ARTBITS by Richard B. Harper

VOLUME 8 * * All Arts News On the Web * * September 16, 2004


      ArtBits always features a calendar of the goings on of Franklin County artists. Check out these events around Franklin County. Each issue includes the entire text of our weekly newspaper column.

      Stop in for live music and more at the Fairfax Music Sessions at the Foothills Bakery in Fairfax most Saturday afternoons at 1 p.m., at ChowBella in St Albans 8-10 p.m. most Wednesday evenings, at the Kept Writer in St Albans mostly once each month, at the Bayside in St Albans Town most Sunday afternoons, and the Cambridge CoffeeHouses at 7 p.m. on the first and third Wednesday of every month.
     These gatherings bring new opportunities, gossip, "show-and-tell" and occasional workshops. The booked performances and acoustic Open Mike Nights feature music, readings, and more from the best new artists in Vermont.


      The Opera House at Enosburg Falls will present Mac McHale and The Old Time Radio Gang in the ongoing Mentors Series on Saturday, September 25. The program appeals to young and old with spirited fiddle tunes; gospel songs; train songs; and ballads of the tales of the Depression, of heartbreak and of love.
      The Old-Time Radio Gang plays and sings the classic radio music from the 30s and 40s to recapture the mood of the period in American history when popular music told "the stories from our hearts." The group includes Mac McHale of Kennebunk, Maine, lead singer, guitar; Smokey Valley of Biddeford, vocalist, fiddle and dobro; John Roc of Wells, vocalist, stand-up bass and mandolin; Dick Monroe of Biddeford, vocalist and accordion; and Sally Roc of Wells, bass and vocalist.
      Tickets are on sale now. Admission is $12 for adults (who can save two bucks on advance purchases!), $10 for seniors, and $5 for children under 12. Tickets are available at the All Arts ticket centers: Enosburg Pharmacy and Merchants Bank in Enosburg Falls, at Swanton Rexall, and at Better Planet and at the Kept Writer in St Albans.


      Over the past year, the Vermont Council on Culture and Innovation (VCCI) has conducted a study that included direct research, national and international conferences, and testimony from over 300 Vermonters. Maine has undergone a similar exploration this year. Bangor News
      The Maine report, undertaken by a research team from the Maine Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Southern Maine, shows that the Creative Economy is as large and important a part of the Maine economy as the VCCI studies show it to be in Vermont.
      Employment in Maine's arts and culture industries has exhibited strong growth while technology jobs have declined significantly.
      The report found that culture plays three important roles in Maine.
      1. Visitors see art museums and galleries and historical sites as important to their trips, a phenomenon we have also observed here in Franklin County. The report also noted the performing arts and heritage industries exhibit seasonal growth and that they follow Maine tourism.
      2. The arts offer Maine residents the same quality of life advantages that attract visitors. Locally, the rebirth of the Opera House at Enosburg Falls and the renovations at the St. Albans Historical Museum mirror the trend.
      3. With as many employees in Maine as the wood products industry, the arts is a formidable workforce by itself. In Maine businesses in industrial and graphic design, advertising, and the media join with firms and individuals visual arts and music buoy the economy.
      Taken together, these three important roles create an economic development known as import substitution. Maine has discovered it has the ability to produce at home many of the goods and services it once went outside the state to find. The Maine report recommends enhancing the role of the arts and culture in tourism and strengthening the creative cluster.
      "VCCI's Final Report and Recommendations" for the sustenance and growth of Vermont's creative economy will be released October 2.


      The Catalyst Theater Company will hold auditions starting next Thursday for the hilarious Best Christmas Pageant Ever! The play will be performed in Essex Memorial Hall in December.
      The play centers on a church community's annual Christmas pageant traditionally directed by the elderly Mrs. Armstrong. When she becomes incapacitated, another chuch lady takes over and finds she must cast the six Herdman children, two girls and four boys, "the meanest, nastiest most inventively awful kids in the whole history of the wide world," Catalyst director Ronni Lopez said. "They're hooligans, they're free and unsupervised," and great fun to play.
      The roles include "20 kiddos from 6 to 13 and 11 adults from their 20's to elders," Ms. Lopez said. "We welcome performers of all ages, abilities, and ethnicities." Catalyst productions regularly include Franklin County performers and offer strong character roles. No previous stage experience is necessary.
      Ms. Lopez encourages parents and others in the community to be involved on stage and off. "We've had a number of families on stage over the years. One family with four children in the Burlington area have been in it for all but one of the years."
      The cast needs six adult women for the church ladies, women "always dressed to the nines for the holidays," Ms. Lopez said. "One is the elder Mrs. Armstrong, very set in her ways and cantankerous. It's a wonderful character piece. One is Grace Bradley, the mother who does all the work. The men in the play include the father, Bob Bradley who is the foil to Grace, and the Reverend, the father or grandfather of the boy who always plays Joseph and doesn't want to. There are firefighters and scads of kids including the Herdmans, the angel choir, and the baby angels. Everybody in the play has lines."
      The actors work in a professional atmosphere "because we are doing this for the general public. The actors are learning stuff and they get to work alongside adults. They each have responsibilities. We keep saying, 'This is your job' and when we refer to something that they have to do, we are very specific to say, 'Sally it is your job at this point to be sure that Mary is with you and that the two of you bring this prop on stage.'"
      The audition schedule is September 23 and 24, 6:30-9 p.m. and Sunday Sept 26 1-4 p.m. at the McClure Multigenerational Center, next to the Dairy Queen at 241 North Winooski Avenue, Burlington. Call Catalyst (802.862.2287) or e-mail for a 30 minute audition slot.


      An old friend has new art. Jonathan Billings is a familiar name around Franklin County in his role as Director of Planning and Community Services at Northwestern Medical Center. Less familiar, perhaps, is his secret life as a sports, landscape, and nature photographer. He is now shooting with a digital Minolta Dimage A-1 and will show his work at the NMC gallery in October.


      ArtBits features a quick weekly peek at the bookshelf or night stand of the folks you know in and around Franklin County. That popular feature has a page of its own at the Franklin County Bookshelf here on the AAC site.


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      This article was originally published in the St Albans Messenger and other traditional print media. It is Copyright © 2004 by Richard B. Harper. All rights reserved. Archival material is provided as-is. Links are not necessarily maintained (if a link in this article fails, try or your favorite search engine).
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