September 1, 2001
"Islands": When one-fifth of a community takes part in a project, things begin to happen
by Lisa Shields
A woman I know who travels in first-class funding circles told me that the overworked term "social capital" is one that she has scorned since its coining. It represents a concept that is simple, yet is indefinable and incomprehensible, and that to understand it you have to live it. The North Haven Commun-ity School (NHCS) and North Haven Arts & Enrichment production of "Islands," she told me, defines the term. Yet defining what it is and what it takes to be a part of this production is as elusive as defining social capital.
The concept for "Islands" came from Principal Barney Hallowell when he first convinced John Wulp, newly "retired" renowned New York producer, to tackle the drama program at North Haven Community School. Barney recognized that North Haven residents, particularly students, had a unique ability for imitation and story-telling while at the same time laughing at themselves. Barney's idea of using this talent to tell the story of what it is like to live on an island teased at John Wulp until he and Barney were able to put together a team that could handle the daunting job and still remain sane while working with John's persistent pursuit of perfection. Cindy Bullens, Grammy nominee, extraordinary song-writer and singer, agreed to write the songs. Eric Hopkins, famed artist, agreed to provide the photographic background scenes. John Wulp wrote the accompanying script.
For the most part, the gifts and accomplishments of these people have been well documented. The well deserved fame that grows and glows around them makes no particular impression on the cast, because we know them as people. John Wulp: perfectionist, promoter, sometimes exasperating tyrant, sometimes touchingly vulnerable, mostly brilliant director. Barney Hallowell: superior leader, visionary, supportive, passionate about causes. Cindy Bullens: far-ranging in her musical talent, warm, open, expressive, tinged by personal tragedy. Eric: multi-generational islander, bright, curious, humorous, sometimes volatile but always giving generously of his gifts.
Others help define the production but receive little recognition. Aaron Robinson, gifted musical director, translated Cindy's uncannily versatile score, and adapted it with Cindy to fit the talents and range of the actual singers. Aaron is witty, spirited and energetic, and gives heartily and copiously of himself. Although he does not often share the limelight, he holds the humor - and hence the performers - together in so many ways besides musically. Neil Thayer, a June graduate of North Haven Community School, affable, congenial, and responsible, runs the projector and the computer that coordinate Eric's slides with the songs and text. Neil heads for USM this fall, but has promised to accompany us to New York, Portland and Chebeague.
Alexander Burr, another NHCS grad (1998) has forfeited some of his summer vacation and two weeks worth of evenings to act as lighting technician. Taylor Marves and April Brown, both students at NHCS, both knowledgeable and quietly efficient, act as lighting assistant and stage manager. The unflappable Frank Sparhawk has unobtrusively and capably designed the lighting for every single John Wulp production. Bridget Hopkins, who has competently and meticulously taken care of ticketing for the on-island performances, soothes tempers of those who call too late for tickets, arranges special seating for the hearing- or physically-challenged, and maintains order despite potential chaos. She took charge of ticket sales for NHCS drama productions three years ago. Louis Carrier, North Haven's computer guru, always willingly shares his technical expertise. Ken Jones, art and phys ed teacher at NHCS, has a background as a dancer. Every performance and essentially every show reap the benefits of his choreographic experience as he patiently works with both adults and kids to help them get the movements down.
Boatbuilder Charlie Pingree, who takes time and helpers off his own projects, has helped build virtually every set for John Wulp's productions - sometimes more than once. North Haven Arts & Enrichment and those who support it made "Islands" possible. So did people like Kris Young, who have uncovered and encouraged the musical talent in our students. Other community members too numerous to enumerate, give of themselves (and sometimes, like Charlie, pay their crew members and use their own equipment) to assist with this production and others. Barney above all, who, along with Chellie Pingree, first recognized the necessity for continuing arts and enrichment in the school, deserves credit for "Islands."
Selecting the most important piece of "Islands' " social capital is an impossibility. There are too many heroes, both sung and unsung. Twenty-one out of 32 possible first through sixth grade students (2000-2001 school year) participate in the chorus. Over half of the seventh through twelfth graders participate both onstage and backstage. These students gave up dozens of late afternoons and dozens of evenings - during the summer - to be in "Islands." Parents of these kids (those who are not onstage themselves) also sacrifice dinner times and time to transport and time to help rehearse at home and time to spend with families. About 30 adults make "Islands" happen - adults who put in an eight- to twelve-hour workday and then hastily make it to a rehearsal or performance. Somewhere between one-sixth and one-fifth of the community of North Haven participates - and that does not include the people who were interviewed by Cindy Bullens and John Wulp to glean material for the lyrics. Cast members are not expected to just perform, of course. Most of us help with the construction and deconstruction of the set, with cleaning up the gym, with programs, with costumes, with keeping the younger students entertained backstage (in addition to parents), with tickets, with whatever needs to be done. What draws and then amplifies this participation? Is it an inborn predilection for mimicry and humor? Is it parental support that encourages a strong self-worth? Is it the school, that advocates and cultivates all types of learning and builds upon self-esteem? Is it pure love of performance? This participation happened and happens despite a continuing divisiveness that simmers around the school and around certain community issues. Perhaps some perform just to prove that community survives. And maybe, just maybe, it is because we feel that island life is "the way life's s'posed to be ..."
"Islands" public performances will take place in New York on Sept. 29, 2001 at the New Victory Theater on 42nd Street, and on Chebeague on October 13, 2001, at the Che-beague Recreation Center. Call Heather Shields-Brown at 867-0967 for tickets for the New York performance; call Lisa Shields at 867-4894 for information about the Chebeague performance.
North Haven resident Lisa Shields is a member of the "Islands" cast.
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