Thursday, December 7, 2017

Why Visiting Actor Neil McGarry Loves 'A Christmas Carol'

We're so excited to have actor Neil McGarry for our special LIVE! FOR $5 showing of the one-man 'A Christmas Carol' this Saturday!  All Island students are welcome FREE.  <-- Click here to find out more. 

Actor Neil McGarry

We were curious "Why does Neil love this play?" Here's what he had to say.  It's beautiful...

I love this story so much, and have, since I was young. I'm fairly sure I came to it first with Mr. Magoo's version. There was another animated version too, it had Alistair Sim's voice and, on a black and white TV, the images seemed designed to look like pencil sketches. 

I remember reading it on my own in the 4th grade,  devouring every film version that came my way. In 5th grade I was cast in my first play, and was playing the lead in the 5th Grade Christmas show. My teacher, Mrs. Porrazzo at Hyannis West Elementary, for reasons known only to her, used the Scrooge/Marley from the novel scene as the audition piece.

In 8th grade I discovered the great actor, Albert Finney, in the movie musical Scrooge

from left to right: 'A Christmas Carol', Neil (in character), Alistair Sim, Albert Finney

When I was seventeen I was cast as Scrooge by the extraordinary John Sullivan at Barnstable High School. John was an art teacher and Drama Director at BHS for over 30 years and went on to mentor many other students who have gone on to become professional actors, writers, directors and animators. He is an amazing person, fun, incredibly funny and a truly gifted teacher. This was in his 2nd year as Drama Director. I was seventeen and, indeed, filled with drama. 

John Sullivan, inspiration and mentor

My parents, who, rightly so, were not overly delighted with their son’s choice of profession (“There are so many things you do better Neil” they would say) were worried. I would leave the house to go to school and then not come home ‘till 11:00pm, staying after school to build sets and rehearse. When asked where I was, my scruffy, gruff, hormonal, filled with teenage angst response was “I was at rehearsal.” 

We opened the show and Mum and Dad came to the opening. It was one of those special performances that sometimes happen for young actors. And, truly, it was years before I did anything that was as good. 

Back in those days the stage would be rushed by well wishers after the curtain call. I remember stumbling and suddenly, my father had me. He just held me and held me. He was a good hugger and I had a lifetime of great hugs from him but that one was ... well, I still don’t have words for it. He then handed me to my mother, who held me no less lovingly, and who then whispered in my ear, “If you decide to do this, you’ll be okay”.

There have been many actors who have brought A Christmas Carol to life. Charles Dickens’ himself, Sir Laurence Olivier, Reginald Owen, Alistair Sim, Lionel Barrymore, Jim Backus, Albert Finney, Paul Scofield, George C. Scott, Patrick Stewart, Simon Callow - famous ones that I know and love and not famous ones that I know and love too. 

1st row: Charles Dickens, Sir Laurence Olivier, Reginald Owen, Alistair Sim,
2nd row: Lionel Barrymore, Jim Backus, Albert Finney, Paul Scofield,
3rd row: George C. Scott, Patrick Stewart, Simon Callow, Neil McGarry

However, returning to the show now for the fifth year, I am remembering my mum and dad, how much they loved Christmas, how much they loved their 10 children.  They took great pleasure in this story.  They were brilliant, beautiful people.  They never went to college and had no time for pretension, and they suffered through an awful lot of my early work.  In my 35 years on the stage, A Christmas Carol was their favorite. 

This is for them, Neil and Margaret McGarry, for their belief in me, their belief in all 10 of their children, their very deep belief in the season and their belief in what this story stands for ... and for letting me know I’d be ok. 

Wishing you all the happiest of holidays!

Thank you for coming! - Neil

Friday, November 10, 2017

Back to school!

As the seasons change, OHA changes too: shifting from the summer flurry of live performance into the other half of our identity as a community gathering space rooted in the belief that access to and participation in the arts offer transformational potential. Throughout the fall and winter months, we’ll be teaching in area schools, partnering with other island organizations to host family-friendly celebrations, hosting artist residencies, and filling our screen with new movie releases and alternative films in the historic Stonington Opera House. 

Over the course of a nine-year highly structured, arts education partnership between Opera House Arts and our school district, we have leveraged the artistic strengths of the Deer Isle-Stonington community to provide embedded arts and integrated learning opportunities to students of Deer Isle-Stonington Elementary and High Schools. Over the past two years, we've expanded that partnership to include work with a number of schools off the island, and developed an extra-curricular program for the island's youngest actors.

We call our education program Creative Stages. Using three separate but complementary programming branches it expands upon our existing partnership to include four more schools as well as students who fall outside Hancock County public school system.

Led by Opera House Arts staff and teaching artists, Creative Stages lays the groundwork for continued growth in youth arts education in the region.

Why offer Creative Stages?

For students who live in rural communities, opportunities to access the arts through education are increasingly difficult to arrange. In a report published in 2011, the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities observed that regular access to arts education, both in arts-integrated learning as well as direct participation in the arts, leads to improved student achievement in academics, problem solving and creative/critical thinking, and social competencies, including collaboration, tolerance and self-confidence.

Over the past four years, school budgets in Hancock County have come under tight scrutiny: the Deer Isle-Stonington budget alone has decreased by 10% or $710,106 between FY 2014-15 and FY 2017-18, while the overall student population has grown. As budgets decline, arts in schools are reduced and threatened. By providing arts partnership programming at no cost to the region’s schools, Opera House Arts ensures that students in our community not only receive a well-rounded, arts-inclusive education, but are also empowered with the tools to effectively communicate and express themselves, and develop critical thinking and collaborative skills.

So, what are the Creative Stages?

The Creative Stages program works on three different fronts: in the classroom, on the stage, and in the community. OHA uses multi-year partnerships with island and peninsula schools, in-depth collaborations with other island non-profits, and national contacts within the performing arts to offer a holistic approach to arts education, with opportunities for students of all ages, as well as the community at large.
DISES student Hallie Hudson performs
"Patience" by Marilyn Singer at
OHA Voice 2 Voice performance

In the classroom, OHA offers a series of arts-integrated learning programs, at both the elementary and high school level: Curricular Performance Units (grades K-8) provide deeper arts-integration in classroom learning, and Voice 2 Voice Poetry Declamation Contest (5-8) connects students in five schools through poetry and oral performance. Additionally, OHA’s teaching staff work with administrators and teachers in the Deer Isle-Stonington High School to curate and produce the Arts Toolkit Challenge: a week-long full-school arts program that culminates in the performance of original theatre pieces devised by students around a single question.

On the stage, OHA teaching artists provide performance opportunities for actors of all ages, from the afterschool program  PlayPen Youth Theatre (K-5), to our summer internships, serving students in high school and college with embedded learning in the midst of a busy theatrical season, to our Staged Reading Series that offers community actors the chance to work with and learn from professional actors and directors.

In the community, OHA works with local residents to provide learning through performance opportunities with the Staged Reading Series, which provides non-professional artists the chance to work with and learn from professional guest actors and directors, and through the Harbor Residency Program education component. The Harbor Residencies, now in their third year, provide professional working artists with access to time and space to generate new work, and asks that each resident offer a learning opportunity to the community, free of charge. To date, these workshops have taken the form of school visits, playwriting workshops, rehearsal observerships, and master classes.

What's new this year?

This year, we’re thrilled to be building upon the successes of our education programming. In January we’ll be back with The Stonecutter for year two of the PlayPen Youth Theatre, an artistic collaboration of the Opera House, the Island Community Center and The Reach Performing Center that is offered to the region’s youngest actors (ages 6 – 10). Following PlayPen, we’ll be working on the Voice 2 Voice Poetry Declamation with elementary school children from five area schools in a series of poetry workshops that will culminate in a special assembly at the Opera House where finalists from each school recite their selected poems.

We’re also building on our now ten-year-old partnership with the Deer Isle-Stonington Schools through a series of Curricular Performance Units, created in partnership between classroom teachers and teaching artists. The first installment took place in October, with a week-long education residency between Belfast Flying Shoes, Deer Isle-Stonington’s Elementary School and the Brooklin School. 95 students in grades 3 and 4 explored the traditional, participatory, New England dancing called contra dancing, learning to move cooperatively and respectfully. The week culminated with a delightful family dance at the Stonington Opera House.

Stay involved!

Want to learn more about our programs? Have some ideas about how you could collaborate with us?
Reach out to OHA's Education Associate, Joshua McCarey, and start the conversation!

Friday, August 11, 2017

Artifacts Trio at Opera House Arts

A Note from Concert Curator Larry Blumenfeld
In 1965, pianists Muhal Richard Abrams and Jodie Christian, drummer Steve McCall and trumpeter Phil Cohran sent out postcards inviting leading Chicago musicians to meet on May 8th at Cohran’s South Side home. The organization that grew out of that meeting, which rejected both the artistic and commercial conventions of the day, was called the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians—best known today by it abbreviation, AACM.

More than a half-century later, these four letters symbolize sustenance and a sense of purpose to countless musicians steeped in jazz tradition yet unwilling to be confined by it. Early AACM members now form a roll call of distinguished African-American musicians, with National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master Fellowships, MacArthur Foundation grants and prestigious academic appointments: among others, Abrams, Anthony Braxton, and Pulitzer Prize winner Henry Threadgill. The organization has grown from a collective of ambitious Chicago musicians to an engine of creative inspiration and practical outreach that has touched nearly all corners of modern music. And though the word “jazz” is notably absent from the AACM’s moniker—“Don’t give me a name,” Abrams famously said at that 1965 meeting—it’s hard to imagine the contours of jazz today without the AACM’s broad and deep influence. It is felt and heard wherever jazz gets played, and the effect is always liberating.

For flutist Nicole Mitchell, who first arrived in Chicago in 1990 and eventually served at the AACM’s first female president, the organization offered “a musical community that was mutually supportive of the idea of original music—a nurturing positive environment in which to bridge the familiar with the unknown.” Artifacts Trio, the group you’ll hear tonight, is a collective that joins Mitchell with cellist Tomeka Reid and drummer Mike Reed. All three musicians were shaped by their experiences within AACM’s ranks, and in turn they have helped define the future of its legacy. The trio was initiated by Tomeka Reid in 2015 for a concert in celebration of the AACM's 50th anniversary; its brilliant self-titled recording featured fresh interpretations of compositions by musicians affiliated with the organization. So what you hear when you listen to this group are the spirits and ideas of wise elders—founding fathers and mothers—alive through brand-new moments of creation born of the experiences of three distinguished and free-thinking musicians. This is honoring music, communal music, points on a continuum that can’t be broken.

18 years ago, four bold and smart women sat around a table and dreamed up a plan to breathe new life into a then-dilapidated Stonington Opera House. They formed Opera House Arts with a bold slogan: “Incite Art. Create Community.” Again, the impulse was provocative and collective. That I stumbled onto this glorious island around that same time, that the stars aligned under these clear and lovely skies enough to create the annual Deer Isle Jazz Festival still amazes me. It has enriched my life and my work in ways I can’t correctly express, and taught me some of the lessons upon which the AACM was founded. That OHA Producing Artistic Director Meg Taintor has embraced this festival’s mission with passion, urging it on, is just one more empowering example of organizational integrity in the service of unbound artistry. This year, too, the festival owes to the efforts of one of its earliest collaborators, Ron Watson. Like this festival and, by the way, the AACM, his gWatson Gallery has always been a place where musical and visual expressions are parts of one whole. It’s also worth noting that from its start though today, the AACM had a particular focus on education. Tonight’s opening band, 6 Blind Mice Combo, extends this festival’s long relationship with educator Steve Orlofsky and the award-winning bands of George Stevens Academy.

More than a half-century down the line, especially in an acoustically charmed space such as this, the AACM’s ethos is more resonant than ever.

Larry Blumenfeld (Curator) has been a regular contributor to The Wall Street Journal for the past decade. His culture reporting and criticism have appeared in The Village Voice, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly, among other publications, and at websites including Salon and Truthdig. He is editor-at-large and columnist for Jazziz magazine. He received the Helen Dance-Robert Palmer Award for Writing in 2011 from the Jazz Journalists Association. As a Katrina Media Fellow for the Open Society Institute, he began researching cultural recovery in New Orleans. With support from the Ford Foundation, he is working on a forthcoming University of California Press book about The Fight for New Orleans Jazz Culture Since the Flood, and What It Means for America. He was formerly honored with a National Arts Journalism Program Fellow at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. He lives with his wife, Erica, and son, Sam, in Brooklyn, NY.

He maintains a popular jazz blog, “Blu Notes,” hosted by Blouin Media, the publishers of Art & Auction magazine (

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Energy. Ambition. Love. Grace. - Part IV GRACE

In celebration of Cherie Mason: an exemplar of the Opera House mission to use the performing arts to create excellence in all the ways we perform our lives. 
Part IV of a 4-part series on the life and distinguished career of Cherie Mason, based on a 2016 interview with Judith Jerome, founding co-artistic director of Opera House Arts.


And then the Stonington Opera House reopened in 2000. It was at a Christmas party that Cherie Mason met the Ohags, as we called ourselves, four women who had rebuilt the Stonington Opera House. “We were just chitchatting. When did you come to the island?—the usual chitchat. And then said I was a member of SAG—and somebody almost dropped their glass! I said yes, SAG and AFTRA. And they said—Oh if only we had known! We just did a play and a series of Radio Shows—and you would have been in them! So, that was the beginning of my life at the Opera House. Which has been wonderful.”

In 2008, to our great fortune, Cherie joined the board of directors of Opera House Arts because, she said, “That’s where the decisions are made; that’s how you get to know an organization.” And then in 2011, at the age of 84, she became a member of Actor’s Equity Association, the last of the three unions available to her as a performing artist. A string of initials trail her name: PhD, SAG-AFTRA, AEA. “The theater has always been in my bones. But I think I’ve become—I don’t know, now that I’ve become Equity, I’ve gotten some kind of a new infusion. I’m really disappointed if I’m not in a show, or I’m not cast in something during a season. I really want to work. I want to use the muscle. And I didn’t always feel that way. But as I did more and more pieces at the Opera House, that became more and more part of the fabric of my life. At times it’s made me discontent with living here and not being near New York, or near a place where I can see theater all the time.”

The first big show Cherie was in at the Opera House was Shelley Berc and Anita Stewart’s documentary play, Women and the Sea. The great Mary Grace Canfield, who is best known for playing ‘Ralph Monroe’ on the television show Green Acres, was also in the play and when I ask Cherie what she most remembers from Women and the Sea she says: “Mary Grace Canfield said to me during one of the rehearsals: ‘Get yourself to New York and get an agent!’ Which just made my heart—what a wonderful thing to say!”

In Elizabeth Rex she wore an Elizabethan costume that weighed twenty-five pounds. In July. No air conditioning in the Historical Society’s new barn. “I think that show is the apex of what has been done at the Opera House, in terms of acting, in terms of the location, with straw on the floor, and the audience on benches, like I imagine it was for the Globe. It gives me goose pimples just now, thinking of it. A friend on the board of the ART in Boston said it was the finest thing he’s ever seen anywhere. In any city, any theater. He was just spellbound. I felt that way, too. And I loved my part—I was part of it, but not too much.

The Ghosts in Ten Real Star Acts, with Jeff Brink and Larry Estey
We talk and laugh away the afternoon, randomly remembering other shows: “As It Is is Heaven—I wept every night on that last line, talking to the girl who went astray. It was so moving. So well-written. . . . The Julia Wars were fun, too, of course, with Lillian Hellman and Mary McCarthy. I had this glass of scotch—it was Pepsi-cola, or something. Smoking. I loved doing that . . . And I broke myself up every night in Ten Real Star Acts! with my entrance, coming in behind Esther who had her hands tied behind her back. I wanted a different hat, though. The only one they had in the wardrobe department was that little bonnet—I didn’t think that was funny enough. I wanted a big, broad-brimmed hat, with a scarf tied around it—like the ladies wore in automobiles! I thought that would be so funny . . . SMATWAFS I tap danced on to the stage. And I was flirting outrageously with Danny Hadley. That play was written by Nancy Hodermarsky. It was just topnotch. Dee and Phil Miller got so into it . . . I wore a peignoir in Portrait of a Madonna . . . And, well, I’m the poster girl in R & J & Z, aren’t I? 
Zombie Lady Capulet
I remember Linda [Nelson] saying, ‘Cherie, I’ve got the best picture of you—but I can’t use it; it’s too gruesome.’ And then she did use it! That has to be a moment that is rare in acting—when you walk out on an empty stage, you’re the only person on the stage, and you’re doing this thing that you know is just going to stun people! It’s such a power play. The gasps! And then all the people teasing me. And then of course that photo became Ken’s and my Christmas card . . .Duck Variations: Well you can’t do any better than that. I just adored that thing we did together. It just seemed to work, didn’t it? . . . I loved the music in The Last Ferryman. Paul wrote the piece for me because I couldn’t sing—so I sang/talked. And then when I did my bit with the children, when I fell, and came back in with two black eyes and my arm in a sling—Pam Getto’s son Luke’s eyes just popped. I had to not look at him because it just broke me up. In Much Ado About Nothing I wore my hair down for the first time, to try and look a little younger. That was quite a nice part I had: doing the maid.”

Cherie and Aryeh Lappin in rehearsal
 In true Elizabethan fashion most of the women’s roles in this production were played by men. I ask Cherie if she remembers the first time Aryeh Lappin, who played Hero, the ingénue, had to take all his clothes off behind a screen that momentarily concealed the two of them. Cherie doesn’t remember—but I do. Mostly actors dispense with modesty, but Aryeh, who was maybe 25 at the time, was a little shy about getting naked with Cherie, and checked in, to see if it was all right. Cherie said yes, very sweetly: “I like it. It isn’t often I get to see a naked young man these days.”

“Did I really say that?! That’s really funny. Oh I’m proud of myself if I said that.
That’s where I’m Anni’s daughter, right?”

Really, all those turns in Anni’s daughter’s career are not so anomalous. Cherie was always performing her heartfelt self, with such splendid, glorious arrogance, made of energy, ambition, love, and grace. When we perform we put our bodies, our live selves out there on the line. We fill ourselves with the glorious energy of play. It’s always an offering. How lucky the Opera House has been that one of Cherie’s turns brought her here. 

Monday, May 22, 2017

Energy. Ambition. Love. Grace. - PART III LOVE

In celebration of Cherie Mason: an exemplar of the Opera House mission to use the performing arts to create excellence in all the ways we perform our lives

Part III of a 4-part series on the life and distinguished career of Cherie Mason, based on a 2016 interview with Judith Jerome, founding co-artistic director of Opera House Arts.


Cherie and Ken Mason had met at the Ludgin Agency. Just look at the two of them; how could they not fall in love and marry? That they were married ad execs (and both also artists) posed no career problems in the beginning. But then Ken made a decision as seemingly contrary to his advertising career as Cherie’s had seemed to her theater dreams when she went into advertising. He joined Quaker Oats, in a non-advertising position, and in a very short time became the first non-family president and CEO of the company. Then there was a conflict of interest. At McCann Erickson Cherie was on the General Mills account—a competitor of Quaker Oats. Ad campaigns for new programs and products were top secret, so she, not unhappily, stepped down from her job.

Cherie doesn’t say that she was tired or disillusioned with advertising, but surely the field didn’t glow with the same edge of newness that it had once had. “So I said, now I’m going to go full circle, back to where I started. And since we don’t need the money, necessarily, I’m going to see if I can get a job acting.” In advertising Cherie regularly held auditions for commercials and hired actors, so the agents in Chicago all knew her. “I asked one of the top ones—am I crazy? Tell me if you think I shouldn’t do this—but I’d really like to take a fling. She said, ‘Cherie—you’ll be great’. So—I did it!”

Cherie got work at once, in both radio and television, and shortly got her SAG-AFTRA card. She did voiceovers, and lip-synching, including a series of 'the beautiful girl in the bathtub' commercials. [Perhaps this was the Calgon woman—‘Calgon, take me away?’ Cherie can’t remember now.] “And I did a lot of animated work. I love doing animals and funny voices. I love comedy. In fact, I really think of myself as a comedian.” Like her old heroes, Paul Lynd, Cloris Leachman, and Charlotte Rae. Indeed, even in the most serious role, Cherie can subtly, suddenly, elicit a welcome burst of audience laughter.

She also did a great deal of work for Public Television in Chicago, WTTW, fundraising and otherwise. That’s when she got her first contact lenses. It was the beginning of the use of cue cards, and her glasses reflected the studio lights. 

The only live theater she did in those years was a play for the National Theater of the Deaf. “The one speaking part was to be played by the wonderful comedienne, Nanette Fabray.” Fabray herself had a hearing impairment and did a lot of work with the deaf, including narrating NTD’s first show, an “NBC Experiment in Television,” titled The Cube. But for this later play, Fabray fell ill. The producers called Cherie, who took it on with relish.

But Cherie couldn’t have just this one line of work. “With the extreme energy that I was born with, I had to have something in-between. So I became a representative for Defenders of Wildlife.” Here her use of performance and persuasion took a new turn, which involved a great deal of public speaking. “Oh yes. Oh my. Speaking to the bear hunters of Wisconsin at their annual meeting,” for example. “I gave my talk about how the bears were more valuable to them live than dead, for tourist reasons—and I was absolutely shunned at the coffee break. No one would stand near me. But this was par for the course. Later a man brushed by me, and said, ‘You make a lot sense, lady.’ It made the whole trip worthwhile.

“One of the great problems in wildlife protection is the use of the steel jaw leghold trap; it’s not used as widely as it once was because the wearing of fur is not as important as it once was. But I was on my way to a speaking engagement in Springfield, Illinois—and at the Chicago airport something jammed the conveyor belt, and it stopped suddenly. All the alarm bells went off.” The box in which Cherie had packed the demo traps broke open and steel jaw leghold traps spilled out all over. “And they came from everywhere, the police. And here I am with my traps. And so—I held the traps up. There was a woman who happened to be standing near in a fur coat, and I pulled her into it: Lady, this is where you fur coat comes from. Well, they hauled me away, made me stop. But not until I got a few good words in.”

On Pine Island 
Meantime,“Ken was finishing a book he was working on, and he wanted ‘time to think,’ as he always said. I could do wildlife work from wherever I was. And we were both tired. We had worked very hard all our lives, and we wanted to go now and do something that we just wanted to do. Looking back on it, it was probably foolish and intemperate: We moved to an isolated island in a lake in Minnesota, about 30 miles south of the Canadian border, with no electricity, nothing.” They had bought Pine Island some years before, as a vacation retreat, but now they moved on to the island fulltime. Transport to the mainland in in summer was by boat and in winter was by snowmobile. “We brought three enormous rafts over, with everything we owned—so when we had this unexpected fire, we lost everything—that was a lesson in life.” [And another story for another time.]

 Not wanting to be too sensible or temperate on this next move, Cherie and Ken settled on a bridged island: Deer Isle in Maine, in 1982. Cherie continued wildlife work. It had become “a very significant part of my life. I grew to really love that work. Horribly hard work. And I’ve continued it to this day; it is primary in my life.” I both hope I will and hope I won’t get Cherie when I phone, because her answering machine message changes regularly and alerts us to new environmental challenges. “Did you know?” they always begin, in that absolutely affirmative voice that has been winning people over for decades.

In Maine Cherie sat on the boards of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife for 5 years, and on the Maine chapter of The Nature Conservancy. It was she who initiated, later with the support of the Sierra Club, the successful efforts to establish the Rachel Carson Wildlife Refuge in Wells, ME, winning a $900,000 federal grant to preserve the wetland. Over the years she gave talks on Rachel Carson all over the state. Between times she wrote two revered books for young people: Wild Fox and Everybody’s Somebody’s Lunch, and recorded an audio version of Wild Fox.

Locally, Cherie, with Dud Hendrik and Lloyd Capin founded Island Heritage Trust, now in its 30th year. She worked on the Conservation Commission, and for fourteen years had a regular radio show on WERU. In the beginning it was called “The Environmental Notebook,” but as consciousness of environmental issues built, she shifted her focus to where she felt there was the most need, and changed the name of the show to “The Wildlife Journal.”

Cherie’s environmental work was honored in 1993 when she was awarded the Tambrands Environmental Women of Action award in Washington DC. And in 1999 Unity College presented Cherie Lee Mason an honorary doctorate of humane letters.