Culture Club – Peninsula Arts & Humanities Alliance

According to the late Washington Island humorist Jay Hagen, the question tourists most frequently ask Islanders is the third in a series, which goes something like this:  “Are you an Islander? Do you live here year-round?” and, following a positive response to both of these questions and a long pause, “What do you do in the winter?” Many humorous answers have been given to this question over the years. My favorite is Jay Hagen’s:  “I’m sorry, but we’re not allowed to tell.”

All kidding aside, I think visitors who ask this question are quite serious, if unoriginal. They have come over open water on a ferry that takes 35 to 40 minutes, and they rightly conjecture that in the winter the waters surrounding Washington Island freeze over and those of us who stay on the island during those cold, dark months must be very isolated. What could we possibly do in such a place? The truth is that those of us who stay on the island through the winter are very busy with any number of activities that provide entertainment and fellowship. In fact, for many of us, the winter months are a period of intense creative activity.

Island Players, now celebrating its 25th anniversary as Washington Island’s resident community theater, offers three programs in the winter months for the year-round community:  a full-length winter show, a program of dramatic education in the school, and Center Stage, a series of informal readings held on the first Sunday afternoon of each month.

Center Stage was inspired by one of the traditions of island families over the years – creating our own entertainment by making music together, sharing island stories or even reading plays aloud. Expanding on this tradition, Island Players began Center Stage in January 2000. Now in its 10th year, it includes short scenes from plays, published poetry or prose readings, and even original writing.

From the very beginning, the response of the Islanders has been an enthusiastic one. Over the years, Center Stage has maintained an average attendance of 55 people who gather on a Sunday afternoon from 2 – 4 pm in the Mosling Room at the Washington Island Recreation Center.

A format has been established that provides some preparatory time, but remains informal. Individuals are invited to participate, selections are chosen, and scripts are created and mailed to the readers. There is one rehearsal to establish movement, use of props, and possible costuming. The selections are always read, not memorized.

The afternoon generally consists of four or five rehearsed performances during the first hour, followed by a refreshment break. The second hour, called Open Stage, allows volunteers from the audience to do a “cold reading” of a script provided. Readings have ranged from the very serious (a scene from I Never Sang for My Father by Robert Anderson), to humorous scenes by such playwrights as Christopher Durang, Shel Silverstein and David Ives. A typical afternoon might consist of the following selections:  “The Treasurer’s Report’ by Robert Benchley, the poem “Plain Lisa” by Pamela White Hadas, a scene from Adaptation by Elaine May, a reading of one of the chapters in An American Childhood by Annie Dillard, and, engaging volunteers from the audience, an unrehearsed scene from The Secret Life of Walter Mitty by James Thurber.

The performers range in age from students at Washington Island School who are participants in Island Players’ Dramatic Arts in Education program to older retirees. Over the years the number of people actually participating as readers has increased each year so that we now have a pool of over 120 performers.

Many of those asked to read at one of the “Center Stage” afternoons have found themselves performing before an audience for the first time. This experience has given them the courage and inspiration to audition for one of Island Players’ full-length plays.

Another ongoing activity sponsored by Island Players is Dramatic Arts in Education, a school program which serves as a supplement to the ongoing academic program. Beginning in September, Project Manager Carissa Mann goes into the classroom and engages students in theatrical activities that develop an appreciation of dramatic literature and the process of putting on a show. She also directs the Drama Club after school, which is open to students 7th grade and older. Students in Drama Club participate in a final production as well as the informal Center Stage afternoons.

Each February, Island Players presents a full-length production at one of the island venues. Last winter, we presented three performances of I Hate Hamlet by Paul Rudnick at Karly’s Dance Hall. In Winter 2007, we presented Time Flies: A Matter of Life and Death, a series of one-acts by David Ives, at the Washington Hotel.

Come to the island this winter and join Island Players in our season of heightened creativity. Discover for yourself our answer to the question “What do you do in the winter?”