The farmer’s daughter and the theatre

It's not uncommon to see the porch outside the New London Barn Playhouse packed with people on performance nights. After all, their motto is

It's not uncommon to see the porch outside the New London Barn Playhouse packed with people on performance nights. After all, their motto is "See You on the Porch."

By GAIL MATTHEWS

For the Monitor

Published: 02-22-2024 4:26 PM

Modified: 02-22-2024 6:26 PM


Some of the life lessons learned in the theatre: self awareness, teamwork, time management, dealing with all types of people and situations, being realistic, being adaptive with good problem-solving skills, and not letting the problem of everyday life get you down. The same could be said about doing farm work.

Life growing up on a small family farm in Kansas with horses, goats and chickens seems far away from the New London New Hampshire Playhouse. However, the skills learned on the farm, serve Sage Tokach well in developing the education program for the Playhouse, affectionately known as “The Barn” (oldest continuing operating theatre in New England). What did Tokach learn from farm chores that relate to theatre success?

“Both worlds require a strong work ethic and thinking on your feet,” she said. “Chores had to be done before school each morning, and if a storm wrecked some fencing, or the horses got out, we had to fix the problem with whatever resources we had. Likewise, the theatre has so many moving parts from the actors to the sets that must come together by the time the curtain rises. Whether you have the time and supplies you need or not, you figure out a way to make do.”

Tokach is the director of the education program for the Barn and chosen because of her education, her love of the theatre and work in Oklahoma, Missouri, Chicago and Florida. She has a Master’s in Fine Arts as well as hands-on work.

Keith Coughlin and Elliott Cunningham brought her to New Hampshire in March, (mud season) for the job interview. They figured if she decided to work for the Barn in March, she would love the rest of the New Hampshire seasons. And she does. Tokach enthusiasm for the many facets of her job, her enjoyment of New Hampshire’s beauty/seasons and her appreciation for those who make New Hampshire home, adds to the joy of her responsibilities.

Tokach lights up when she talks of the program she runs for school children from early age to high school students. Her plans include: working with Kearsarge Neighborhood Partners and the Kearsarge Regional School District to bring those who might not be able to partake in the theatre experience attend classes and performances through scholarships and transportation. Transportation is needed when there is no one in a family to transport a student to the Barn. As the program gets settled and grows, drivers for the transportation program can sign up. Donations may also be made for scholarships to help a student at $150 per student. Recently, the students presented “Frozen” with five performances that were sold out with a waiting list. An original musical with the script/score written by professional writers and musicians is next on the agenda. Exciting plans, which also include having the curtain rise within the various schools.

One adult extremely enthusiastic to the ideas of the theatre programs for students says with a huge smile, “I remember well being Mother Goose in the third grade and it began my love for the theatre and showed me possibilities for my life.”

Another program which Tokach started a year ago January is “Improv for Caregivers.” She was asked by a Barn patron to consider such a program for the 25,000 New Hampshire adults affected with a form of Dementia/Alzheimer’s. Actors portray the many daily scenarios that a Caregiver experiences 24/7. Tokach is the facilitator for each vignette. The success of the program coordinated with the Lake Sunapee VNA&Hospice led the way to receive a grant from the New Hampshire Health/Arts.

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The next step is taking “Improv for Caregivers” on the road to surrounding towns and to Concord. Professionals in the caregiving role have been added to each session which further helps the Caregiver. Attendance is free of charge with audience participation encouraged. The Council on Aging is involved as well. Tokach has experience in working with those who suffer from Aphasia while working in Florida. Having taken classes in Chicago on Improv, she participated in the Orlando Playback Troupe. Playback Troupe is an original form of improvisational theatre. The audience tells real life stories and then watches actors portray those stories. It could be a story about abuse, a happy outcome to a story or how a caregiver responds to the daily routine.

Tokach has a dream to someday have her own community theatre with outdoor plays and musicals. If her work thus far is an indication of dreams fulfilled then it will be done. Meanwhile, she is in New Hampshire, looking forward to all the seasons. And, the Fleming Center audiences at the Barn are very pleased with the farmer’s daughter.