(Host) Among the casualties of Tropical Storm Irene was the Weston Playhouse, a professional theater that was celebrating its 75th anniversary this summer. The season opened in Weston with new renovations, thanks to a million dollar capital campaign. But most of those improvements were undone by Tropical Storm Irene.
Monday night in New York City, friends of the Weston Playhouse are holding a "NYC Loves VT" fundraiser to aid in the playhouse’s recovery.
VPR’s Patti Daniels visited Weston shortly after the storm, and has this report.
(Daniels) The Weston Playhouse was staging a world premiere musical set in the 1940s the weekend of the storm. In the sunny days that followed Irene, World War II era props and costumes were strewn out to dry across the front of the theater on the town green.
(Malcom Ewen) "It looks like a tag sale in 1948, is what it looks like to me. There’s plenty of people that have driven by here taking pictures – ‘Look at all the stuff in front of that theater that flooded!’"
(Daniels) Malcom Ewen is a producing Director at Weston, and he surveyed the remnants of the props and costumes. Wigs, hats, shoes, leather flying ace helmets, are set out in orderly rows to dry, and hanging behind them from the flagpole to the theater sign are clotheslines draped with wool coats, and blouses.
The musical "Saint Ex" had four full performances before the storm. Ewen says those performances and the review in the Sunday New York Times that preceded them were happy memories that kept the company going as they dealt with the damage inside the theater.
(Ewen) Careful – this is still a little muddy. I guess everything is a little muddy."
(Daniels) The lobby, auditorium and stage weren’t touched by floodwaters. But the basement and sub-basement were subsumed by the normally picturesque West River that runs behind the Playhouse.
(Ewen) "You can see right here the water line – that would tell you that there was 8 to 8 1/2 feet of water in that part of the basement. And where we come done here, this is where we spent the majority of our money renovating the theater."
(Daniels) Walking through the basement rooms that are now empty, Ewen points what used to be here:
(Ewen) "It was stuffed with fabric and props and costumes. The wardrobe, over here they had a couple of worktables and sewing machines, they had laundry facilities right there. Over in this area again was all the funny props – all these goofy wigs and hats and all that stuff. All that stuff was down here. Now all that stuff’s in up on the lawn or in Dumpsters."
(Daniels) Walking down into the lower reaches of the building, Ewen points out the ruined dressing rooms. Their eight-foot ceilings were underwater.
But it’s the new orchestra pit that Ewen takes time to eulogize. The pit had been newly wired, and configured for optimal sound. Now, the electrical system and acoustic paneling of the walls and floors are water-soaked and buckled.
(Ewen) "The saddest thing here is this beautiful Baldwin grand piano. The keyboard is frozen, nothing works. We found it upside down with the lid still attached."
(Daniels) Ewen describes the helplessness that members of the theater company felt, looking down into the flooded orchestra pit:
(Ewen) "All day on Sunday and Monday, when there was still 8 feet of water you‘d come peer down and you’d see drumsticks floating in the water. And the one thing you couldn’t see was the grand piano. It was like, oh no…"
(Daniels) A few days after the storm, the misshapen piano sat carefully wrapped in a blanket, propped up by its remaining legs and smeared with mud.
As repayment for the community’s support, the Weston Playhouse brought a reworked version of the musical "Saint Ex" back to the stage, a week after storm. Now weeks later, the basement floors of the Weston Playhouse have been gutted, drywall ripped out, beams exposed, waiting for the next phase of rebuilding.
(Ewen) "The one thing I’ll just say about all this stuff is, it’s just stuff. I think it’s really important in the face of all the problems we’re having in the state right now, that you try to get back to doing what you do. And the arts are good way for people to overcome their blue periods or their problems. That’s what the arts do -they make you think, they entertain you. And that’s what we need now."
(Daniels) For VPR News, I’m Patti Daniels.