SINDA NICHOLS: Have Suitcase Will Travel

November 2011 Archives

Friends of the Library Throw a Party

posted November 20, 2011

You Never Know Who You’re Going To Meet

Ever since leaving the Midwest in 1993, I thought how cool it would be to return and do a show.  You know that fantasy – the one where you return and the whole town turns out to greet you?

Seventeen years later on a snowy night before Christmas Eve, I found myself not back in my hometown but back in the Midwest. Having just flown into Wisconsin from Florida, my husband and I were searching for a cozy place to escape the ridiculous temperatures.  Crunching across the snow in our Florida shoes, we came upon a quaint little cafe in the charming village of Mazomanie. We suspected it would be closed, but gave the door a try anyway.  Suddenly there appeared two very friendly dogs and owner. Over glasses of wine, wet noses and tail wags we found ourselves talking to a fellow theatre lover. Once he found out about “Belle” (I try to work it into most conversations) he said, “You should bring the show here and do it at the Community Building.” One thing led to another and before you knew it the Friends of the Mazomanie Free Library had picked up the ball. We  were off and running.

Have Show, Will Travel?

From the very beginning, as we started work on the play, one big question was on our minds. “Will this show travel?” Then came more questions, “How many props will fit in the suitcase and which ones will not break?”, “If I check the costume and it gets lost, what do I do?”, “Do I bring the silver teapot on the plane or find one there?”

Once at the airport it was hard to release my hand on the big blue suitcase containing Emily’s dress, petticoat, shawl, shoes, blouse and most of the props. I demanded my brain cease with lost luggage scenarios. Everything arrived – in one piece, more or less. Once in Mazomanie, we were greeted by smiling and eager Friends of the Library volunteers.  In less than an hour, the stage was set, the props were in place and the light and sound ready to go.  A flawless technical rehearsal followed.  After everyone left, I took a moment to “commune” with the historic space.  Built in 1935, the hard wood floor of the stage had a shine like an ice skating rink. And was just about as slippery. Running across the stage, my feet flew up and my butt flew down – fortunately during a rehearsal.

It’s Show Time

What a buzz in the air.  It turns out that not only do Friends of the Library know how to support their local library, they also know how to throw quite a party.  They packed the house not once, but twice.  Each night I stood backstage before the show savoring the hum of conversation and laughter in the audience.  We don’t often realize how valuable theatre is to communities, not just for the entertainment value, but also for the opportunity to communicate and nuture relationships.

There is something quite fitting about performing this play in a village so similar to the one that Emily lived her entire life in. Emily’s numerous “observations” about family, small towns, eccentrics, etc. brought many “knowing” chuckles. I could sense audience elbows nudging each other.  From the many moments of laughter, audible gasps, knowing murmurs and complete stillness I knew these audiences were connecting deeply with Emily Dickinson and her story. One woman came up afterwards and extending a large hardcover book towards me she said,  “Would you please autograph this?”  It was the complete works of Emily Dickinson. As I began writing, I imaged Emily smiling.

Supporting Libraries

Before leaving town, we paid a visit to the historic Mazomanie Free Library. I browsed the stacks finding old favorites and discovering new titles. I learned about local history, watched a student getting homework help, saw a mom and kids picking out books, observed deep concentration from a patron on the computer, and eavesdropped on a librarian answering questions. We marveled at the numerous events coming up and at the beauty of the building that once used to be a train station. I truly felt as though I was in the heart of this community. I was in the space that gives inspiration, hope, guidance and much more to its’ people. Libraries are a community’s best friend. How encouraging that libraries across the nation have the love and support of groups such as Friends of the Library.  Keep an eye on what they are doing in your community.  You never know when and where they are going to throw their next “party”.