Anne Landenberger and the Rock River Players

A community theater in an art-friendly village
By Joyce Marcel
Special to the Brattleboro Reformer

WILLIAMSVILLE >> Annie Landenberger happily describes herself as a “theater junkie.” She wrote — or rather rewrote — her first play, “Peter Pan,” when she was only in the third grade.

“I couldn’t decide if I wanted to be Wendy or Captain Hook,” she said.

Obviously, community theater came easily to her.

“My mother did community theater and I was smitten at a young age,” she said. “I’ve been putting on plays all my life. People come together, the work is hard and real, the synergy is collective creativity and the product is joyful.”

Landenberger has a B.A. in theater and English and an MA in drama. For the past 20 years she has been on the faculty of Leland and Gray High School, teaching English and producing/directing of something like 65 shows — dramas, musicals and cabarets — for the Leland and Gray Players.

Also, for the past two years she has been helping midwife the birth of the Rock River Players in her home town of Williamsville. This new community theatre group — which has already attracted a large number of volunteers and much media attention puts on plays in Williamsville Hall, an old discontinued grange hall owned by the town of Newfane.

“This is something that folks in the village here have hoped for a long time.” Landenberger said. “We all want the hall to be used, to be lively, to be a center of energy and art.”

In 2015, when Landenberger put the word out that she wanted to start a theater company in Williamsville — “I did a lot of bush-shaking,” she said — more than 40 people showed up — people from as near as Williamsville and as far away as Western Massachusetts.

“I found lots of interest in doing theatre at the Williamsville Hall,” Landenberger said. “I guess I’m known in the valley for theatre work at Leland and Gray and so my name might have carried the Good Housekeeping seal. Many of the first folks involved were people who’ve had connections at Leland and Gray and at other schools in the district. The director of the current show, ‘On Golden Pond,’ teaches at Wardsboro; her husband was in our production of ‘Our Town’ and teaches at Windham Elementary. We’ve had a full range of participation — from a couple of Leland & Gray seventh graders to 86-year-old Bill Lincoln, who was my boss as principal of Leland & Gray for five years. This area is laced with connections. You send out some sparks; word travels and voila! — you can start something rich and wonderful.”

The group’s first production, last August, was Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town.” The company sold out all four performances and was on its way.

In May of 2016, it did George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart’s “You Can’t Take It with You.”

“It was a blast,” Landenberger said. “It’s one of the funniest shows of all time. Four full houses again.”

The players just closed Ernest Thompson’s “On Golden Pond,” with a cast of seven and a production staff of 15. Shirley Lauro’s “A Piece of My Heart,” about six women who served in Vietnam, is next; auditions begin on Sept. 8 and the play will open in October.

Williamsville Hall is not weatherized, which makes it unsuitable for winter productions — it’s hard to hammer a set together when you’re wearing woolen gloves — although last year they did offer a reading of “Inherit the Wind.”

But because Landenberger doesn’t want to see the theatrical energy she has tapped into dissipate during the cold weather, she is seeking grant money to winterize the hall. And she is also looking for another, temporary, venue — possibly the South Newfane School House.

“I’m looking at it for a winter production — probably a revue or cabaret,” Landenberger said. “Once the hall is winterized, we’ll do all four productions there. Also in the plans is the possibility of doing some ‘workshopping’ of shows which are still in the writing stage, and figuring out a way to do a musical comedy. We’re open to anything.”

In early September, the play selection team will hear directors’ proposals for the spring and simmer 2017 productions.

“The theme of this year is ‘strong women,'” Landenberger said. “We’ll schedule open-to-all play readings on the calendar between the main productions.”

As with most community theater groups, you can be a star one day and prop person the next.

“We’ll never be a closed club,” Landenberger said. “We’ll never pre-cast. If you want to be involved in the show, I’ll make you a part of the show. There’s talent everywhere, and it’s really people who make this thing work. Opening night of “On Golden Pond,’ we were all cleaning the bathrooms.”

Art generates art, as they say, and the name of the theater group has overtones of another of Williamsville’s signature events the Rock River Artists Tour.

“This is an art-friendly community,” Landenberger said. “It makes people feel, ‘Maybe I can do a concert season here.’ Or, ‘Maybe we should have a theater group.’ It’s a pretty cool place to live.”

Directors Welcome for Rock River Players’ 2016-2017 Season

WILLIAMSVILLE –  The Rock River Players’ Play Selection Committee (PSC) welcomes directors’ proposals for plays to round out its four-play 2016-2017 season.

The PSC will be pleased to meet with anyone who would like to direct the Players at the Williamsville Hall,  Dover Road, Williamsville, VT.   Proposals will be welcomed Friday, September 9, from 7PM, and on Saturday, September 10, from11AM. Please call or email Charlie Tower at thirdgate@yahoo.com  or 978-434-7958 to arrange a time to meet.

A director’s proposal should include:

  • the name of the play, a brief synopsis, and how it would fit into the 2016-2017 season theme, i.e.: “strong women’;
  • if applicable, availability of production rights;
  • director’s experience—mentoring available;
  • the vision and concept of the production: cast, costumes, set;
  • production team, if known;
  • estimated budget.

The Rock River Players’ season opens the last weekend of October with A Piece of My Heart, directed by Sara Vitale.  The PSC will select remaining plays to complement that drama, to develop the season’s theme, to offer Players challenge and opportunity for growth, and to appeal to wide and varied audiences.  Slots open are for May and August productions.

The Rock River Players’ PSC aims to offer opportunities for the participation of anyone interested in community theatre, for live entertainment and a wide-range of audiences, for utilization and enhancement of the Williamsville Hall and for the generation of revenue to meet production expenses and fund professional growth and technical improvements.

For more information contact Charlie Tower–contact info above –or Annie Landenberger, 802-348-7156, option 2 /verbatim@svcable.net.

Auditions for Rock River Players’ A Piece of My Heart

WILLIAMSVILLE – Rock River Players announces auditions for the October 27-30 production of A Piece of My Heart by Shirley Lauro.

Auditions will be held at the Williamsville Hall on Dover Rd., Williamsville, Vermont on September 8 at 4pm,September 9 at 6pm, September 10 at 11am and September 11 at 1pm.

A Piece of My Heart is a work with the music and soul of a tumultuous era in our history: The true stories of six courageous women sent to Vietnam and their struggle to make sense of a war that irrevocably changed them and of a nation that shunned them.

The Wall Street Journal notes that the play “takes up a subject largely missing from the reams of material written about Vietnam, namely the women who served there…. The play is exceedingly moving as the women gather at the memorial wall in Washington and experience a heart wrenching expiation—one that also affects those watching them from the audience….”

According to The New York Times, “Shirley Lauro’s … A Piece of My Heart, is a catharsis as well as a coup de theatre… . There have been a number of plays dealing with Vietnam…but none with the direct, emotional impact of Ms. Lauro’s work…(she) has turned first hand impressions into a disturbing drama that evokes empathy for survivors as victims.”

At auditions, actors will be given pieces of the script to read according to which character they would like to audition for. After a cold reading some direction will be given and then the scene will be run again.

Six women of varying ages and two men are needed: For character descriptions write director Sara Vitale at mamahospital@gmail.com or call 802-348-7156, option 2.