When Beacon resident and transit director Bernadette “Bunny” Humphrey-Nicol first learned about HVSF’s community-driven production of OUR TOWN in the spring of 2016, she was hesitant. “My wife found an ad for an HVSF workshop in Beacon and one of her clients said, “Bunny should try!” But… OUR TOWN? A lily-white play about a lily-white town? I thought, what kind of role could there possibly be for me?”
Anne Provet, a fellow Beaconite and psychologist, saw opportunity in those initial theater workshops. By that time, Provet’s twins had grown and moved off to college. “I essentially had an empty house and I’d been desperately looking to get back into the arts. So I thought, why not? What’s there to lose?”
Prior to the early gatherings held in libraries, community centers, and churches throughout the Hudson Valley, Bunny and Anne had never met. Most of the OUR TOWN workshop participants hadn’t. But soon, these two citizen actors would develop something rarely found and rarely kept after settling down, developing careers, and growing families: a brand new friendship. And, they’d begin a weekly ritual of Tuesday night dinner (pictured here: enjoying pasta and a glass of wine at Cold Spring’s Riverview Restaurant in August).
The two first met when the entire cast, crew, and staff gathered together under the HVSF Theater Tent at Boscobel House and Gardens. “We stood next to each other and had one of those random ‘what role do you play?’ sorts of exchanges, nothing all that consequential,” Anne recalls. But in the weeks to come, their director would push them to create as one company, to act as one company, and to grow as one company.
“Our connection really began when we started developing music for the show in rehearsal,” says Bunny, “John [Christian Plummer, the director] basically said, “bring your instruments,” and that was that. We all came together to weave our talents into the show. I played the drums while Anne was on the guitar and we both got into the swing of looking to each other to keep tempo. Even when we were on stage, in performances, I’d look at her.”
After months of workshops and rehearsals and a handful of performances over the Labor Day weekend, some cast members took up the mantle and began gathering for workshops in Peekskill led by fellow cast member and HVSF Associate Artistic Director/Director of Education Sean McNall. The workshops centered around verbatim theatre, in which plays are developed from the exact words spoken by people interviewed about a particular subject or event.
Seven or so OUR TOWN cast members signed up, the majority from Beacon. Bunny, Anne, and several others began carpooling each Tuesday. “That’s how we ended up with Tuesdays!” Bunny exclaims. “Even after the workshops had ended, we tried to keep gathering – at restaurants in Cold Spring and Beacon, even at a Trivia Night at the local brewery. In the end, Anne and I stayed in contact.”
“There’s always more to know about how someone else experiences the world.”
Then came the election. “I think the turbulence of the last election really brought us closer. Since then, we’ve been through a lot together: we’ve protested together, traveled together, spent time with each other’s family, shared health news, personal news…” Anne trails off. “It’s rare to find a friendship like this at my age.”
“I had some very low points after the election,” says Bunny, “we both needed the other to pull us out and build us back up.”
Anne likes that Bunny and her wife, Michelle, maintain their sense of independence. Bunny appreciates Anne’s sense of adventure… sort of.
“She hates to be uncomfortable!” chides Anne. “We just got back from traveling in Maine together. We stayed in a cabin but I didn’t really tell her it was a cabin. She didn’t even think to ask if there was a shower!” (There wasn’t.)
Have the two friends learned from each other? “I’ve definitely seen my horizons expand since meeting Bunny,” says Anne. “We certainly share similar views on race and civil rights, but there’s always much more to learn. There’s always more to know about how someone else experiences the world. And, of course, I’m heterosexual, divorced…”
“I’m not!” Bunny laughs.
“We help each other understand the world. Together.” Anne notes, as she welcomes a large plate of linguini and passes Bunny the bread.
Like Anne and Bernadette, the cast, crew, and helping hands of 2016’s OUR TOWN brought with them a diversity of experiences, expectations, inspirations, and desires. In future seasons, HVSF will offer more first-hand access to art-making for our Hudson Valley community through Full Circle, HVSF’s community engagement wing. Learn more here.
Photos by Ashley Garrett and HVSF Staff.
“As the introductory workshops [for 2016’s community-driven production of OUR TOWN] continued, these adventurous Hudson Valley community members came back for more. And they began to write to me. People explained what this process meant to them; they talked about loneliness, about the joy of connecting with their kids, about rediscovering themselves. One said in an email: “People need to come together in this country…we don’t farm together, we don’t build homes together, we don’t make music together. We don’t even walk past each other’s homes and tip our hats.” These aspiring artists all seemed to be searching, and not just for a part in a play.”
– program excerpt by Emily Sophia Knapp, Associate Producer, OUR TOWN