TYRINGHAM — "I don't want any reviews of this play or anything like that."
The surprising words of UBU Theater's Artistic Director Ann Gallo contradict the desire of most directors. But Gallo's latest project, a site-specific, community-based staging of Thornton Wilder's famous play, "Our Town," in Tyringham, is not an ordinary theater production.
When Gallo founded UBU Theater two years ago, she hoped to use theater to bring together and empower local communities. The letters UBU (think "you be you") illustrate her desire for everyone to be his or herself and encourage widespread participation in the community theatrical productions.
"I went to a Boys and Girls Club two years ago and they had no arts program. So I started a theater program that was all about accessibility to the arts. Some people can afford to take classes at Barrington Stage Company, but then there's everybody else. The point was to make it accessible," said Gallo.
For the past 18 months, Gallo has dedicated herself to facilitating a town-wide production of a classic play in Tyringham, the tiny, Internet-less town nestled in the middle of Berkshire County. After more than five weeks of rehearsals, UBU Theater will present four performances, on Aug. 5, 6, 12 and 13, all beginning at 11 a.m., outside the Union Church of Tyringham. The full show is expected to run for approximately three hours, which includes a 5-minute intermission after the first act, and a 20-minute intermission following the second act. In the event of rain, the show will move to inside the church.
Gallo got the idea to put on a play in the sparsely populated town while attending Tyringham's Memorial Day celebration in 2015. Wilder's "Our Town"came to her mind since Tyringham has a strong resemblance to Grover's Corners, the town at the center of the play. Now nearly two years later, the project is finally coming to fruition. Twenty five of the 26 cast members are residents of Tyringham with the lone outlier hailing from nearby Housatonic. Only three have any prior acting experience and just one is a professional actor. But putting experience aside, Gallo praised the commitment and compassion of everyone involved.
"There is this sense that something big is happening in town and people want to be a part of it," said Gallo. "More and more people are now signing up to be ushers. The way I see it, everyone, including audience members, are participating. This project is about celebrating these people and this town."
Unlike the works of other famous playwrights, Thornton Wilder's estate allows no alterations to his scripts. So even though she had to shoot down any suggested changes to the script that would personalize the play, Gallo felt that the literal story did not need changing to insinuate local awareness and relevance. To emphasize the focus on Tyringham, Gallo chose to have the play performed outdoors where actors and audience members alike can absorb their surroundings. The first two acts will take place on the front lawn of the Union Church of Tyringham and the third act will be performed in the field adjacent to the nearby Tyringham Cemetery. The last remaining church in town and also the preferred location for weddings, memorial services, and other large gatherings of Tyringham residents, the Union Church fits perfectly with the themes of the first two acts, titled, "A Day in the Life," and "Love and Marriage." Furthermore, the field next to the town cemetery works well with the theme of the play's third act, titled, "Death."
"The play is heartbreaking but it's not supposed to be a morbid experience. It's about stopping, looking and seeing what we have around us," said Gallo. "We all have that story of heartbreak. This town hasn't changed one iota since 1999. There's no internet access. We have a library that's open twice a week and a post office. That's it. The important thing is for everyone, especially the weekenders, to stop, think, be respectful, and listen."
Whereas the main focus of this production is bringing a community together, spectators can still expect a well put-together show. The cast has been rehearsing for 12 hours each weekend since late June under the lead of director, Courtney O'Connor. Somewhere along the way, the cast members began seeing each other in completely different ways. This, at least for Gallo, is what made the entire ordeal worthwhile.
"The guy who runs the transfer station is one of the leads and it turns out he's so articulate," said Gallo. "Everyone is sharing personal stories and everyone is participating. I will have succeeded in that I brought unlikely people together. It's not about the final product, but rather the process we've gone through and the entire Tyringham community."
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Outdoor, site-specific, production of "Our Town" by Thornton Wilder
WHEN: 11 a.m., August 5, 6, 12 and 13
WHERE: Union Church of Tyringham, 128 Main Road, Tyringham, Mass.
HOW: $5 for Tyringham residents and relatives, $20 for non-residents, FREE for kids under 10 (tickets can be purchased day of show)
INFO: It's outside so bring a blanket and/or lawn chairs