More from Less

4 25GlassMenagarie web

The Big Guy and I rarely go to movies. It’s too expensive once you add snacks, and since most of the movies geared towards adolescent boys rely on volume to sell their stories, we’re just as happy to let the kids watch them on Netflix with the headphones plugged in.

We are religious about our local theater, Hubbard Hall in Cambridge, NY, however.  The title on the playbill is irrelevant. When Hubbard Hall announces a new play, we make plans to see it with and then without the boys.

We were both reminded of the reason why on Saturday night when we went to see Tennessee William’s Glass Menagerie. The most autobiographical of his plays, it depicts the dysfunctional mother and her two dysfunctional older children trying to carve out a living and a life for themselves.

Hubbard Hall is famous for stripping down a play to its bare bones. Occasionally they incorporate elaborate sets into the stage design, but more frequently, minimal props and sets are used.  Hubbard Hall has been fortunate to have had a string of wonderful directors and actors, and the less elaborate sets let the audience focus on performances where simplicity works to suspend reality for two hours.  It leaves the viewer gripping their seat the entire time as they react to the play and pray for the spell to continue as long as possible.

Saturday did not disappoint.  When the daughter Laura’s unicorn and then her heart are broken, I could see other audience members on the verge of tears.  When the son leaves and reflects on his abandonment of his family, people next to me were audibly crying. 

The play ended almost on a whisper, and, even though it was almost the cost of a movie for four (minus the snacks), the Big Guy and I walked back to the car in awe — as we always are — of how much bang we got for our bucks.

Last Day

This Mother’s Day Sunday, I’m going to Hubbard Hall to see Giles in The Crucible for one last time. It’s kind of a bummer watching your husband get the axe on Mother’s Day-or pressed to death in Giles’s case.

Last week Giles Corey joined us at the diner for breakfast just before the show. I could tell he was thinking about the upcoming performance because he was unusually quiet. Then the food arrived, and we all started smiling. I’m working on a theory that people in Salem, MA could’ve avoided that whole witch trial business if they had just opened a diner. People would’ve been too busy smiling to start pointing fingers.

Take Away


Six-year-old Thing2 doesn’t like art – he lives it. There is no dragging him to an art museum, there’s only the whining when we leave. Whether it’s sauntering around a museum with his sketch pad or putting his own spin on a particularly acrobatic leap he saw in a dance routine, Thing2 throws himself into color and sensation and into life in a lot of ways. Always, his joy becomes ours, but, as we learned once again the other night at a Hubbard Hall performance of Gilbert & Sullivan’s Trial by Jury, it’s not always predictable just how that happiness will spread.

Currently in a Billy-Elliot-I-Will-Dance phase, we were certain this opera – a comedy punctuated by more physical comedy – would be the inspiration for his next set of dance moves.    Every new movie or show is an opportunity to learn and create a new step. So, as we settled in, I began watching Thing2’s to see if he was absorbing the action.

He sat two seats away from me, but the stage cast enough light for me to see his rapt gaze as the ensemble of singers filled the stage.  At first he was a statue – absorbing the color and the new experience of having a play sung for him.  Then, after trying to ask if we recognized one of the singers as his former camp teacher, he began to move – but not in the way I’d expected.

I was already prepared to reign in any bursts of flair, but Thing2 had been absorbing something else besides the dancing.  In front of the stage was a lone pianist accompanying the singers throughout the show.  Her hands danced, never resting until the curtain call.  Now Thing2’s hands began to dance, following every inflection of the piano player’s wrists, ever flutter of her fingers.  Thing2 can play “Doe A Deer” on our piano at home, but, mimicking the musician in front of him, he became a virtuoso.  He became one with the music and the musician.  

The Big Guy and I smiled at each other as we watched him.  Thing2 had found his own unique perspective to take something away from the show, and there was another show still to come on Sunday.  The Big Guy and I were eager to see it.  Watching “The Barber of Seville” ten feet in front of us would be an experience in itself.  But we were also wondering what new inspirations Thing2 will bring home for us to enjoy.

Magic Reclaimed


About a year ago – almost exactly a year ago – I wrote a piece about a very special place not far from our house.

Hubbard Hall, a community theatre and art center in the one-traffic light town of Cambridge, NY, had been on our radar for a number of years. My husband became involved with their theatre company and returns at least twice a year. Then I got pulled in by a writing workshop/group that is moving into its second year. My sons are the most recent members of the flock, and it was their experience at summer theatre workshops that prompted my piece last year.

Jack, my oldest, was already navigating the self-conciousness that comes with early teen years and thought he had no interest in being in a play.  Thing2, my six-year-old, never had much of a shell, but, like a lot of kids his age, he sometimes takes a few minutes to get used to a new classroom before letting go of my hand. In the presence of the Hubbard Hall Magic, however, Jack came out of his shell, and Thing2 discovered new worlds.  Both kids came away from their camps with new friends and new outlooks, and every subsequent workshop begins with Thing2 exclaiming, “Oh I LOVE this place.”

Over the spring we got a little disconnected from this magical place. I’m still at the Ministry of Encouragement hosted by author Jon Katz, but our little group has been going in different directions for a few weeks. It’s been temporary, but disconnection can morph into discouragement if left to fester.

So now, a year after I first wrote about this magical place, I’m sitting under the same oak tree on the same rotting picnic bench watching the same kids emerging from the murderously hot buildings as they scamper from rehearsal to craft projects. Thing2 and two of his friends become involved in a very sophisticated game of make-believe, laughing and waving their arms and looking like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Parents go in and out of the nearby Battenkill Books, seeking company and relief from the heat.

The scene is completely ordinary and completely magical, and in that moment I’m reminded of the things that inspired me last summer when I couldn’t stop writing. I’m still a big believer in the Ministry of Encouragement, but this is the perfect way to be reminded that I found it at the Church of Possibility here at Hubbard Hall.

The End of a Year, Beginning of an Era


Closing piece for reading

A little over a year ago I stumbled into a writing workshop at Hubbard Hall, our local community theater and arts center.  The Hubbard Hall Writer’s Project was led by celebrated author Jon Katz, and, as with almost every other class or event our family has experienced at Hubbard Hall, it was life-changing event for me  – and for every member of the group.  

There was an application process for the workshop, and getting that acceptance letter felt like winning the lottery.  I hadn’t shown my work to anyone outside my family and had only been prepared for rejection.  That letter was a thousand times more valuable than any lottery ticket.  

Jon, our guru, later told us that he wanted to find a group that not only wanted to write but that would work well together.  He chose wisely.  Over the last year our group has become a family of sorts.  We’ve become sounding boards and safe havens for each other, and everyone in the group has flourished.  What began as an artistic exploration of rural life became a search for authenticity in our creative and personal lives.  Jon encouraged us all, and, recognizing our strengths, we began to grow and to encourage others. 

Last Friday night, we met to celebrate the impact of the last year.  The unseasonably steamy evening started with a reception which allowed all of us to display our work and continued with readings by each of the writers.  The evening was warm and encouraging – just as the year has been.  

I like public speaking about as much as I like shopping for a new swimsuit.  I wasn’t nervous when it was my turn to read, however.  Working with the video portion of the presentation kept me busy much of the day and evening, and I didn’t have time to feel nervous – at least not about the reading.  

The crowd dispersed quickly after the presentation, and the writers returned to the reception room to clean up their displays.  We all milled around a bit, even after our families had left, and I think I wasn’t the only one who didn’t want it to end.  Even though the group is going into its second year, when we started our goodbyes, I began to feel nervous.  

I’ve been working on a collection of short stories that should have been done last month.  Dealing with some mental health issues has slowed down progress, but there’s been a part of me that feels this project is part of my workshop experience.  I know I’ve been a little afraid that when it’s done, so is the workshop.  I felt a little of that on Friday night as I climbed into my car. 

When I got home I made sure the kids were in bed and then turned on the computer and checked messages, intending to sign off quickly and visit with my visiting sister-in-law.  Unconsciously, I clicked on the link to  our group’s Facebook page.  There, like a beacon in the soupy heat of the evening, were celebratory posts from one, then two and then a third writer.  A post from our guru suggesting a get-together appeared.  I didn’t know what to post that could add to the conversation, and I closed my computer. 

The next few days I didn’t go near my computer much.  We had a guest and baseball and garden to occupy us, and I like getting away from the screen.  For the rest of the weekend, however I took with me the knowledge that while the year of writing un-dangerously may be ending, it’s okay because it’s really part of an era that’s just begun.

I’ve posted and reposted links to the blogs of most of our members below (one author is currently keeping her blog private).  They are growing, breathing proof that some of the best work comes from an atmosphere of encouragement.  

Pugs and Pics by Kim Gifford, Vermont writer, photographer, artist and pug lover.  Whether she’s writing about her beloved pugs or her distinctive photographs, Kim’s work is humorous, heartwarming, and sometimes heartrending.


 A real life milkman-turned-writer and poet, John Greenwood’s blog Raining Iguanas is a journey of discovery and nurturing of his own talents as a writer and artist and of his native Upstate New York.  It combines the best of pleasurable escape and motivating inspiration.


Bedlam Farm by the venerable and always affable Jon Katz, was the inspiration and benchmark for each of our blogs.  Honest and fearless, Jon’s blog is living, breathing proof that the most important thing in life is to never stop growing.

 Merganser’s Crossing by Diane Fiore, follows her journeys with her father and his dementia at the end of his life.  Diane’s blog is intensely personal and incredibly relevant at the same time.  Hopefully she will give us a book out of this, but, for now, it’s worth not only visiting, but going to the very beginning and reading it straight through.


Coordinated Mayhem by Rebecca Fedler. A recent college graduate and a poet, Rebecca is prolific and powerful.  Sometimes funny and always intriguing, her poetry is as insightful as it is entertaining.


Something Wicked


I am not a theatre critic, but I am a fan of live theatre. I am particularly a fan of community theatre and it’s not just because I’m married to a guy with skin in the game. By its very nature, live theatre is intimate, but something about the smaller venue, the often inventive sets born of small budgets, and the casts comprised of commingled amateur and professional actors, intensifies that intimacy for me. For our family, this has been especially true at Hubbard Hall, a theatre company making its home in a small Victorian opera house in the ‘one-traffic light town’ of Cambridge, New York. This small venue with its eclectic, talented cast was the perfect place to introduce my twelve-year-old son to something truly wicked and wonderful – William Shakespeare’s MacBeth.

My date for the evening was not a willing victim, despite the numerous performances he has attended and enjoyed at Hubbard Hall (another Shakespeare play among them). It wasn’t terribly late for a school night, but he was happily ensconced on the sofa watching TV with his dad and brother. Knowing I couldn’t bring the Big Guy – our midweek babysitter lineup is non-existent, and MacBeth is not six-year-old friendly – I opted for the Because-I-Said-So card (rather than the pricking of his thumbs) and forced him into a clean shirt before ushering him out the door. He was offering to do homework as we got into the car.

He was still quietly protesting the interruption to his studies (me thinks he protested a bit too much) when we sat down.

Then the first of a trio of mischievous witches entered. Knowing the cast at Hubbard Hall also acts as stage crew, we watched as she toiled and troubled over a basket. We soon realized, however, that she and her sisters were setting the mood, and, as they scurried about the minimalist and starkly lit set, I watched them reset my son’s mood. The silent reproach became reluctant attentiveness and then intense focus. His focus would not change for the next hour and a half, and neither would mine.

We have been wowed by most of these actors in other performances, so even on the ‘Pay What You Will’ night, I pay full price, knowing it will be worth the price of admission. Thursday night was no exception. It is no small tribute that this talented, eclectic ensemble was able to communicate not just the gist, but the intensity of this story of betrayal and recrimination to an initially disinterested twelve-year-old.

An extra slot in my schedule senior year combined with my mom’s firm ideas about how school hours should be spent, resulted in my picking up a Shakespeare class for a semester. It had its moments, but for the most part, its main attraction was that it wasn’t a math or science class. And, while I was ultimately glad circumstance had me forced into a working knowledge of the bard’s works, I was hardly an aficionado. It wasn’t until years later when I caught an impromptu performance of As You Like It that I was able to get past the language and into the essence of the story. Remembering that these plays had been written for the benefit of penny-a-cushion illiterates (and philistines like me), I began making it a point to catch performances of Shakespeare’s works whenever I could find the modern equivalent of a penny-priced cushion. In the end, it wasn’t just the play that was the thing – it was the playing of it wherein the imagination became king.

So, I did hesitate a moment before dragging said twelve-year-old out on a snowy school night. And, even though biology and sleep forced us away too early (I will go back for another performance), when the hurly-burly was done, I knew something had been won. The close quarters stage combined with the cast’s intimacy with their parts and the poetry of the play may not have created a full-blown convert, but when my first-born walked out into the snow MacBeth wasn’t just some play written by a dead guy 500 years ago. It was a really cool show about murder and betrayal and guilt. It was the ultimate reality show. It was, as my eldest put it, wicked good.

The semi-biased facts about the show:

MacBeth is playing at Hubbard Hall in Cambridge, NY from March 8-24 (full schedule is on their site). Directed by John Hadden, it is performed by the incredibly entertaining Colleen Lovett, Catherine Seeley Keister, Myka Plunkett, Christine Decker, Renzo Scott Renzoni, Robert Francis Forgett, Doug Ryan, Betsy Holt, Gino Costabile, and Reilly Hadden and (fact) should not be missed.

The Hubbard Hall Effect

UPDATE – Any local fans of the Hubbard Hall magic will be seeing the Genie on this year’s playbill.  Word on the street is this year’s roster is going to be a good one.  Check out the fall schedule and find season tickets here:  2012-2013 Season

Signed prints, matted to fit an 11 x 14 are available on archival paper for $20 + $3 shipping, with 10% of each purchase going to Hubbard Hall.  I can take checks or send a paypal invoice.  Email me at for  more information. 

Original Post:There’s something magical in Cambridge, and while this post may seem like a shameless plug for the place that’s making it happen, I’m actually hoping that the writing will be like the rubbing of a genie’s lamp.


My husband was lured to the Hubbard Hall’s Theatre Company by another actor from Arlington. The invitation came at just the right time – he had engaged in a protracted battle with partial blindness that ended in stalemate – and at first he thought they had found the wrong man for the part. It turned out that the part – playing a slow-witted monk in a medieval monastary – was exactly what he needed and at exactly the right time.

Working, as many Vermonters do, at a job that sees little change or opportunity for growth (but for very nice people) and depressed from numerous healthcare battles that seemed to pop out of nowhere, he suddenly found himself under the spell of a company of players who had more faith in his acting potential than he did. And, while the play was important, it was the company that was the thing. This seemingly diverse tightly-knit group opened the seams long enough to let him in, and there he has stayed. And then the magic grew, and he invited our son in.

Thing 1 is not a huge fan of art museums, so we knew taking him to something with word Shakespeare in it could end badly, but my husband was enjoying the theatre so much that he decided to drag someone along, and Thing 1 happened to be handy (Thing 2 wasn’t theatre-trained yet). I watched him ride away, slumped in the front seat, determined to show Dad how wrong he was about Shakespeare and theatre. Three hours later they were charging back down the driveway, laughing and chatting, and Thing 1 was hooked. He hasn’t missed any of Dad’s performances since.

But the Hubbard Hall effect had just begun. As our family became friendlier with members of the theatre company, I began searching for writing classes. My harrassment of Hubbard Hall’s artistic director paid off, when he announced that he had convinced Jon Katz to lead a writing workshop. The discovery that there was a screening process was a worry, but I got lucky and got in.

We kicked off the first session with nervous but friendly introductions, and I think all of us were nursing a few insecurities at the beginning of the evening. But it was clear that our esteemed (I still say fearless) leader was not willing to feed those demons or to foster any competition or back-biting. When we left, the spell was taking effect, and within the week, we were reaching out to each other from our respective corners, marveling at the impact the group and the Project was having on our psyches.

Both boys are now fully under the spell at summer workshops offered by Hubbard Hall, and my mornings are spent working at a picnic table under a tree on their green. From my vantage point I see Cambridge residents flow in and out of morning fitness and music classes and, as they stop to commune with each other, I realize that the magic in this place isn’t just about theater or art or music or writing or any of the other educational opportunities it provides. It is about the connections it creates far beyond its borders. So as I rub my lamp, my wish is for all of us who are lucky enough to be touched by this magic to take a little piece of it out into the world and let it grow again.