Junior Service League holds play as fundraiser

  • Emily Young—Emily Young

  • Emily Young—Emily Young

  • Emily Young—Emily Young

  • Emily Young—Emily Young

  • Emily Young—Emily Young

  • Emily Young—Emily Young

  • Emily Young—Emily Young

  • The four animals look on as the narrator, Squire Squirl, played by Molly McKean (left), scolds Flinch, a fancy bird with a large ego played by co-director Laura Sagris , for interrupting. Emily Young / Monitor staff

  • Emily Young—Emily Young

  • Emily Young—Emily Young

  • Emily Young—Emily Young

  • Emily Young—Emily Young

  • Emily Young—Emily Young

  • Emily Young—Emily Young

  • Emily Young—Emily Young

  • Emily Young—Emily Young

  • Emily Young—Emily Young

  • Emily Young—Emily Young

  • Emily Young—Emily Young

  • Emily Young—Emily Young

  • Emily Young—Emily Young

  • Emily Young—Emily Young

  • Emily Young—Emily Young

  • Junior Service League members rehearse “The Berman Town Musicians.” From left: Julia Wagner as Donkey, Rebecca Butt as Hound, April Lakevicius as Cat and Carol Clark as Rooster. In the background are the robbers played by Lauren Mercier, Kris Boule and Heather Walker-White. Emily Young / Monitor staff

  • Emily Young—Emily Young

  • League alumnae Kris Boule (left) and Lauren Mercier sit downstage as the four animals bring out props and get in place behind them at center stage. Emily Young / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 3/11/2017 3:09:40 PM

In the upcoming production of its annual children’s play, the Junior Service League of Concord is once again delivering family-friendly theatrical hilarity to local audiences all for a good cause.

Founded in 1931, the Concord JSL is an all-women’s service organization committed to supporting women and children in critical situations for more than 80 years. Members join for five years and commit to completing 60 hours of community service per year.

They are now gearing up for opening night of The Bremen Town Musicians on Friday, which they’ve been practicing for since December.

Directed by Karen Braz and based on the Brothers Grimm fairy tale, The Bremen Town Musicians is about four animals – Hound, Cat, Rooster and Donkey – who embark on a journey to escape their boring barnyard lives and become musicians. Their only problem: None of them can play an instrument. The characters comedically overcome obstacles, eventually learning the indispensable values of teamwork and friendship.

“Our play is really a staple in our organization,” League President Chelsea Doughty said. A Concord native, Doughty originally got involved in the organization after moving back from Florida, where she participated in a community service event sponsored by the JSL.

“I wanted to find a way to get involved and give back to the community and get to know some people in the area because I hadn’t lived here for over 10 years,” she said.

Play Chairwoman Heather Walker-White said that she joined the JSL in 2014 after being invited by a former member and immediately jumped into the play.

“The play is very much the glue that binds a lot of members together,” White said. In addition to being chairwoman, White plays Cloak, one of three robbers the animals face along the road to Bremen Town.

As chairwoman, Walker-White’s first big responsibility was choosing the play, which she said was difficult due to the one-hour time constraint. Production choices are usually plays based on fairy tales with good moral messages. Last year, the group performed for more than 1,000 students in Concord and the surrounding districts, in addition to public performances.

“I believe very strongly in giving back to my community and in setting that example for my children,” Walker-White said. “So it’s very important to me that they see the impact that just one person can make and the broader impact that a group of people can make.”

Many JSL alumnae return to participate, including former president Kris Boule, who is playing Artful, another of the robbers.

“It’s a really fun play and I think that it’s something that the kids and the public in general will enjoy going to just because it’s got a lot of fun, quirky characters,” Boule said.

Both Boule and Doughty praised Director Karen Braz as a “blessing” and a “visionary.”

Braz, a sign language interpreter for the Manchester Program for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and co-founder of the Children’s Theatre Project, said she has been directing plays for the JSL for more than 20 years.

“I’ve always been in theater since I was little, doing shows in my grandparents’ barn and on our porch where I grew up. In high school and through college I stayed in theater,” Braz said. After moving from North Conway to Concord in 1982, she said she became involved with the Community Players and later founded the Children’s Theatre Project.

Though many of The Bremen Town Musicians cast members have some prior theater experience from previous JSL productions or acting in high school, none have any formal training.

“They’re very open to everything and they work really hard at it. There’s no diva moments. They just want to do a good job. The dynamic has always been very friendly, very open, very welcoming to everybody,” Braz said. “They’re a pleasure to work with.”

“I love performing in the productions that we do every year, and that’s why as an alumni member I appreciate that we can come back and assist and help the League,” Boule said. “Knowing the impact that we can make on the community and the good that the organization does is just priceless.”

Because many other organizations and businesses already buy school supplies, Doughty said the JSL has found it more helpful to give the play’s proceeds in the form of discretionary grants to individual schools. She said this method allows school faculty to decide how the money is best spent to aid children in need.

“We really serve the Merrimack Valley region,” she said. Typically, Doughty said the JSL will give back to schools who attend their shows, which have included in the past the Christa McAuliffe, Abbot-Downing and Harold Martin elementary schools.

When they’re not acting for charity, the JSL women volunteer at Outfitters Thrift Store, The Friendly Kitchen and the Concord Boys and Girls Club’s annual auction. They hold a yearly Red Carpet Gala. This year’s recipient, Hope on Haven Hill, a new residential recovery facility in Rochester, was given $10,000. It specifically treats pregnant women with substance abuse disorders, the facility helps patients recover and tend to their babies for up to one year.

Doughty said the JSL also disperses funds each June to other organizations or individuals who have sent in grant requests.

Other upcoming fundraising events include Ladies Nights at The Place Studio and Gallery on March 30, making needle felted spring landscapes for $30; and on April 1 making alcohol ink coasters for $25. Owner Christa Zuber is offering 26 spots for each crafting event and will donate a portion of the proceeds back to the JSL.

Women interested in joining the Concord JSL should visit their website at jslconcord.org, where they can email the group to request more information. Or, Doughty said, message the group directly through their Facebook page – they’re always looking for new members.

Opening night for The Bremen Town Musicians is Friday at 7 p.m., followed by a second show Saturday at 1 p.m. at St. Paul’s School, Memorial Hall, 325 Pleasant St., in Concord. Admission is $7 or $5 with a canned-good donation.




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