Friday, October 15, 2004
Philip Drew: brought theater group to Carlisle; now produces its last show here
The first in a series about the Savoyard Light Opera Company, which will perform its last show in Carlisle — The Secret Garden — from November 12 to 21 in the Corey Auditorium. The group is forced to seek a new home after 16 years in Carlisle.
Long-time Carlisle resident Phil Drew lives in a charming 150-year-old home on Bedford Road, within walking distance of the Carlisle School which his children (now college age and beyond) attended. Back in 1988, while observing construction on the new Corey Auditorium, an idea occurred to him. Having been an active member of the Savoyard Light Opera Company in Maynard for two years, Drew knew all too well their struggles with the space they used in the Maynard High School. Relegated to the cafeteria, partitions had to be hauled from place to place before each performance, and the only "backstage" area was a corridor.
"And I thought, we have a lovely auditorium here, with raked seats. The only thing it lacked was an orchestra pit. But we came over and the music director agreed it could be done [by removing several of the front seats before performances]. So we made the move," says Drew, who also served as president of the organization that year. The Savoyard Light Opera Company (SLOC) has made Carlisle its home ever since.
Final year in Carlisle
But this year — the sixteenth season in Carlisle — will be its last here. The group, which has been in existence for 30 years, is looking for a new home.
"I'm disappointed in our town for asking us to leave. The School Committee decided it's too crowded, that we're in the way," says Drew. "I'm sympathetic with the school, because the town has grown a lot and they're pressed for space, but I'm quite saddened that we're leaving. I feel we've contributed something to the town. I wish we could work it out."
Although he has entertained thoughts of mounting a campaign and drumming up support to keep the group in town, Drew has been aware of the group's eviction since June and sounds resigned to the idea of moving. SLOC has formed a committee that is currently looking at alternate sites.
In the meantime, Drew and the other members of SLOC are concentrating on making their final year in Carlisle a memorable one. They are currently rehearsing for The Secret Garden, a musical based on the classic children's book by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Although Drew has performed in nearly all of the group's shows over the past 18 years, this year he's behind the scenes, serving as one of the show's producers.
So, what exactly does his job entail? "A producer mainly produces in a productive fashion," he says with a grin. "Actually, I don't do much of anything but get others to do what needs to get done." But press him to go into detail and the job sounds far more involved. There's hiring the stage director and music director, for example, then securing a rehearsal space (currently the First Religious Society), making sure that the set is designed and constructed, that lighting has been designed and will be properly executed, and that sound cues are noted. Then there's publicity, the program, ads, front-of-house duties, concessions, costumes, makeup, orchestra, ushers and janitorial help. Keeping an eye on all these details sounds rather daunting, even with three people sharing the duties (SLOC members Eric Miller and Bob Russell are co-producers).
"We have a great cadre of people who have done these things, wonderful people who come back year after year and are competent to do the job without fuss and feathers," Drew insists. "It's been a pleasure."
It was Gilbert and Sullivan
If one were to ask Drew how he — a trained engineer with a Ph.D. from Harvard who says he was "too shy" to appear in school plays while growing up — ever developed an interest in musical theater, the answer is easy: Gilbert and Sullivan. As a little boy growing up in Newton, Drew says he fell in love with the music while listening to a recording of Pirates of Penzance, which he played repeatedly on his parents' "phonograph player."
Even today, "whenever I go to a G and S show, I leave the theater with my heart high," he says. "Everything [in the show] is so pretty, much of it is beautiful, happy, light-hearted and full of joy. You feel that the world is a better place."
Although The Secret Garden is not a Gilbert and Sullivan show, (the group started alternating them with other, comparably challenging musicals in 1990), Drew says he is thrilled with the story, quality and implementation of the show.
"It starts with gloom and grieving, then there's a steady projection upward," he says. "This concept is reflected in the set design, the lighting design and the staging. It starts with darkness, and emerges finally into the light. People are throwing off their grief, and the garden is a metaphor for that."
Perhaps we can stretch this analogy to refer also to the Savoyard Light Opera Company as its members process their sadness in leaving their Carlisle home. "I'm confident that if we have to move — as I expect we will — that the group is strong and we will survive the move," says Drew. "Perhaps we'll even move on to bigger and better things."
For more information on the Savoyard Light Opera Company and its upcoming performances of The Secret Garden, call 1-978-371-SLOC or visit their web site at savoyardlight opera.org.
© 2004 The Carlisle Mosquito