By Jeffrey V. Smith
Allenspark Performing Arts Company’s new artistic director, Danielle Hermon Wood, loves music. Beginning in elementary school in Rochester, NY, she’s followed that passion and ultimately created a life filled with performance credits in opera and musical theater from all over the U.S. She’s also been a featured soloist in Japan and Singapore, and her voice has been heard on commercials. She’s even been a backup singer for Sting.
Hermon Wood and her husband, Brandon, recently gave up their professional musician lifestyles and moved to Boulder to slow down and concentrate on their family. The move has brought her life full circle. She’s now the one inspiring elementary-age children as the music director at the Bixby School and teaching acting, voice and preschool musical at Dana V Music in Louisville. The studio’s co-founder, Dana Vachharajani, is a friend from her days at Carnegie Mellon University. She was also personally asked to lead the community theater at the Old Gallery in Allenspark by its founder and former local resident Betsy Skinner, who was the elementary school teacher who first inspired Hermon Wood as a child.
“I fell in to working with this awesome company,” she said. “Betsy… just happened to be my elementary school teacher in Rochester, NY. Then, she was my music teacher in high school for a year. When I moved out to the Boulder area, a friend of mine asked if I remembered Betsy. I got in touch and she said ‘I do these summer shows, you should come check it out.’ Next thing Hermon Wood knew, she was being asked to be Tzeitel in Fiddler on the Roof.” She performed in that production two summers ago, then was the assistant director for My Fair Lady last year. “Betsy is like family to me. I’ve known her so long,” Hermon Wood said. “She ended up having to leave the area and asked me, to ‘please take this over, it would mean so much.’ I still talk to her a lot. She’s still a mentor to me from afar.”
Hermon Wood is now the company’s artistic director, which means she’s in charge of deciding the season and what shows will be performed. Because the group is so small, however, she’s taken on additional roles like being the show director as well as a performer. “I’m doing a lot,” she said. “Thankfully, the way the show is, I’m able to sit back a lot, and just have a couple feature numbers, then take on the role of the director so I can see the big picture.”
This year’s summer production Side by Side by Sondheim—a musical revue featuring the songs of the Stephen Sondheim—was chosen for a variety of reasons, the least of which is Harmon Wood is a admirer of the Broadway and film composer. Performances take place July 23-26 and July 30-Aug. 2. The Thursday-Saturday shows are at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday ones take place at 2:30 p.m.
One reason for the choice is the production must take place indoors this year, unlike in previous years. Eventual fundraising may lead to a new, acoustically appropriate outdoor performance space for future years, but the newly renovated space in the Old Gallery will be the setting this time around.
“This year we knew it had to be indoors, so we couldn’t do anything too large,” Harmon Wood explained. “I’m a huge fan of Sondheim’s work and I was researching different musical revues we could do when I came across Side by Side by Sondheim. Looking at the pieces already chosen for the revue, I found a lot deal with marriage, relationships, life in general. I knew [with that selection] I could pull from some of our younger community members and also our older ones, so we could feature everyone.” The cast, subsequently, has members ranging in age from 17 to 70.
There are two “huge” ensemble numbers and the rest are trios, duets and solos. According to Harmon Wood, the ensemble numbers involve everyone and are “complicated” with a little bit of choreography. “We’re excited about that,” she said.
Harmon Wood is also thrilled the cast has so many connections to Allenspark and nearby communities. “We held auditions for the first time [this year], and I’m so glad we did,” she said. “One of the ladies from Longmont, Beth Anderson, owns a cabin in Allenspark, and we met another young lady who’s family just moved to the Allenspark area. That’s really exciting, to be reaching out to the community and being able to make this available to more people in Allenspark.”
Cast members include Allenspark residents Rachael Brady, Glenn Patterson and pianist Margie Patterson as well as Bill Dyas from Raymond. Larry Pierce, Christy Florence, Kay Mitchell, Rich Mitchell and Denise Stookesberry are from Estes Park and Joan Harrold has family from the town. Also, the production includes Haley Dove, Natalie Hall, Steven Uliana, Brandon Wood, Hermon Wood and Production Intern Journey Diller from the Boulder, Louisville and Longmont areas.
“These people are doing this for free. Coming to rehearsals,” Harmon Wood said. “Although we’re a community theater, we still treat it like a professional theater, so these people are taking a lot of their own time that they could be spending with their families or at work to be a part of these and share their talent with everyone.”
It’s definitely a commitment to be in the cast. “We rehearse the full ensemble two times a week,” the director said. “It’s not that much, but we started right at the end of May. We rehearse two the three time a week. Once it’s tech week, we’ll be rehearsing every night from July 19 until we open.”
So far, musical rehearsals have been in the small cabin behind the Old Gallery during construction and the Pattersons also opened their home for rehearsals. “We’ve mostly had musical rehearsals,” Harmon Wood said. “It’s Sondheim, so it’s not easy music. Definitely many beautiful melodies you’ll go home humming and will get stuck in your head. There are a lot of complicated rhythms, especially in ensemble numbers, and a lot of little solos. Getting that all together takes a lot of work and rehearsing at home, too, on their own.” The revue highlights songs from A Little Night Music, Gypsy, West Side Story, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, Company, Follies, Do I Hear A Waltz? and more.
For first time, the Allenspark Performing Arts Company will offer a pre-show talk, Aug. 1. Max Wolpert, on the fiddle faculty at Rocky Ridge Music Center, is going to talk on the life of Steven Sondheim. Another first will be a Meet-the-Artists night on both Sundays of the production, July 26 and Aug. 2. Most of the featured soloists, who have all had professional singing careers, will be there to introduce themselves, answer questions and chat with the audience.
Both programs, which are being tested this season “to see what would be fun and exciting for people,” will run about a half hour and take place before the performance that evening. Refreshments are included in the $5 admission fee. “I’m hoping the pre-show talks catch on,” Harmon Wood said. “That was something I used to see at the Santa Fe Opera. People would come for a lecture on the opera they were about to see, and I would find the opera much more enjoyable because I knew a little bit more about the story and the music. I’m really excited about the pre-show talk.”
Harmon Wood credits Margie Patterson, who serves on the Old Gallery Board, for doing “so much to bring drama, music and the arts to the community” and supporting “any vision I have or ideas I have. It’s been wonderful working with her too.” She is also passionate about the Old Gallery’s mission to support local artist and provide things like a food bank to the community.
“Being able to be the artistic director and having this opportunity is a dream come true for me artistically, but really the main mission is to bring art, music, culture to this area; even to Estes Park where people don’t get to travel into Denver or Boulder to see theater,” she said. The group also keeps its doors open to anyone and its ticket prices low, so everyone can take part. “As the word gets out, it will grow, and we can get more people in involved, even if it’s behind the scenes helping sell refreshment or tickets and helping make props.”
The Old Gallery is located at 14863 Hwy. 7 in Allenspark. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to volunteer or learn more. Visit http://www.theoldgallery.org or call 303-747-2906 for additional details.
Originally published in the July 2015 issue of the MMAC Monthly