Vershire Talent Shines in the Ramayana
Upper Valley Daily UV August 2016
Inspirations camp in the news for Portland children's festival
--KGW 8 Portland | June 2015
(~4 minute video featuring a few of our kids from camp in rehearsal;
main focus is from 2:00 to 3:30 in the clip)
Wellspring Kids Ready to Shine in Indian Epic by Tim Calabro
--The Herald of Randolph | May 17, 2012
(article on a school production of The Ramayana, past Rovainen musical)
An Epic Event by Tim Calabro
--The Herald of Randolph | May 17, 2012
(announcement / photo for the Ramayana)
YOUTH THEATER CAMP TO PRESENT 'THE PRINCESS AND THE PAUPER'
--The Herald of Randolph | August 7, 2014
(Announcement / Article for the Princess and the Pauper)
Onstage in chelsea
--The herald of Randolph | August 21, 2014
(Princess and the Pauper follow-up)
Valley News Review of The Boy Who Kept a Secret (the first musical director Torsti Rovainen directed and co-wrote)
--by Steve Nelson, Head of the Calhoun School, New York, New York
Valley News May 2008
Despite working for 10 years in Manhattan, I have never attended a Broadway musical. The idea of sitting through The Lion King or anything touched by Andrew Lloyd Weber ranks just above root canal on my list of events to avoid. This is not because of any antipathy to music or to musicals, for that matter. It is, rather, that I prefer my musicals and musicians on the small side.
My predilection drew me to the Wellspring School in Chelsea, Vt., on a recent spring evening. (Disclosure: My daughter and granddaughter are members of that school community.) The musical in question was a full-school affair with large children (up to 8th grade) in large roles (physically and artistically) and small children in small roles. The orchestra consisted of several parents, a student and two teachers. Two teachers and a parent/board member wrote the script. Another teacher, Torsti Rovainen, also helped write the script and composed the musical score. I single him out for reasons that will be clear below.
If you have been especially lucky in life, you've attended a similar event. My granddaughter and her second- and third-grade classmates were the woodland chorus in Act One and Sultan's soldiers in Act Two. It was helpful that terrific costumes made this distinction, for the general affect of these small actors was nearly identical before and after intermission: A herd of short deer in the headlights, searching the darkened hall for parents or grandparents while singing with highly varied degrees of confidence. The one exception to this observation was the authentic zeal with which the soldiers (mostly the boys) slashed swords when given the opportunity (or any other opportunity that seemed right to them, given or seized; improvisation is a high art form).
The story, based on a Hungarian folktale, was cleverly constructed—filled with twists, turns, conflict, resolution and abundant good humor. Set elements were rolled off and on stage with hushed stage directions; actors were repositioned by peers or by directors crouching in the wings; singers occasionally forgot lyrics, blinded by lights or panic, but were gently nudged by prompts and sailed confidently on.
I don't mean to suggest it was chaotic. Quite to the contrary. It was a logistical miracle. One scene required a crystal ball. It lasted a few minutes before crashing to the floor, splashing shards of glass and its snow-globe contents all over stage right. This brought on a contagious set of giggles, rippling through the cast, down the stage steps and into the audience. Someone cleaned up the glass between scenes, and I noticed that several key actors wore shoes for the balance of the performance. A later scene required the snow-globe . . . er, crystal ball . . . again. The appearance of a (I estimate) 60-watt light bulb on the seer's table rekindled the gigglefest on and off stage, yet the action proceeded without missing a beat.
Ah, I mentioned Torsti. The music in this performance was delightful, far more tuneful than any Andrew Lloyd Weber song I've ever endured and arguably more charmingly crafted than most of what one might hear these days on or off Broadway. There were allusions to Hungarian folk melodies and dances and wonderfully crafted lyrics. This for a group of K to eighth-graders in Chelsea!
Too much of contemporary American culture is trapped in meaningless 'production values.' Rock concerts are more explosion than music. Movies are filled with special effects and miscast superstars. Classical musical performances are too often note-perfect and nearly sterile, with performers and audience members stiff with worry about doing something wrong.
I am not suffering grandparentitis or engaging in hyperbole when reporting that this performance was one of the most enjoyable arts presentations I've seen in years. Memory lapses did not dilute the dramatic effect. A herd of little wooden sword-wielding soldiers with stars in their eyes is every bit as convincing as anything in a Hollywood movie, if you allow your imagination to be drawn into the story. I longed for the hero to fulfill his quest and deeply hated the mean and stupid Sultan who tried, but failed, to thwart the just ending.
Art, even in the realm of entertaining musical theater, is not about fastidious craftsmanship. These children entered into a fictional place where they lived for several hours with enthusiasm and authenticity -- totally alive and convincing. They took the entire theater with them. I suspect every audience member was sure that an ordinary light bulb from the custodian's closet had magical powers. When actors can do that, on Broadway or in Chelsea's Town Hall, the audience is in for a rare and wonderful trip.
Steve Nelson lives in Sharon and New York City, where he is the head of the Calhoun School, a private school.