CHENANGO COUNTY — Barbara Gregson of the Gregson Theater and local musician Eric Porter are seeking actors, musicians, storytellers, history buffs, and all other creative individuals to join them in their upcoming production of "Minstrels, Trappers, Peddlers, and Pirates Along the Chenango Canal."
The duo crafted an original production last summer, called "The Players and the Pirates Along the Chenango Canal," and are now carrying on the theme in their new show. Taking place in the 1870s, the show will feature characters based on people who actually lived and traveled through Chenango County in that time.
"We will research and find a variety of characters, which is what we’re doing right now," said Gregson. "We went to the Chenango County Historical Society and we looked for what indigenous people were living here. The Oneida people were living here in the 1870s, and we found some Oneida characters that are really cool, that would be traveling along."
"We have a real captain that we’re basing this captain on. Captain Nuell Stevers, he was a little kid who grew up on a boat, on the Chenango Canal," she added. "He’s a little kid with ten other brothers and sisters, grew up on a boat on the river, and his father was a captain and he was a mule driver. They used to pull the mules to pull the boat on a toe path ... The guy was an incredible character. So he grew up, then he became eventually the captain for many years, and then he became an acrobat. He got bored with being a captain."
An informational session to learn more about the production and how Gregsona and Porter work will be held at the Guernsey Memorial Library in Norwich, at 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday, August 30. Individuals aged 15 years and older are welcome to be in the play.
To RSVP for an information session, call Barbara Gregson at 607-895-6032 or 215-850-7443, or visit the Guernsey Memorial Library.
Gregson and Porter have a unique approach with their theater productions; Instead of learning and developing a pre-written play or musical, the pair, along with individuals who sign up to be in the performance, will research the history of the Chenango Canal, develop characters, and use improvisation in rehearsals to craft a script and plot.
"Always I’ve done original work with the group. So I don’t come in with a script," Gregson explained. "You write the scene with other people in the show through improvisation. So let’s say you’re fighting over something, the two bad guys, and you do it for the group, and then we’ll say okay good, go back and work on it some more and do it again. So that way they learn what they’re doing, and then they might write it down eventually. So we might have a script at the end."
"It’s an original production, and the script is sort of written along the way," said Porter. He added that because it's an original piece, they can "adjust the play to accommodate people’s talents," or even omit things like lines, should an actor be uncomfortable with speaking in front of a crowd.
Porter also composes original music for the productions, and welcomes anyone interested in contributing their musical talents to the show.
Aspiring actors who are still beginners are also welcome to be a part of the production. Gregson said participants will learn a litany of theater-based skills while creating the show.
"People that are beginners, they’ll learn acting and storytelling and mime," she said. "Basic acting and storytelling techniques. They will learn this, everybody learns them as part of the rehearsal."
Rehearsals for "Minstrels, Trappers, Peddlers, and Pirates Along the Chenango Canal" will begin on September 13, and be held at least once a week at the Guernsey Memorial Library, for eight weeks. Rehearsals will be held on weekdays after school hours to accommodate students in the play.
Public performances of the piece will be held at the Chenango County Historical Society on October 8, and at the Chenango Arts Council on October 14 and 15.
Participants and audience members alike can expect a dramatic and hilarious performance, as the pair aims to have the production be similar to the acting style of the 1870s.
"There’ll be drama and comedy. We always do a lot of comedy, so these things are always funny," said Gregson. "They’re short and funny and way over the top dramatic, but that’s what makes them funny. It’s the style of the acting of that time, too. So it’s like we’re doing a melodrama."
This production is made possible with public funds from the Statewide Community Regrants Program, a regrant program of the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and New York State Legislature, and administered by the Earlville Opera House.
The production is also made possible by Improve Norwich Now, who is acting as the fiscal sponsor for Gregson and Porter.
"We can’t apply for a grant, because we’re just individual artists ... You need a nonprofit to sponsor the project," said Gregson."We are very grateful to find them to sponsor us, because they don’t normally do arts stuff. But this is a community project and we really would love, again, anybody from the community is welcome to join us."