‘Our Town’ a huge success for Eastbound Theatre
Presenting a staged reading of the classic play “Our Town” outdoors, and at three different locations, was a challenge, a bit of a risk, but the folks at Milford’s Eastbound Theatre said the risk paid off, attracting more than 200 people who followed the show from site to site Aug. 24.
Eastbound, a division of the Milford Arts Council, the MAC, held the special performance to mark its 25th anniversary. For the MAC, it was the first of its kind.
The theater committee talked about doing Shakespeare outside to mark its 25th, but one member mentioned that another community had done Our Town. The Milford group took that up and took it a few steps further, outside, in three different locations, with three different directors and three different narrators, one for each act.
“It was an amazing day,” said Lorie Lewis, marketing director for the MAC.
Act 1, Daily Life, took place on the green, directed by Nancy Herman. Act II, Love and Marriage, took place at the Parson’s Government Center, directed by Mike Shavel.
Act III, Mortality, took place at the DAR building, overlooking the Milford Cemetery, directed by Tom Rushen.
Local radio personality Brian Smith served as “tour guide,” bringing a rope along so the participants could hold it and walk from set to set like local preschool children can be seen doing downtown sometimes.
Ann Baker and Herman were the producers, and there were about 23 total actors.
“It was a big cast,” Herman said.
Paige Miglio, director of the MAC, said she wanted to experience the show as a regular audience member, not a behind-the-scenes person. So she showed up the day of the performance along with the rest of the audience.
“When I got to the green, the Milford Concert Band was playing,” she said, adding that the band performed at the very first Eastbound Theatre production 25 years ago.
She sat down next to Milford Alderman Bryan Anderson, who was actually once a neighbor of playwright Thornton Wilder, who wrote Our Town.
Our Town is a play within a play written by Thornton Wilder in 1938. It tells the story of the fictional American small town of Grover's Corners between 1901 and 1913 through the everyday lives of its citizens.
“You meet the Webb and the Gibbs [families],” Herman said. “The first act is just about daily life, and it’s narrated by a character called ‘the stage manager.’
“It’s about the stages of life,” Herman said, “Very simple stuff.”
“The message,” she said, “is to pay attention to the small things.”
“I was thinking the whole time,” said Lewis, “that Our Town is a play within a play, and for us it was kind of a play within a play within a play because the community became Grover’s Corners of today.”
As the audience was watching this play about enjoying life’s simple pleasures, they were themselves enjoying one of life’s simple pleasures, Lewis said, a free outdoor play on a beautiful summer day, a day when picturesque city trees provided shade from the sun and where historic city sites provided the backdrop.
Collaboration was another special part, Lewis said: The theater worked with the library, which held a talk connected to Our Town, and with the Historical Society, whose current exhibit is a photo exhibit called Our Town —Our Story.
And the Chalk the Walks event, run by Milford, A City of Compassion, got into the act too, drawing hearts along the city sidewalks for the audience to follow to each location.
“Sort of like follow the yellow brick road,” Lewis said.
There were some worries: Sound might be tricky outdoors, but the city loaned the crew a sound system, which worked out well.
“I was concerned if people would keep moving with us,” Herman said.
But they did. Some people went to Act I, then went out to lunch downtown and caught up with the show again for Act III near the cemetery. Others saw Act II and III, and others all of them.
Lewis swears the crowd had grown in size by Act III.
There was some skepticism about having a different narrator for each act. But Herman said when the three ‘stage managers’ auditioned —Richard Warren, Frank Panzer and Frank Smith — all were great.
“I said we should use all three,” Herman said.
In the end, even that added to the production, said Miglio. “The three of them matched the scenes they were in.”
“That was intentional,” Herman added.
Some local dignitaries got into the act also. Mayor Ben Blake was Professor Willard, the city historian, in Act 1.
State Sen. James Maroney was the milkman, Howie Newsome. Vaughn Dumas, a former Milford police captain, was Constable Warren.
Feedback was all positive.
“I heard ‘this is the most amazing thing I’ve ever been to,” said Miglio. “I knew in my heart it was going to be special.”
For now, there are no plans to replicate the event. Herman said she thinks it should not be done next year, because bringing Our Town outdoors too often would make it less special, she said.
But, Herman conceded, maybe in a couple of years the theater could consider a similar outdoor performance, using a different play.