CHRISTMAS IN WISCONSIN, THE 2015 SEASON, AND STUFF IN-BETWEEN
Although the theme for the award-winning Equity professional East Lynne Theater Company’s 2014 Season is “What is legal?” it could have easily been called “When and where will it be found?”
It took several years for artistic director Gayle Stahlhuth to track down possibly the only copy in existence of The First Fifty Years, the 1922 Broadway play by Henry Myers. Although Within the Law took Broadway by storm in 1912, it was a script that took over two years for her to obtain. In the fall of 2013, ELTC decided to produce both of these plays the following year. During the summer, Within the Law appeared online, so now anyone who wants to read it, can. The First Fifty Years, alas, is still alone in Henry Myers’ archives in The Billy Rose Collection at The Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts in Manhattan. Except of course for the copies created by Gayle after she took digital photos of the pages and typed up the script.
While contemplating the 2014 season, Gayle reread Zona Gale’s 1922 Pulitzer Prize-winning play Miss Lulu Bett. This led her to want to look into her story collections, but where to find them? One collection is online through Project Gutenberg, and another book could be purchased online. In doing more digging, she discovered that the University of Michigan Library has the Gale archives. The book that looked most interesting was Neighborhood Stories, which was first printed in 1912, with its last publication date of 1914. For a fee, the university would send Gayle a digitally scanned copy of the 1914 version. Without hesitation, she ordered the book, and waited a month for the scanned book to arrive. In this, she found the Christmas stories, “Human,” and “A Great Tree,” that she adapted to create Christmas in Wisconsin: Tales by Zone Gale.
The storyteller in the book is Calliope Marsh, a woman of a certain age who never married and has lived in Friendship Village, Wisconsin her whole life. In “Human,” while waiting in line at the post office to mail off her last batch of Christmas presents, along with most of the rest of the town, she discovers that a seven-year-old boy doesn't have the money to visit his mother who’s in a hospital in another town. How those in that post office figure out what to do, with the help of total strangers, is endearing.
“I wish’t I knew someone to have a Christmas tree with,” is how Calliope begins the next story. Her goal is to have the tree in the center of town lit with electric lights for Christmas Eve. When she says “someone,” she means, eventually, she will bring all those individuals together so that the tree – and the experience – can be shared by all. It’s a town accustomed to its old ways, and whenever something new is mentioned, there is always someone going to be against it. Calliope had her work cut out for her.
Adapting this story, the question that occurred to Gayle, was, when were outdoor Christmas trees first lit with electric lights? Answer: 1904 at the Hotel del Coronado (location for the filming of Some Like it Hot) in San Diego. The next one was in Appleton, Wisconsin in 1909, followed by New York City in 1912, and Philadelphia in 1913.
Zona Gale (1874-1938) was born in the small town of Portage, Wisconsin, and earned a Masters Degree at the University of Wisconsin before spending six years as a journalist in Milwaukee and New York. In 1903, she paid a visit to Portage, discovering that the material she needed for her writing was all here. A year later, she moved back to her hometown to focus her work on fiction. In 1908, Gale received national attention for her book of short stories, titled Friendship Village. Although the town’s name was fictional, the basis for the stories came from Portage.
Not only did Gayle adapt the works of Zona Gale, but she is also performing them, as Calliope Marsh. For the past seven years, she has been performing Christmas stories in Cape May based on works by L. Frank Baum, Mary Wilkins Freeman, Mark Twain, Edward Everett Hale, Louisa May Alcott, Bret Harte and O. Henry, much to the delight of local residents and visitors. In each show, she interprets over thirty-some characters in which the shrug of a shoulder and a change in her voice, brings a character to life. For many patrons, these original performances have become part of their holiday tradition.
Gayle is finishing up her sixteenth year as ELTC’s Artistic Director. Since the board of trustees asked her take this position in 1999, after the death of the founder, Warren Kliewer, she has produced 75 different shows (some returned for another season), including 18 world premieres and 9 New Jersey premieres, and directed 46 of them. As a published and produced playwright, she is an Active Member of the Dramatists Guild, and for her work in film, television, and radio, a member of SAG-AFTRA. She joined Actors’ Equity, the union for professional actors, forty-two years ago, when she was hired for a national tour of Cabaret and has worked steadily in the entertainment industry ever since.
The dates for Christmas in Wisconsin are Friday and Saturday, Nov. 28 and 29; Sunday, Dec. 7; Thursday through Saturday, Dec. 11, 12, 13 at 8:00pm, with a Saturday, December 13, 2:00pm matinee. As usual with ELTC’s Christmas shows, the company reduces its regular ticket price as an early holiday gift to its audience. Tickets are $25 for general admission; $15 for full-time students, and as always with ELTC productions, those ages twelve and under are free. For information and reservations, call 609-884-5898 or go online to www.eastlynnetheater.org.
Listen to spooky holiday ghost tales, told in a trolley, while the lights of the beautifully decorated homes and streets are seen through the windows of the heated vehicle. From Nov. 21 – Dec. 27, ELTC, co-sponsored with Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts and Humanities (MAC) is pleased to present the ninth year of The Ghosts of Christmas Past Trolley Rides. This year, the tales are based on the writings of Frank R. Stockton and Mary Wilkins Freeman. Once again, the main costumed storyteller is Frank Smith, who was the first person to portray Dr. Physick for MAC's tour of the Physick Estate, and has performed for ELTC in William Gillette's Sherlock Holmes and for Tales of the Victorians, ELTC's popular storytelling event held at various Cape May venues during the summer and fall. Contact MAC for times and details at 609-884-5404 or visit www.capemanymac.org.
ELTC is entering its fourth year of offering Murder Mystery Weekends at The Henry Sawyer Inn. On Feb. 20-21, March 6-7, March 13-14, and March 27-28, participants can portray the ‘innocent bystander,’ the ‘victim’ or even the ‘killer.’ For information, contact the inn at 609-884-5667 or firstname.lastname@example.org, Twin Gables at 609-884-7332 or email@example.com or ELTC. Reservations/payments are made through the inns.
ELTC will be back on the mainstage with Holmes and Carter Mysteries, the eleventh anniversary of our vintage radio-style productions, with live sound effects and commercials, just in time for another Sherlock Holmes Weekend, on March 20-21. Back-to-back in the same evening, Sherlock Holmes Adventure of the Copper Beeches and Nick Carter and the Strange Dr. Devolo are performed by the same six actors portraying a variety of roles in Holmes’ Victorian England and Carter’s Manhattan during World War II.
Don't know what to give someone for the holidays? ELTC’s 2015 Season (35th year) tickets are available. See four exciting shows for only $80. Season tickets may be purchased at the box office, through ELTC’s website, by phone, or by sending a check to the office: 121 Fourth Ave., West Cape May, NJ 08204. Season tickets are flexible, even allowing patrons to use all four for one performance if they wish. Ticket prices next year are $30 for general admission and $25 for seniors.
The theme for our exciting five-show 2015 Mainstage Season is "Unexpected Encounters." Running from June through December, we open with Mr. Lincoln. Written by Herbert Mitgang, it was originally on Broadway in 1980 starring Roy Doltrice. It is Good Friday, April 14, 1865, and as John Wilkes Booth holds a pistol to the President's head as he's watching Our American Cousin at Ford's Theater, Lincoln's life flashes before his eyes. Selected to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination, it will star Tom Byrn.
The second production is the world premiere, Huckleberry Finn, based on the Mark Twain classic in which a young boy and a slave set sail on the Mississippi. It is adapted by James Rana, who’s other adaptations first produced by ELTC include Zorro!, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, and The Poe Mysteries. Playing Huck, is West Cape May’s own Evan Smilyk who recently played young Don Diego Vega (aka Zorro), and other roles in Zorro!
Next is a revival of the 1929 comedy, Strictly Dishonorable, by Preston Sturges. Set in a Manhattan speakeasy, a Southern belle and her fiancé from West Orange, NJ, encounter a witty judge, an opera singer, and several outgoing Italians. By the end of 1929, Sturges was writing for Paramount, and soon after also directing his own films which include The Great McGinty, The Lady Eve, and Sullivan’s Travels.
In November, it’s Detectives Holmes and Carter, with two new radio-style mysteries: Sherlock Holmes Adventure of the Red-Headed League and Nick Carter and the Voice of Crime.
Rounding out the season is The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, based on the L. Frank Baum (The Wizard of Oz) classic tale that answers such questions as how Claus was raised, when did he make his first toy, and where he obtained flying reindeer. When ELTC last performed it in 2010, it was designated "An American Masterpiece” as part of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Masterpieces Series.
All year long, ELTC is busy with touring shows throughout the country, lectures, and school residencies, including the nine-month long after-school programs for the Wildwood School District due to the district receiving the federally-funded 21st Century Grant.