That’s the way the annual New Yorker Christmas poem traditionally begins…
I have been, as usual, away from my Voice and Word desk these past few months, because I have been busy in the field.
“Voices of the Fallen” played for two successful performances at the Bennington Theater on Veterans Day. I spoke an opening background monologue myself. We adapted Darrell Holovach’s music from the Battlefield audio project and used projections as well, but it came down to actors telling their stories to an audience. They did an excellent job, under the direction of Ingrid Magdelayne, who also directed “Voices from the Grave” two years ago. Once again Steven Thompson drove down from Akwesasne to play the role of the slain Mohawk chief and stayed with us in Pownal. The first show was videotaped by CAT-TV from a fixed camera at an angle to the stage, but it will serve as a record for the curious.
With the exception of Steven, we were all volunteers (I prefer that term to “amateurs,” although it was love of the theater that impelled us to devote so many hours to the play). The actors were paid a pittance – an honorarium – from funds raised by the Friends of the Bennington Battlefield for this year’s public projects. The scripts can be read on their own, in sequence, like extended Spoon River pieces. I loved writing in (mostly) blank verse and hearing actors speak the words that we had worked so hard together to polish.
It occurs to me that I could specialize in monologues of the dead. I have now written them twice. I could trade in re-animations, traveling from town to town, bringing their dead back to life. Sure enough, someone suggested having the houses along Monument Avenue, or at least their former owners, speak to us in a new production. But I think I may have run my course.
The week following the shows I gave an illustrated talk on Robert Frost as part of a post-show performance by a very good Frost impersonator. The script was well done, too, and Amelia and I were invited to dinner with the actor and writer/road manager. They put on two shows, both well attended. The Q and A with me followed the matinee.
The day after the Frost shows, I did my part (7 minutes of illustrated talk on Bennington’s past patriotic commemorations) for a presentation on the 250th at the Bennington Museum in the Historical Society’s Sunday speaker series. The following week I repeated it at a public meeting with the Bennington Selectboard.
Then it was off to the Masons (only, it wasn’t). I got asked to fill in for another speaker at the Bennington Masons’ 200thanniversary banquet, with reps from other Vermont lodges present as well as the local Masons. I am not myself a Mason, but in my Battle book I noted the Masons’ participation (complete with the scattering of corn and pouring of oil) in the laying of the cornerstone of the Bennington Monument. I was to, and am to speak on the history of Bennington. I would have spoken in early December but for the death of an eminent member of the lodge, which cause a postponement of the event. I had prepared in a whirlwind. Now I can let my script settle until spring, when they’ll try again.
I gave a talk, with Katie Brownell, called “Inside the Battle of Bennington” to the Bennington Historical Society on Dec. 17. The Museum had vigorously promoted the talk, and the head count was 79, a full house. I spoke about groups that have not been included or have been misrepresented in Battle commemorations past, chiefly Blacks and women, though I touched on other groups. Katie Brownell, a Friends Board member who has presented on Sarah Rudd, spoke about Sarah’s pension file. Katie also spoke the words of Sally Kellogg I quoted in my script. Her contributions made for a livelier talk. One man came up to me afterwards looking crestfallen. My having pointed out that Molly Stark had never set foot in Vermont had shaken him up. Legends die hard!
My last Voice and Word act of the year was to supply an idea, a photo, and an intro and outro for a “Vermont Begins Here” post on Bennington’s coming attractions for 2024.
My own calendar is quite free. Watch this space – every few months…