Gallery in Bellows Falls, not to mention all of the studios, some public like Fire Arts Vermont, but mostly private that open doors twice a year for the Vermont Arts and Crafts Studio Tours as well as its own tours by Brattleboro-West Arts, Rock River Artists, and of course the Putney Craft tour. There is no shortage of fine art to be found and bought.
Mitchell Giddings featured over a half a dozen artists and artists' talks this year, ranging from the unique and cranky movement art by Bruce Campbell to Torin Porter's quirky sculptures and Deidre Scherer's incredible fabric art, while many pieces from previous exhibitions remained in the gallery for continued enjoyment. Gallery in the Woods maintains an exhibit of William Hayes' Linocut Landscapes, while also featuring works not seen elsewhere from around the world, presently, Mayan Tapestry: Art Community of Guatemala. The gallery at 118 Elliot has had some amazing work to view, Helen Schmidt and Collin Leech, Recent Work; Onyxed Goat, New Work of Justin A. Kenney and Laura Jane Walker; Who We Are: Portraits of Brattleboro, a show comprised of local artists — in affiliation with River Gallery School — and most recently Lisa Charkey: A Reflection of My Everyday World. BMAC's roster of exhibits included everything from Steve Gerberich's interactive "The Best of Springs, Sprockets and Pulleys," just push a button, or turn a crank and see what happens, selections from "100 Views Along the Road" by Alfred Leslie made between 1981 and 1983, to unique glass sculpture like "Bottle in the River" by Richard Klein. Its most recent exhibit, "If she has a pulse, she has a chance" reflected on the struggles of recovery. Vermont Artisans Designs Gallery, where you'll find work from well-established and emerging artisans is featuring "In and Around Brattleboro" watercolors by John Dimick in its gallery. CX Silver Gallery hosts an ongoing Fluxus exhibition by Nye Ffarrabas as well as work by 15 other artists; Main Street Arts has featured The Artwork of Liz Guzynski's Seeing It Through, Gallery North Star has works by well-known artists James Urbaska, Paul Stone, Charlie Hunter, Craig Mooney and Mariella Bisson on its walls. Canal Street Gallery has a phenomenal collection of great work, especially since it has only been in operation one year, recently celebrating that anniversary, and of course there's the monthly First Friday Gallery Walk in Brattleboro when businesses feature local artists on their walls and keep doors open later as does Bellows Falls 3rd Friday.
And if you want to make your own art but don't quite know where to start, River Gallery School on Main Street has a wide selection of classes in every medium, from printmaking to painting to sculpting, or for a focus on drawing and color theory, there's The Drawing Studio in the Whetstone Studio for the Arts on Williams Street.
From jazz to classical, to bluegrass to rock
The newly renovated Stone Church in Brattleboro was revamped to provide outstanding concert experiences, attracting local musicians, tribute bands, and the unusual to its stage. From hip-hop by the Epidemiks, funk music by Gaslight Tinkers, Haitian music by Lakou Mizik, jazz with Julian Gerstin, to Flathead Rodeo rockabilly, many musicians of many genres graced The Stone Church's stage this year. Tributes were a huge hit. Blackjack Crossing celebrated the music of Jerry Garcia, as did The Garcia Project, and Project/Object covered the late Frank Zappa. Special events like Brattleboro Queer Dance Parties and the Tuesday Brattleboro Contra Dances also rattled the stained glass windows.
Stone Church Arts in Bellows Falls, not to be confused with The Stone Church in Brattleboro, also presented a varied music program in Immanuel Episcopal Church's The Chapel, such as Big Woods Voices, an a cappella quartet, the acoustic jazz ensemble, Rhythm Future Quartet with Eugene Friesen and friends, as well as jazz cellists Jacob Szekely and Eugene Friesen in a "Creative Cello Workshop," and a Mandolin Festival give witness to the wide range of genres and musical taste offered to its audience. Celtic music was popular, Neo-Trad Experience guitarist Flynn Cohen and fiddler Duncan Wickel, Emerald Rae, a cutting-edge fiddler and folksinger, Aine Minogue all brought their talents to The Chapel.
The Brattleboro Music Center presented its Northern Roots Traditional Music Festival in January, bringing together local and regional musicians for a day of participation and performance activities. Throughout the year, BMC selects a host of guest concerts complementing its resident music programs by the Blanche Moyse Chorale, the Windham Orchestra, and the Brattleboro Concert Choir, all performing in the newly renovated center. Special guests like Keith Murphy who showcased his CD release concert, "Land of Fish and Seals"; the "Sophie Shao and Friends" performance highlighting important works for piano and string quartet; or In Stile Moderno played "How Sweet the Torment: Madrigals of Monteverdi and his Contemporaries,"; and Sarasa Ensemble that celebrated its 20th anniversary with Mendelssohn, for an evening of classical music. BMC's Chamber Series' Russian Renaissance concert delighted the audience with Russian classical and folk music composers, and Juno Orchestra, Vermont's newest chamber orchestra, offered two concerts featuring works by two Bachs, father and son.
The Blanche Moyse Chorale also created a program around works by Bach, and BMC's faculty recital with Chonghyo Shin on piano featured works by Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Chopin and Debussy.
A few highlights from the Windham Orchestra was when it put the spotlight on the genius of Beethoven and Brahm in Brahms and Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony for a special concert at the Latchis Theatre, and later the WO also had some fun with the audience participating and singing the children's classic "Have You See The Ghost of John?" directed by Hugh Keelan for a Halloween special.
The BMC Madrigal Singers presented its selections for "Magical Madrigals & More: Love, Sex and Popular Music from the Renaissance." And more on the fun side was "The Flip Side," an evening of cabaret song and style, benefiting the Brattleboro Concert Choir, and Susan Dedell and the Brattleboro Concert Choir introduced Brattleboro area music lovers to the Karl Jenkins, performing his Requiem in two performances at the Latchis Theatre.
The Vermont Jazz Center opened the 2018 year by bringing accomplished musicians such as Wycliffe Gordon, a leading jazz trombonist, and his International All-Stars to honor Louis Armstrong. to inviting the rising star Jazzmeia Horn, winner of the 2015 Thelonious Monk Vocal Contest and the 2013 Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Competition, to debut her album, "A Social Call." Every year the Vermont Jazz Center immerses itself in a Summer Jazz Workshop held in August, this year being its 43rd. This week-long program takes place on the campus of The Putney School with workshops and master classes, culminating in two concerts, one performed by the faculty, and another performed by the students. In September, VJC opened its season with Trinidadian trumpeter, composer and percussionist, Etienne Charles and his band Creole Soul. Its Big Band Gala took place in November to raise funds for scholarships to help students take part in classes, featuring the Artie Shaw Orchestra including vocalist Sarah Hayes. The center' concerts during the Cotton Mill's Annual Open House previews VJC's musical offerings.
Yellow Barn's residency programs brought new work to its Putney audiences, most recently the piece"Go Placidly with Haste" by So Percussion founder Jason Treutings and his wife Beth Meyers.
The Yellow Barn opened its season in July for a series of concerts and masterclasses and pre-concert discussions as its season continued through Aug. 4 with 29 with events in the Big Barn, including a tribute to Robert Mann in July, the founding first violinist of the Juilliard String Quartet who died in January at the age of 97. Yellow Barn's final week culminated in a full week of concerts.
The Friends of Music at Guilford, this year being its 52nd season, was once again counted on for annual concerts. FOMAG's Midwinter Musicale in February opened its season, followed by the annual Spring Organ Recital with a "Mostly Baroque" organ concert. Women in Music Gala: "O, Britannia!," a program of works by women composers, and "A Cappella a la Carte," an evening of supper and songs were followed by its 48th Community Messiah Sing benefiting Groundworks Collaborative, and its 46th Christmas at Christ Church program, "Joyeux Noel" to the delight of community audiences.
Marlboro Music School and Festival continued its tradition since 1951 thrilling the Marlboro audience on weekends in July and August, with classical works performed by young professionals as well as some of music's most distinguished artists under the leadership of Mitsuko Uchida and Jonathan Biss.
Next Stage Arts hosted a variety of artists of every genre. Concerts by local artists including contemporary bluegrass and folk music by The Lonely Heartstring Band and The Stockwell Brothers, a jazz concert by Wanda Houston and Samirah Evans, "The Ukulele Lady" Lisa McCormick, to international artists Quebec-based Genticorum and fiddler and singer Zoe Darrow for Celtic lovers, Heartstrings, consisting of musicians from Cambodia, and song and dance from southern Africa by Black Umfolosi added to Next Stage's billing such as Christine Ohlman and Rebel Montez in an all-out Cajun-themed rock n' soul concert/dance. A guitar treat in The Gathering, Presented by Will Ackerman, and other favorites, contemporary folk artists, Antje Duvekot and Brooks Williams, high energy bagpipes/fiddle/guitar trio Cantrip are just a sampling of the entertainment at Next Stage this year.
In a collaboration between the Whetstone Station Restaurant and Brewery and the Brattleboro Reformer, the Summer Concert Series took place Kampfires in Dummerston bringing four concerts of Bluegrass, Cajun, and Americana to the campground's amphitheater.
Add to that myriad venues hosting music events, the Historic Memorial Hall in Wilmington hosting the Southern Vermont Deefrield Valley Jazz Concert Series, Open Mic on Thursdays at the Marina Restaurant in Brattleboro, live music on Thursdays and Sundays at Whetstone Station Brewery and Restaurant in Brattleboro, the newly opened Club VT in the former Putney Inn Restaurant, and often live music at the Four Columns Inn in Newfane on Wednesday, or New England House in Brattleboro sometimes hosting Butterfly Swing Band, plus concerts at Wendy Redlinger's house in Guilford, Rock Voices concert in Brattleboro's Centre Congregational Church — phew — it just shows there is no shortage of musical entertainment in Windham County.
Theaters' common goal is to make us think
From the most light-hearted performances such as the hilarious tales of last summer's Melodrama Festival played by New England Youth Theatre students, to the darkest of dark psychological thriller, "Equus," the story of a deranged youth, put on by Main Street Arts, theater in 2018 has offered a wide range of subject matter to make us laugh, cry, reminisce, learn, and most importantly, think about the world around us.
Vermont Theater Company examined relationships in "The Last Five Years" with a unique perspective on a couple's disintegrating love affair playing out in reverse and in chronological order, and "Art," where friends were pitted against one another stemming from a single disagreement.
Familial relationships too are probed. The Rock River Players take on the complicated relationships between sisters in "I Used To Have This Cat" and the delicate subject of suicide in "'night Mother." Shoshana Bass of Sandglass Theater explores what it means to embrace her father's art in her adaptation of "When I Put on Your Glove" through their mutual art of puppetry. Shoot the Moon's rendition of "The Glass Menagerie" was loosely based on Tennessee Williams' own family struggles, and Main Street Arts' production of "Wayward Home" somberly deals with a family's loss of everything in a flood, while its old-fashioned vaudeville musical "Charles Henry's Final Curtain" tells of the man behind the traveling performing family based on his true life legacy.
Also based on a real-life story was Vermont Theatre Company's "The Road to Mecca," about an eccentric folk artist in South Africa, Miss Helen Martins, that brought lessons of acceptance and unconditional love, and lessons of peace, love, kindness, jealousy, and betrayal was brought to the stage in Main Street Arts' "Jesus Christ Superstar."
Modeled after the earliest play forms in medieval Europe based on Biblical stories,"A Might Outcry" was composer and playwright Paul Dedell's fourth in a set of mystery plays, this one exploring the "Joan of Arc" touching topics that remain resonant today, particularly gender identity, and the persuasive force of religious fanaticism.
"Voices" was a common denominator in several productions including Guilford Center Stage's Play for Voices, retelling Verandah Porche's "Broad Brook Anthology," based on true stories recalling rural life by Guilford residents. GCS's voices in fictional "Spoon River" tell tales of the dead reflecting life at the turn-of-the-century in Illinois, and Landmark College had a mixed media production of its own version of "Voices," joining a list of educational institutions offering the opportunity for students to participate in all aspects of theater.
Bellows Falls Union High School Drama students not only acted but flexed their writing muscles to produce original plays in "An Evening of One Acts," and the drama club's "Willy Wonka" proved the students could pull off a classic just as well.
Leland and Gray Players student actors presented "Almost, Maine," in nine short vignettes highlighting the power of love with moments of delight and surprise, while The Grammar School's spring musical, "The Lion King Jr.," embraced the contributions of Ella Korson as a Student Assistant Director. The Brattleboro Union High School Players tried its hand at comedy in an evening of one-act plays under the guidance of Robert Kramsky.
A collaboration between Brattleboro's town elementary schools' drama programs, Town Schools Theatre, and New England Youth Theatre presented "Too Many Heroes," showed that being a superhero not always what it was cracked up to be. And as usual, the New England Youth Theatre took on a plethora of subject matters from the magical make-believe of "Peter Pan and Wendy," the comical "Jack and the Beanstalk," and the romantic "Sweet Charity," to tackling hate crime in "The Laramie Project," or prejudice and violence toward immigrants in "Rags." And its production of "Macbeth" presented this well-known play in a different light as the anti-hero spoke directly to the audience. NEYT's Theatre Adventure also chose a Shakespearean play, "Twelfth Night," as well as its annual fundraiser "Putting on Our Finery: A Fundraising Fashion Show With Distinction."
In a special farewell performance of "Isidor's Cheek," Sandglass Theater's co-founder Ines Zeller Bass captivated the audiences, sparking the imagination of children and adults alike. For its 10th Puppets in the Green Mountains Festival: "Opening the Doors" Sandglass took on the theme of access and inclusion to foster meaningful conversation on what it means to be inclusive, that it is not just about access and ramps, as seen through the lens of the arts — another theater with the goal of getting people thinking about things they may not have thought of before. And at Putney's Next Stage, "Love and Information" was a production by The Apron Theater Company, playing out a thought-provoking script on life.
The New England Center for Circus Arts settled into its new Trapezium on Putney Road after a year, enabling it to expand its programming for every level of experience.
The Actors Theatre Playhouse mixed up its season this year by opening, rather than finishing its season with the ever-popular Ten-Minute Play Festival, that featured seven winners of this year's Actors Theatre's Regional Competition with stories on love and marriage, cross generations, old love letters, truths exposed, the love of a duck, and more. ATP finished out its season instead with Saturday Staged Reading of "Women of a Certain Age," in an evening around the kitchen table with the Gabriel family of Rhinebeck, N.Y. in the old family homestead, forced to move out while awaiting the results of the presidential election on Nov. 8, 2016.
Political discord seeped into other theater conversations as well. A newly formed theater company, Turbulent Times Theater, debuted with a couple of short plays "Far Away" and "A Number" with an ultimate goal of making people think about the current events, not just placating set opinions.
And finally, Shoot the Moon Theater Company can be counted on to bring seasonal fun. This year's production of "Frankenstein" in time for Halloween was not for the faint at heart, and its annual rendition of "A Christmas Carol" gave a more likable miserly Ebenezer Scrooge than in year's past thanks to Geof Dolman's portrayal of his character.
Danny Lichtenfeld, director of the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center, told the Boston Globe in a 2015 article, "There's a lot of artistic energy here. Add a slew of galleries and studios, along with courses, tours, festivals, and exhibitions, and it's no wonder Brattleboro is consistently named one of the 10 best small art towns in America." This year has proven it is still true today.
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