Brattleboro Museum's domino event spurs a national chain reaction

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BRATTLEBORO — A decade ago, Brattleboro Museum & Art Center Director Danny Lichtenfeld wondered what would happen if he invited the public to watch tens of thousands of dominoes snake, spiral and fall spectacularly over the main gallery floor.

He didn't foresee the chain reaction that would propel the formation's creators toward a million-subscriber YouTube channel, Today show appearance and Will Smith's latest movie.

Ask Lichtenfeld about Monday's 10th annual Domino Toppling Extravaganza and he'll backtrack to 2008, when he and his son discovered a YouTube video of domino "kinetic art" by twenty-something Pennsylvania brothers Mike and Steve Perrucci.

"I thought, 'Wouldn't it be cool to do that here," Lichtenfeld recalls. "There weren't any live domino-toppling events in the United States at that time, and it seemed like a fun and creative thing to get more kids and families into the museum."

The Perrucci brothers, producing the first several years of shows, enlisted teenage domino enthusiast Shane O'Brien of New Jersey in 2011, who in turn recruited friends Nathan Heck of North Carolina and Christopher Wright of New York in 2013, Lily Hevesh of New Hampshire in 2014 and Steve Price of California last year.

The latter four are heading up this year's 10th effort, which promises 30,000 dominoes in a "greatest hits" package of formations from the past nine events, all tumbling toward a 5-foot-tall pyramid finale.

Why fly from sunny San Diego to see everything fall to pieces in blizzardy Brattleboro?

"This is the longest-running domino event in the country," says Price, 22.

Adds Heck, a 15-year-old Raleigh area student who rode 13 hours north to get snowed in: "This one is really fun because the museum leaves it up to us what to build."

That includes raising their own reputations. Hevesh, for example, started her own YouTube channel, Hevesh5, which just surpassed 1 million subscribers who have clicked on the 18-year-old's videos a collective 250 million times.

Alas, viewers won't find Hevesh, Heck and Wright's 2014 Today show appearance because of copyright issues. But they can anticipate next month's DVD release of "Collateral Beauty," a film starring Will Smith, Kate Winslet and Helen Mirren for which Hevesh, Heck and O'Brien created a series of eye-popping domino courses.

"It was a pretty surreal experience," Hevesh says of attending the film's premieres in New York and London. "You always see actors on the red carpet, but I never thought I'd be standing there."

Locals can join in when the museum unlocks its doors Monday at 4:30 p.m. (admission is $5, with children up to 8 free) so a standing-room-only crowd can tiptoe around the perimeter and watch three long days in the making collapse in three short minutes.

"At 5 p.m. and hopefully not sooner," Lichtenfeld says of the fall. "It's loads of fun, but also nerve-racking, since one false move beforehand could trigger an entire chain reaction."

One that everyone would rather see end happily ever after.

Kevin O'Connor is a Reformer contributor and VTDigger.org correspondent who can be contacted at kevinoconnorvt@gmail.com.


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