Monday, July 18, 2022

Magical Mettawee

     The Mettawee River, one of the headwaters of Lake Champlain, flows out of Vermont and thru northern Washington County to a confluence with Wood Creek near Whitehall. It's a beautiful stream and even though it once tried to kill me during a somewhat rash canoe trip, I hold no grudges. But the river will have to wait for its day on this blog. For now my thoughts are focused on the Mettawee Theatre Company instead. Or, as I like to call it, the Magical Mettawee.

     A few days ago I enjoyed what could be their last performance in our area. It was on the lawn of the Georgi in Shushan, New York, a magical place in its own right and perhaps the ideal place to savor the imaginative world of the Mettawee Theatre. 

     The company's shows trace their origin to stories and myths from a variety of cultures and traditions. They last about an hour and are almost always staged outdoors, often at dusk, the magical (that word again!) hour when day segues to night. Particularly memorable are the masks, puppets and music. They blend together in a creative synergy giving birth to an experience like no other.

Web image

     The company was founded in the mid '70's by several Bennington College students who wanted to bring live theatre to rural communities in upstate New York and New England. Ralph Lee became the artistic director and Casey Compton the managing director. 47 years later the couple are still at the core of the Mettawee Theatre and both were at the recent Georgi performance.



     Lee has a long, storied history as a master puppeteer and mask maker. Some of us old timers may remember the Land Shark from Saturday Night Live's first season. Ralph made that! Casey, in addition to managing the company, has acted in the past and continues to fabricate the striking costumes that grace the shows. There's been a revolving cast of actors thru the years with maybe 12 or 13 playing a variety of roles in this summers offering.

     Finally, there's the music composed by Neal Kirkwood who performed along with Sam Kulik at the Georgi. It was a show in itself to see and hear what two musicians and a small menagerie of instruments could create. They added immeasurably to the evening.

     In the program that Casey handed out prior to the performance it says:

          "We dedicate this summer's tour to the wide community

          of treasured individuals, who have helped us bridge the

          perilous gaps and make this crazy dream come true over

          these many years: our idealistic founders; so many gifted

          performers, designers, composers, writers, choreographers

          and directors; our dedicated, trusting local sponsors and

          presenters, our kind and generous supporters, and most

          of all, our loyal, big-hearted, great-spirited audience."

            That audience was certainly there at the Georgi. From little kids scooting around in wild abandon to elders in need of help with mobility. Folks having picnics, dipping toes in the Battenkill, chatting with old friends. It felt like a gathering of the tribe. A joyous if slightly bittersweet celebration of art, people and place. To Ralph, Casey and all those who've created the Mettawee Magic thru the years ... Thanks for the memories.

Web image

          * They ask you not to photograph the performance so I've relied on web images. There was a videographer filming, you might keep an eye out for that if it becomes available. Also check out Crandall Library's folklife center interview with Ralph Lee here. You might also be interested in Vermont's Bread and Puppet Theatre. On with the show...