Peterborough Players launching outdoor season with ‘Our Town’ downtown

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    The Peterborough Players christened their new outdoor stage Tuesday, rehearsing "Our Town" ahead of next week's performances in downtown Peterborough. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

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    The Peterborough Players christened their new outdoor stage Tuesday, rehearsing "Our Town" ahead of next week's performances in downtown Peterborough. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Peterborough Players christened their new outdoor stage last week, rehearsing “Our Town” ahead of next week’s performances in downtown Peterborough. Ben Conant photos / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

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    The Peterborough Players christened their new outdoor stage Tuesday, rehearsing "Our Town" ahead of next week's performances in downtown Peterborough. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • ">

    The Peterborough Players christened their new outdoor stage Tuesday, rehearsing "Our Town" ahead of next week's performances in downtown Peterborough. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • ">

    The Peterborough Players christened their new outdoor stage Tuesday, rehearsing "Our Town" ahead of next week's performances in downtown Peterborough. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Peterborough Players christened the new Elsewhere Stage last week, rehearsing ‘Our Town’ ahead of the performances in the downtown area.

  • ">

    The Peterborough Players christened their new outdoor stage Tuesday, rehearsing "Our Town" ahead of next week's performances in downtown Peterborough. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • ">

    The Peterborough Players christened their new outdoor stage Tuesday, rehearsing "Our Town" ahead of next week's performances in downtown Peterborough. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 8/3/2021 4:22:44 PM

‘Our Town in downtown Our Town. Even Thornton Wilder couldn’t have scripted it any better.

As the Peterborough Players return to the stage for the first time in over 17 months, the Grand Restart 2021 is going to be unlike any other season since the theater opened in 1933. In their emergence from the pandemic and in the interest of safety, all three of their year’s performances will take place on an outdoor stage – starting with Wilder’s classic Our Town, portions of which were written during a residency at MacDowell.

Producing Our Town on a temporary stage in downtown Peterborough seemed like the perfect way to welcome audiences back.

“Why not choose the best American play ever written?” said Players Associate Artistic Director Tom Frey, who will also be directing the Players eighth production of Our Town, the first of which was done in 1940 under the guidance of Wilder and the last in 2008.

While there really was no better way for the Players to return, putting on a professional play in the elements on the green between the Guernsey Building and Peterborough Town House poses some logistical challenges. And ones that have been discussed ad nauseam.

But regardless of the planning, there will be things that come up prior to opening day Aug. 4 and through the final show on Aug. 15.

“We had a long time to plan so a lot of things we were able to set in motion before we typically would,” Frey said. “Everything we’re doing is a solution to a potential problem. We just figure it out as we go, but there are some things that are out of our control.”

There’s the issue of building set pieces in such a way they will last for the two-week run. The Players stage that would normally be filled with actors and actresses preparing for a show has been turned into a building shop. And of course, figuring out how to project voices over normal outdoor sounds is crucial.

“You’d be surprised how much noise wind through the trees makes,” said Players Managing Director Keith Stevens. “So if we’re going to be outside we need to mic everybody for every show.”

“Luckily everyone in the show is loud,” Frey added. “And they know how to project their voice in a theater.”

Frey joked that they bought every chair in the Monadnock Region – possibly the state of New Hampshire. And Stevens concurred.

“We just didn’t have chairs that were going to work for outdoor performances,” he said.

Stevens said the planning has been about making contingency plans for tentative plans – from where people enter, where they take tickets, and if there’s enough lighting for after the show. And then there’s the weather, considering the month of July was the rainiest its been in recent memory.

“We’re trying to figure out what to do to make it not rain,” Stevens said. “It can rain in the morning and on Mondays.”

Frey said he spoke to a number of theaters that put on outdoor shows last year to get an idea of what worked and any tips that could be offered. He said they are at a 100% vaccination rate, but still use masks when indoors and groups reach a certain number and those not on stage will be masked.

“The only way we could have done any of this was to be fully vaccinated,” Frey said.

Beth Brown, the Players Director of Advancement, equated it to building the runway while trying to land the plane.

The collaboration that has occurred between a number of entities – the Monadnock Center, the town of Peterborough and many others – has proved to be something that can continue into the future.

And all the while the actual on stage work has been happening to be ready for opening night. Our Town, which is a look through the eyes of the citizens of Grover’s Corners, N.H., in their growing up, loving, living, and dying. Two families, Gibbs and Webb, journey through their lives as told by a character known only as the Stage Manager. It features a star-studded cast, including the likes of Gordon Clapp, who was the last actor to grace the Players stage in Robert Frost: This Verse Business in February 2020, who plays the Stage Manager. He will be joined Tracey Conyer Lee as Mrs. Webb, Aliah Whitmore, whose grandfather James played the role of the Stage Manager in the Players last production of Our Town, as Mrs. Gibbs. Erick Pinnick is Dr. Gibbs and Steven Michael Walters portrays Mr. Webb, with KP Powell as George Gibbs and Kate Kenney as Emily Webb. Add in Players’ favorites Kraig Swartz and Bridget Beirne as Simon Stimson and Mrs. Soames, and this production of Wilder’s classic will be talked about for years to come.

Following the Players 10-play run of Our Town downtown, there will be two more plays – Beehive: The ’60s Musical and Where You Are – produced on the Elsewhere Stage, a new outdoor space at the Players created specifically for this year. It was part of a major renovation undertaking at the Players, which also saw significant upgrades to the rehearsal hall, including insulation to make it a year-round space and of course, improved ventilation.

“And we’re still working on what we need to do before an audience gets here,” Stevens said. “There’s just a lot of additional logistics to figure out.”

So even with all the challenges, Stevens will take what all the extra preparations entail because he knows what it will lead to.

“It’s been great for us to just be doing the work,” Stevens said. “It just feels like we’re back in business.”

For more information and tickets, visit peterboroughplayers.org.




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