Who knew that there were 26 actors and actresses on Shaw Island? We do, now that we’ve discovered a new form of entertainment. The Shaw Island Community Reader’s Theatre performed ‘Shaw on Shaw’ on May 21 at the Community Center.
Reader’s Theatre has been traced back to Greece about 2,500 years ago (Greek is the world’s oldest recorded living language). It has been reborn a number of times, including medieval times and group readings in the early 19th century, according to the “Readers Theatre Handbook.” During and after World War 2, it often took the place of plays for resource reasons, needing only a script and stools.
The term Reader’s Theater popped up in 1945 with the start of the professional Readers Theatre, Inc., but before that, radio plays, essentially Reader’s Theatre without props, were popular, according to the Handbook. An author reading at a bookstore event is just another version: one script, no props.
“Reader’s Theatre seems to bring joy to the community. It brings the community closer, to know everyone better, and people do things that they would never do (away from the stage),” said director Buni Twitchell Lynch (who also raised the boards to prompt an audience response). “Everyone just has a good time. And what a surprise seeing people you know be so different from their normal selves. Nobody had ever seen Jan Chamberlin let it all out.”
It was the first stage experience for most of the cast, including Jan, who earned praise for her performance of Boughton in the Glastonbury script. “Buni was so enthusiastic that I finally relented,” Jan said. The two read through all the parts and decided on Boughton, the conductor who struggled with members of the community who did not like his music, which to some, was simply noise.
Then came the costume. “After reading the script, I just figured that he was kind of a turn-of-the-century man and didn’t have a hat and didn’t have much money.” Jan hit the stage in black; Buni provided the mustache. “Being on stage in costume didn’t bother me. If I were in regular dress, I’d probably have been totally terrified.”
Buni: “I have always enjoyed George Bernard Shaw. He’s so funny and clever and very smart. I have always been inspired by a GBS sketch, ‘Shakes V Shaw,’ long long ago in an acting workshop and always wanted to do it again in some form. Then I found the rest of his sketches. I thought a (Shaw Readers Theatre) was a good idea! I started by getting a few Shaw people together but had to talk them into it. Many thought GBS was boring until they read out loud and it all came together – ‘word of mouth!’
Also, I thought a hat would be all that they needed for their characters but these Shaw Islanders went all the way … on their own. They got into costumes and wanted to expand it. That was great.” There were no rehearsals as such because it would have been impossible to get 26 performers in the same place on the same day. There were a couple of read-throughs. “And each sketch of players had not seen the other sketches so it was a real delightful surprise even for the cast” come show time.
Who has an Irish accent?
Carole Davis joined because she loves the stage, Buni’s enthusiasm was contagious, and she didn’t have to memorize her lines. She was assigned George Bernard Shaw in the ‘A Pageant of Plays and Players’ skit. “I was not happy. Unlike the other skits, this one wasn’t written by GBS but was about him. I wanted to be a tramp or have my head cut off or be a music conductor. I gained a teeny bit of enthusiasm when I heard it out loud.” But it still didn’t feel right; it needed spice.
“I decided to try to speak with an Irish accent. I went online and listened to a You Tube lesson on speaking with an Irish accent. I carefully re-wrote the entire script with the new sounds. I tried it out on Brud. He was less than enthusiastic; said it sounded like a cross between Cajun and cockney. Daunted but determined, I plowed on. I asked to borrow a suit from Willy Borner but that was nixed by my fellow skitters as being too formal. So, I went through my closet, having saved everything I have ever worn since high school, and put together my outfit, found some huge pants I should have returned but never did, and added an unfinished burl cane my grandfather had on his to-do list (and) the tie was my Dad’s when he was at Princeton.”
Carole then added the finishing touches. “Make-up was a Saturday morning afterthought. I realized I was playing an old Shaw reminiscing about his career. I tried powdering my hair, but white doesn’t show on blond. So I died my hair dark, parted it in the middle like Shaw and then powdered it. I used eyeliner to draw lines on my face and then used grey eye shadow to create a semblance of stubble. White mascara fluffed out my eyebrows and then I powdered my whole face. Since it looked pretty good, I decided to just leave it on so I wouldn’t have to re-do it. I gardened all day looking like this. Every time my husband saw me he started laughing: ‘What have you done with my wife?’”
Like many others in the cast and audience, Carole hopes that Reader’s Theatre will be an annual event. “Buni has created a monster. We are unlikely to let her out of doing this again. Seeing fellow islanders ham it up was a hoot. I think this will become one of the favorite events of the year.”
Buni: “I’m not sure what will happen next. It’s all played by ear.”
The cast of local characters in the “Shaw on Shaw” skits
Shakes Versus Shaw (GBS)
Shakespeare ………. Ellen Jones
Shaw ………. Jenn Hogue
Macbeth ………. Terri Mason
Rob Roy ………. Steve Mason
Captain Shotover ………. Andrew Thomas
Virgin ………. Caryn Buck
The Girl with the Golden Voice
Miss Cain ………. Deborah Jacobs
Shaw ………. Gabriel Jacobs
Bostock ………. Dittie Weinel
Austin ………. Lola Deane
Boughton ………. Jan Chamberlin
Chorus/Limelight/Mrs. Boughton …..… Corinne Story
Muriel ………. Jody Schmidt
Sir Hubert ……… Hardy Schmidt
A Pageant of Plays and Players
Cochran ………. Lorrie Harrison
Shaw ………. Carole Davis
Announcer ………. Kathy Melville
Isle of Shaw (Wight)
Girl ………. Chris Hopkins
Tourist ………. Alex MacLeod
Matron ………. Willie Williams
Gentleman ………. Phil Ekstrom
Tramp ………. Janice Ekstrom
President ………. Tim Nelson
Vice President ………. John Bogert
A Yahoo ………. Steve Mason
Another/The ………. Keith Gerrard
Mild/Spy ………. Jane Baier-Nelson
— Contributed by Sharon Wootton