Friday, November 19, 2004
Must the Savoyard Light Opera Company leave Carlisle?
The smell of the greasepaint, the roar of the crowdand beneath the surface, a plea. The Savoyard Light Opera Company (SLOC), the high-quality gem of a community theater troupe that has called Corey Auditorium its home for the past 17 years, is facing what might well be its last three performances in Carlisle this weekend. Last June, the group was informed by then-Superintendent of Schools Davida Fox-Melanson that they would no longer be able to use the school for its annual November performances, due to space constraints. However, proponents of the group have decided to mount a gentle protest, to see if there is any hope that the school will reconsider this stance.
Audience shows support
In addition to a few explanations provided in The Secret Garden playbill, SLOC member Bob Russell addressed audience members at intermission during last weekend's shows, asking them to sign a petition showing their support for keeping the group in Carlisle.
The petition, penned by SLOC president Brian Harris, reads in part: "While we recognize that our activities do require some changes in the school routine, we are present in the school for only three weeks out of the entire school year, and then only in the evening and on weekends. We strive to produce shows of near-professional quality, and we believe they contribute to Carlisle something worth preserving. Having developed an enthusiastic audience that returns year after year, we are reluctant to leave."
Supporters filled out nine sheets with approximately 180 signatures over the weekend, says Phil Drew, a long-time member of SLOC and the Carlisle resident who brought the theater group here from Maynard after the new Corey Auditorium was built in 1988. "I have hope that we can stay in Carlisle," says Drew, who plans to bring the petition and the group's plea before the school committee. "Maybe there's room for some reasonable compromises."
Although sounding apologetic about giving the group its walking papers, Carlisle School officials do not seem open to considering compromises. "I came in after this decision was made, but I'm going to honor it," says current Superintendent of Schools Marie Doyle. "We highly, highly value having the group here, and I understand the [SLOC] people have been fabulous to work with, but if people would come to visit they would see how crowded things really are."
Crowded school conditions
How crowded? First, there's the fact that three classes and numerous after- school activities (including instrumental lessons) are held on the stage and in the auditorium, points out David Flannery, Supervisor of Buildings and Grounds at the Carlisle School. All of them need to vacate the stage or work around the orchestra pit in the auditorium. (The first two rows of seats need to be removed every year to accommodate the orchestra.) Then there's all the equipment that needs to be moved out of these spaces in order for SLOC to move all of its equipment in.
"There's a whole set of choral risers; there are music stands and chairs and platforms. The tympani drums have to be displaced. We have to put the [two rows of auditorium] seats into a far corridor," says Flannery, adding, "Then of course, we need to recognize fire regulations." In order to conform to these regulations (something Flannery, who also serves as Carlisle's fire chief, is naturally insistent upon), items often need to be moved numerous times during the three-week period that SLOC inhabits the auditorium.
Although SLOC volunteers have been "wonderful about moving things and putting them where they need to go," Flannery says the quality of the group and its people cannot offset the logistical difficulties faced by the school. "The school has to be at the top of the list when it comes to priorities," he says.
Even so, there are some residents in Carlisle who remember when Corey Auditorium was constructed, and believe the group fulfills one of the purposes for which it was built. "The new building has, as planned, become a community resource as well as an enhancement to the school," states the 1988 Annual Report for the Town of Carlisle. The report goes on to note, "This fall, the Savoyard Light Opera Company used the space to put on their Gilbert and Sullivan production, Patience."
"As I recall, the auditorium was built for the entire community, not just the school," says long-time Carlisle resident Wendy Davis. "We were thrilled when [SLOC] arrived in town. It's a lovely thing to have in Carlisle. It's just a shame to think of the school getting rid of it when the people of Carlisle enjoy it so much."
For at least one Carlisle resident, the theater group was one of the main reasons he decided to live here. After reading about auditions for Of Thee I Sing in the Mosquito in 1999, Larry Millner performed on stage with SLOC, going on to serve as president of the board for the next four years. After living briefly in Westford, Millner and his wife decided that Carlisle was the place where they wanted to be — in part because of the theater group that also called the town home. "I think having the group here adds to the ambiance of Carlisle and makes it a more attractive community," Millner says.
"It will hurt the company more than it will hurt the community, but both will lose."
Although he will likely continue his involvement with the group even if it leaves town, Millner says, "I'm very sad. I understand the great pressure on the schools, but we offer a great benefit to the community. People in Carlisle are used to coming to these shows, and moving would make it harder for them to come. We would lose some of our audience and have to build another core audience. It will hurt the company more than it will hurt the community, but both will lose."
A unique perspective
Perhaps no one can see both sides of the situation more clearly than Tom O'Halloran, who not only has played trombone in the orchestra pit for SLOC shows for the past ten years, but also works at the Carlisle School as director of the school band. His classes and musical groups are the ones most frequently displaced when the theater group begins its run at the school.
"I see the value presented by these productions over the years. I'm a part of that," he says, adding that playing with the orchestra "has been great. Every year, it's a joy." Even so, "My first loyalty is to the school," he says. O'Halloran explains that the approximately 200 students involved in the music program at the Carlisle School are affected by the crowded quarters every school day of the three-week period that SLOC uses the stage and auditorium. Some classes move to the cafeteria, while others squeeze into the small music room, crowded in with music stands and instruments. He describes hallways jammed with equipment, through which he has to walk sideways in order to pass. "The frustration level is high," he admits. "This is not personal. But from a practical standpoint, it doesn't work."
So what is next for the Savoyard Light Opera Company? Drew says there are several compromises he would consider, including changing performances to school vacation times, renting storage units for equipment or taking a shorter time to put in sets. In case the School Committee stands firm, however, SLOC has appointed a search committee, which will seek out and consider new venues for the group after its current season with The Secret Garden ends this Sunday afternoon. (See review on The Secret Garden, page 14.)
What is for certain is that the show will go on. Although the group is not sure where audiences will be able to find them next year, they've already chosen the show: Gilbert and Sullivan's HMS Pinafore.
© 2004 The Carlisle Mosquito