Letter from backstage
New grad and Nashua native Lauren Duffy finds professional theater experience in NH
By Lauren Duffy firstname.lastname@example.org
Lauren Duffy is a Nashua native and a 2009 graduate of Keene State College with a BFA in studio arts. Duffy apprenticed for mask-maker Agostino Dessi in Florence, Italy, in 2007, and she was the artistic director of student film Selection in 2009. She is pursuing a career in design for theater and film. She wrote this about her summer experience at The Barnstormers Theatre in Tamworth.
About five months ago I met Bob Shea at the New Hampshire Professional Theatre Association Auditions and Interviews, and I had no idea what I was getting into. He’s the producing artistic director for The Barnstormers Theatre (and directs the Dana Center at Saint Anselm College in Manchester during the school year).
I decided right when I heard that The Barnstormers was one of the longest-running theaters in the country and the only theater that still runs eight shows (one per week) in the summer stock season that I was in love. Now I am officially the assistant to the costumer, Sandi King. I also assist the props person and the painter — on those days, I am called “the swing.”
In the costume shop, I pull costumes from our stock, do alterations and fittings, and do more laundry than I ever wanted to do in my life. Props assignments usually involve a project someone else is unable to do. I’ve made a log out of Styrofoam, and did blood stage effects for Deathtrap. I do most of the upholstery and other little craft projects. I also paint sets -- mostly on my days off, I touch up furniture, or base-coat flats. My favorite paint project was a marble fireplace.
Barnstormers, I find, is all about the pace. In the sleepy little village of Tamworth, N.H., there sits the barn, newly whitewashed and wonderfully quaint. Just across the street is the inn-pub-swimming pool and only restaurant in town. The “Other Store” is more of a tourist stop serving breakfast and lunch … less of a store really since you cannot buy groceries there. More frequently we weigh the option of the 30-minute drive to the grocery store, hardware store, clothing store or pharmacy, or just going without.
Barnstormers folks often come from Massachusetts or New York and auditions are in Boston for Equity actors, but there are others with local ties, like this season’s carpenter, Jesse Lee Egan Porier, a Nashuan pursuing a B.A. in theater at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.
The first night of our arrival Dane Leeman, our Technical Director [see “Curtain Calls” in the Aug. 13 Hippo to learn about the musical Leeman co-created opening in New York this fall], brought us on a trip to the Sandwich Creamery in Sandwich. Our two cars started out on the road, headlights illuminating the path, with us talking and laughing. Dane’s brake lights came on and we slowed down, then came to a stop. Mike and I in the second car were confused. We exited the car and there in the road were two trees. Pine trees.
Any sane bunch of young people would leave the 25 feet of wet, massive tree in the road and drive away. Our crew is not that sane. We pushed those trees out of the road, snapping the remaining wood clinging to its stump. We wanted ice cream. That is the pace of summer stock theater.
A little-known fact about the people here at Barnstormers is that they are all phenomenal. Not a bad seed in the bunch. Most of the time I am shocked; other times I realize that it is a long-standing Barnstormers tradition to only hire kind, sweet, fun-loving people, which adds to the magic of the place.
Making my way in the door here was the best thing I could have done. I’ve learned that I want to focus on scenic design and painting and props, and I’ve been able to make industry connections in Boston.
Currently, I am following some leads and intend on applying to some theaters with scene shops. Many theaters contract out to shops like New City Scenic, which is one company that has caught my eye in Massachusetts. It is quite possible that I will pursue work designer Janie Howland got me interested in: helping to create a props warehouse located near Boston, supported by a community of theaters. It sounds like something that I would like to try and get off the ground and it’s close enough that New Hampshire theater and film could use the facility.
The Barnstormers season is almost over, but there is still plenty of action to catch. — Lauren Duffy