Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Official Start of Summer

This weekend is Memorial Day Weekend and it is, according to lore, the “official” start of the New England summer season.  In Vermont, we start celebrating the summer as soon as the last of the snow leaves the shady spots and the daytime temperature climbs above 40 degrees.  Thus, for many of us, “gearing up for another amazing summer arts season” has been in full swing for about a month now.

In virtually every corner of the state, in every nook and cranny throughout the length and breadth of the Green Mountains, along the highways and byways that capture the minds and hearts of both residents and visitors, you can find almost any kind of cultural entertainment you like. But it is the Memorial Day Weekend Open Studio tour and Bennington Mayfest that, for most people, signal the start Vermont’s most vital (in economic terms) tourist season.

Having just celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2012, the Open Studio tour (organized by its founder, Martha Fitch, director of the Vermont Crafts Council) will showcase more than 240 artists and artisans in their studios throughout the state.  It is considered by many to be one of the best reasons to visit Vermont since it allows visitors from near and far to get to know their favorite artists/artisans in person over the years.

Bennington Mayfest, is organized very differently.  Designed as a one-day festival, the setting covers just a few blocks of downtown of Bennington and showcases artists, artisans, and food vendors in stalls and tents, all in a family and pet-friendly environment.  Now in its 28th year, the Mayfest might have the bragging rights where longevity is concerned, but Open Studio tour covers a lot more ground and showcases many more artists.  Each event, however, in its own way successfully showcases the variety and talent of Vermont artists and craftspeople.

And that is just a small taste of a few things that are on tap for the next couple of months.  For a complete guide to what is happening not just in the visual arts but in the performing arts let me simply suggest you keep an eye out for the Times-Argus’s Summer Guide to the Arts which should be dropping as an insert in the May 24th issue.  If ever there was a reason to get excited about the next few months, this is it.  From classical to folk/traditional concerts and festivals, to amateur and professional theater offerings all over the state, the Times-Argus’s guide is one of the few pieces that I keep handy.  A copy on my desk at work, a copy in my car, a copy or two at home—it serves as a constant and handy resource that helps me plan my summer.  Don’t miss it!  In fact, check out a few things that interest you and invite some friends for a visit.  First on my plate? The Burlington Discover Jazz Festival.  But that’s possibly the subject of another whole post…


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Off to a Great Start!

Spring has blossomed. Pollen has rendered any outdoor activity impossible and so, for now, I am trying to focus mainly on indoor activities.

Last Saturday, for example, I attended a really wonderful production of Lost Nation Theater’s Ransom at the Montpelier City Hall Theater.  Even though the pollen count finally caught up with me I was delighted with everything about this Broadway-worthy production.  Despite my intermittent sneezing and snuffling (which I like to think provided added echoes of the Civil War battlefields that formed part of the through-narrative of the work), the 20-or-so performers brought to life the letters of Ransom Towle, a native of West Roxbury, Vt. Serving as an officer in the Army of the Potomac through some of the most difficult years of the Civil War, Towle was wounded, recovered, and eventually lost his life during the Peninsula Campaign.

As good as the leading actors were (something I tend to expect from Lost Nation Theater), perhaps the most exciting thing about the production was the skill and professionalism of the four or five children who played surprisingly important roles.  The play wasn't just about one or two relationships played out against the backdrop of the Civil War.  It was about the destiny of an entire Vermont community--one that in the space of only a few years lost the entire "flower of its youth"--and how war's impact is not just on those who fight, but those who are left behind. The children were beautifully cast, and their skill--first at playing and acting like children, and then later being forced to confront injury, madness, and even death--was as good as any I have seen in any production anywhere. 

In a few months we will note in passing that 150 years ago more than 50,000 young men lost their lives during the three days of the Battle of Gettysburg.  Those kinds of statistics tend to numb us to the reality of what that must have been like--not only for those who lived in or near Gettysburg itself, but those whose families bore the brunt of the outcome.  Ransom did an amazing job of bringing that reality into the present day and forcing us to confront the nature of man and his conflicts.

Bravo, Lost Nation Theater!  The summer arts season is off to a fantastic start...