Ann Gallo's vision for Tyringham ...
Editor's note: This article was updated on July 26, to correct the address of Saturday's square dance.
TYRINGHAM — Tucked cozily inside Hop Brook Valley, an easy-to-miss turn off Route 102, Tyringham might be an unlikely site for a spectacle.
But don't tell that to Ann Gallo — or any of the town's 322 other residents.
Gallo enlisted 25 locals (plus one actor from nearby Housatonic) for last year's staging of "Our Town," a Thornton Wilder play. The production brought 500 attendees to Tyringham over two weekends in August.
"She managed to pull this town together in a way that I don't think anybody has ever seen before," said writer Jean P. Moore, who played stage manager No. 2 in "Our Town." "She created lifelong friendships, and she enhanced existing friendships. We decided as a town, I think, after Ann did that, we would follow her anywhere."
In the year since the play, community suppers at the Union Church have been filled with more laughter and conversation than ever before, residents say. And even while performing everyday tasks — whether it's getting mail at the post office, dropping off waste at the transfer station or picking up vegetables at Woven Roots Farm — they stop to greet each other, exchange hugs and recount stories from that memorable summer.
"There was so much energy put into 'Our Town,' and when that ended, everybody missed each other," said Jen Salinetti, who with her husband Pete owns Woven Roots Farm. "So everyone started saying, 'What's next?'"
That would be this weekend's Tyringham Arts Festival, which highlights 66 residents for their work as fine artists, artisans, musicians, writers, filmmakers, actors and dancers. Add on the 30 or so volunteers, and the festival will have involved almost a third of the town's population — likely more once attendees are counted.
"Everybody's got some creativity in them," said Gallo, founder and artistic director of UBU Theater. "It's just kind of encouraging people to acknowledge, embrace and share who they are."
A free movie night at the church, where two local filmmakers' documentaries will be screened, starts the action at 8 p.m. Friday. The arts festival itself takes place on Saturday from noon to 4:30 p.m. Musical and literary performances will occupy the church (128 Main Road), while art exhibits will fill three tents on the adjacent field.
An old-time square dance at 74 Main Road goes from 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday night, and a pancake breakfast with the Tyringham Volunteer Fire Company (100 Main Road) closes the weekend on Sunday morning.
Tickets must be purchased for Saturday's and Sunday's events; proceeds will go back to the town through the church, the cemetery commission and the fire department, among other places, Gallo said.
In contrast with an arts and crafts festival, this weekend holds a wide range of displays and performances. For many of them, residents have teamed up and combined their talents.
Writer Rachel Urquhart recruited two others to accompany a reading from her critically-acclaimed novel, "The Visionist." Clark Williams has composed a piece of guitar music, and Salinetti's 12-year-old daughter, Noelia, has choreographed an interpretation of a Shaker dance from the book.
"It's definitely out of my comfort zone, and a big part of the reason I said 'yes' to it was because I need to work on that," said Noelia, who will perform the dance with some friends. "I felt like this is a really good space for me to start, with a bunch of people I know. When Rachel told me this idea, I said, 'This is amazing, and I don't want to be the kind of person who isn't making it possible. Let's go for it.'"
Moore and poet Elizabeth Elliott are holding a joint poetry reading, which puts their works in conversation to create a narrative. Four other residents have roles reading the poems for the performance, which is titled "Tyringham, Away and Back Again."
One of those is Mark Curtin, who played milkman Howie Newsome in "Our Town." Curtin had never acted prior to the play, but he has since discovered a new passion, which even led him to a paid acting role recently.
"As a kid growing up, I had played sports," Curtin said. "There was a teacher at my high school named Bob Lohbauer, and he had always wanted me to do [acting], but I couldn't because of sports. So I called Bob up a week before the play, and I said, 'Bob, I'm going to be in a play, and I want you to come see it.' And he did. I can't even tell you the joy it brought me to have him there and to hear his thoughts afterwards."
In addition to opening doors for personal growth, the play gave the entire town a newfound sense of pride and togetherness, Curtin said. It brought together older generations with younger ones, and it created camaraderie between recently-transplanted second home owners and those whose families have spent generations in Tyringham.
"There were people I got to know who I might not normally bump elbows with," Curtin said. "There are authors, lawyers and doctors. And there's me, just a little old country boy. I'm not a highly educated man, I don't have a lot of money. I don't have a second home and stuff like that. But that doesn't mean anything to me or to a lot of people in that town."
After the success of "Our Town," many residents reached out to Gallo to get involved with the festival once she began its planning in November. Driveways are lined with lawn signs advertising the festival. While Gallo certainly has the community's support now, it wasn't always easy with "Our Town," which took two years to arrange, she said.
"It was walking literally door-to-door," she said. "We had just moved here full-time, and you get a lot of suspicious looks if you haven't been here awhile. I had to prove to them that I wasn't going to make them look bad. We had a fireside read through in the middle of the winter. About 40 people showed up, we sat in a circle and we read through the entire play. That's when everyone went, 'Oh, I get it.'"
Those who have worked with Gallo say that she has a manner of bringing out the best in people without overbearing.
"Ann has this way of being direct yet subtle at the same time," said Salinetti, who, along with her 14-year-old son, Diego, will be publicly displaying her photographs for the first time. "She truly can see the potential in everyone but not intimidate them through that. She was able to help people recognize that something they do just as a hobby has the potential to be really meaningful."
As she finishes last-minute planning — in addition to emergency designs in case of inclement weather — Gallo expressed nervous excitement ahead of the weekend.
"It's going to be a hot mess, and I have no idea how many people are going to come," Gallo said. "But we're doing it. And it's going to work."
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