Fanning the Artistic Flame: New Vermont Works
Mark your calendar! Three exciting new Vermont works are on tap in November, demonstrating the power of small town theater in investing in homegrown talent.
The first November weekend, Nov. 6-7, marks the debut of the chamber opera Aliceheimer’s, by composer Eirk Nielsen and artist, writer, and medical anthropologist Dana Walrath.
Based on Walrath’s 2013 award-winning graphic memoir Aliceheimer’s: Alizheimer’s Through the Looking Glass, the libretto tells the story of Walrath’s mother Alice and her dementia journey as told from her perspective.
Walrath received a Creation Grant from the Vermont Arts Council in 2021 to support the collaboration with Nielsen on the creation of the libretto version of the book. Nielsen was supported by a Creation Grant from the Arts Council in 2019 for another project.
Vermont soprano Mary Bonhag of Scrag Mountain Music will play the role of Alice and will be accompanied by pianist Alison Cerutti.
Walrath described the process of creating the libretto with Nielsen in an interview for the Council last July, “The way that we work is that words come first surrounded by a lot of talking back and forth about them. Often I’ll write something very fragmentary, because in the libretto I’m trying to express Alice’s internal monologue, as well as what she says out loud and what she hears from other people.”
Walrath’s mother was a true opera fan. “So to translate her story to opera honors so many pieces of her identity and our identity and history. Anthropology gives me a language to talk about it, but the connection to music is really heart and soul,” she said.
Preview showcase performances will be held at 7 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 6, at Bethany Church in Montpelier, co-hosted by Monteverdi Music School, and at 7 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 7, at Town Hall Theater in Middlebury, co-hosted by the Opera Company of Vermont. There will be a discussion following each performance.
Both performances are free of charge. Donations are encouraged and will help fund a full production of the opera. To donate through Monteverdi Music School (Aliceheimer’s fiscal sponsor), go to https://tinyurl.com/8h2nrpe3
Also this weekend, debuting at 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 6, at Town Hall Theater in Middlebury is the documentary film Underdog. Created by Middlebury College alum Tommy Hyde, the film profiles the curiously optimistic tale of Doug Butler, a hardscrabble Vermont dairy farmer who risks losing the only home he’s ever known to chase his dreams of dog mushing in Alaska.
Town Hall Theater, who hosted Hyde as Filmmaker in Residence to nurture his burgeoning filmmaking skills and passion, describes it as “an intimate vérité portrait of Butler as he puts a curiously optimistic twist on the kinds of family farm tragedies that have so marked American rural life.”
The Vermont premiere of the film will be followed by a Q&A with Butler, Hyde, and producer and writer Aaron Woolf.
On Nov. 18-20, Town Hall Theater showcases the new musical Showing Up, by Vanessa Dunleavy and Miranda Ferriss Jones. Dunleavy and Ferriss Jones grew up in small-town Vermont and both dreamed of making it to Broadway. Life took them to New York where they experienced both success and disappointment on the stage. Through it all, their friendship endured. In 2019, they returned to their hometown to work with Town Hall Theater artistic director Doug Anderson on the new musical that tells their story.
Showing Up will be presented on Thursday and Friday, Nov. 18-19, at 7:30 pm, followed by a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday, Nov. 20.