Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Less than Haunting Event


The Somerville Arts Council has been working with the Somerville community creating several different programs over the past four years. Now in its fifth year the council has accomplished several successful programs such as Artbeat – an annual 2-day music, arts and crafts event – and Art Without Walls – a group pf programs dedicated to the youths of the Somerville community. Art Without Walls creates an outlet for kids that may not otherwise have the opportunity to be involved in events and programs, such as historic plays and neighborhood cleanups.

The Art Council’s, Art Without Walls is a great addition to the Somerville community and, “strives to make and sustain a connection between the artistic community and Somerville’s general population,” (www.somervilleartscouncil.org). The Council leads historical tours through the Union Square area of Somerville, and along with Art Without Walls and the Somerville Historic Preservation Commission, puts on different historical productions that the public can enjoy.

The most recent production put on by the council took place on October 17th in Milk Row Cemetery on Somerville Avenue. The Ghosts of Somerville Rise Again, promised to be a haunting and historically educational performance – a seemingly perfect combination for a lazy, cold and cloudy October afternoon.

I discovered the event online. When “haunted boston” was typed into my search engine several different links popped up. I scrolled through, most of them bar and club events (too expensive), until I came across the Somerville Arts Council event – The Ghosts of Somerville Rise Again. It sounded great, $5, a historical re-telling of lives of the more prominent figures that lived in that area of Boston during the Civil War, it was in a cemetery and boasted complimentary hot cider and donuts.

The event was scheduled to begin at 4 PM and worried about being late and interrupting or distracting the actors playing the ghosts, I arrived promptly at 3:45. I walked into the cemetery and up to the tables to pay for my ticket. “That’ll be 8 dollars please,” said the woman standing behind the table. I questioned the price to which she replied, “No, children ages 8-12 and seniors are five dollars… I don’t think you’re 12 and you’re not a senior either, so that’ll be 8 dollars.” Completely thrown off by her snippy tone I handed over the money.

She gave me my change and I shuffled along down the table and reached for a pamphlet. A second woman was standing there ready to serve the hot cider and donuts and to pass out the pamphlets. She handed me the paper then the cider, “that’s one dollar please and a donut of your choice.” “A dollar?” I said, she looked at the woman I had just been involved with for confirmation, the woman nodded at her and then they both nodded at me. I gave them the dollar and chose powdered.
What happened while trying to get into the cemetery was odd but paying a little more than I thought I would be paying wasn’t such a big deal because the money goes to supporting the Arts Council. I’m ok with that, plus I was going to see ghosts talk history and the cider was nice.

The show began at 4:30, I was freezing, 45 min standing in a cemetery with a tiny cup of cider will do that to you. I was glad it was finally starting. The cast consisted of younger kids 10-15 and older adults. The main characters were Sarah Wardwell, a convicted witch that was buried in Milk Row in 1692; Samuel Tufts, a farmer buried there in 1828 and William Farmileo, a British soldier buried there during the revolutionary war.

The skits started out well until people, children and adults, started forgetting their lines. Samuel Tufts played by Markus Nechay forgot his lines several times – shuffling through his satchel for the script. Kids forgot their lines too but that was cute and forgivable. The script was interesting but hard to focus on because of numerous mistakes (I’m pretty sure Mr. Tufts made some facts up while struggling for his script) and microphone malfunctions. At one point Reverend Phineas Howe told the audience he was going to turn off his microphone because the crackling was causing him to forget his lines.

I understand that this was just a community production, but I expected more, or maybe I just expected something completely different. At the end of it all I’d been outside for 2 ½ hours (45 min longer than I should have been), freezing and out 9 dollars. I didn’t really learn too much about Somerville that I didn’t know, other than the Market Basket next to the cemetery used to be farm land, but I kind of assumed everything was pretty much farm land at some point.

Though the program was less than haunting, the kids involved all had a good time and seemed to have worked very hard on their lines and costumes and that’s really the point of a production like this. It is important for communities to have these programs and with our support (yes my 9 dollars and yours) programs like Art without Walls can grow and open up opportunities for inner city youth. I’d gladly brave the cold again if it meant helping to grow children’s arts programs in and around Boston.

To keep up with the Somerville Arts Council check out their website at www.somervilleartscouncil.org and help support our local programs.

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