Rock River Players Merge Talents with Hooker-Dunham

Founded in 2015, the Rock River Players (RRP) launched with a mission to keep the lively arts alive in the West River Valley. Since the inaugural production of Our Town (August 2015) the ever-growing company has presented ten plays –including a musical; an evening of one-acts, another evening of suspense; several cabarets; training in lighting, producing/directing, and improvisation. It’s engaged in a storytelling project in assisted living homes; premiered several new works; entertained hundreds from our neck of the woods and well beyond; included actors ages 8 to 86; and attained non- profit status. And though it all, the RRP’s gratefully called the Williamsville Hall home.

At the time the pandemic hit last spring, RRP actor/director Bahman Mahdavi was in the midst of working with nearly two dozen performers to create a May (’20) production of Hecht and MacArthur’s The Front Page. Following would have been a summer production, a cabaret, and the next major production, Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. But all that stalled and, while I fretted and bemoaned what to do to keep RRP alive, Bahman stepped up. With in-person performance not a viable option, he—with a background in film production– became excited by the idea of developing solo shows that could be safely filmed and made widely available through BCTV and online.  Teaming up with Hooker-Dunham Theatre’s Artistic Director, Jon Mack—of So. Newfane—the two forces honed a lineup of various episodes, each curated and produced by either Jon or Bahman. Each episode of SOLOs is a co-production of RRP and the Hooker-Dunham Theater, given the pooling of resources and sharing of expenses and tasks. And each episode is filmed on the H-D stage; videographer for the series is BCTV’s Austin Rice who’s an essential player in the SOLOs project. Kudos to Bahman and Jon for facing that reality and keeping theater alive for us, albeit virtually. They have created a model that can endure as long as it needs to–until the dark cloud lifts, until we can applaud theater together again live, en masse.”

Looking at the work produced thus far, Bahman reflects: “Seeing what individual performers have chosen to present and working with them and with Austin and Jon to make it happen has been a life-giving force in a dark time. It’s really been an honor and a pleasure.” Jon adds, “Even though the performances are by single individuals, the aim of SOLOs is to bring actors, directors, and writers together with their audience. The performing arts are all about the connection between artist and audience. The Hooker-Dunham is delighted to be hosting and co-producing an event which makes that connection while keeping safe. By collaborating with the Rock River Players, we’ve been forging ahead to create exciting work.”

Up next in SOLOs premiering March 19 on YouTube and BCTV is Episode 6: “Sense and Nonsense.” This episode takes aim at the destructive nonsense of gender-role stereotyping mixed with the whimsical nonsense of Lewis Carroll’s poems. And on April 9, “Originals,” a diverse collection of unique work.

SOLOs will carry on for the foreseeable future and then, when the time is ripe, we’ll get back to the Hall and to the agenda thrown into a pandemic hiatus. To get involved with the RRP—either in the taped series or, eventually, live, visit the RRP website, rockriverplayers.org or write verbatimvt@gmail.com. And to support the joint work of the Hooker-Dunham and the Rock River Players, you can make a tax-free contribution at https://www.rockriverplayers.org/donate/. And thank you for that!

SOLOs 1 Actors

Links to all the Episodes in Solos

SOLOs Episode 1: Pilot
https://youtu.be/3PGhDYTp43o
 “Always Ridiculous” performed by Rose Watson
“Milo the Cat” performed Jonathan Kinnersley
“Annabelle Lee ” performed John Ogorzalek
 “The Cherry Orchard” performed by Annie Landenberger
“The Meaning of Life” performed by Tino Benson
 “Saint Joan” performed by Tom Ely
 “The Stranger’s Speech” performed by Dan Lloyd
 “Richard III” performed by Cameron Cobane

SOLOs Episode 2: Dreamscapes
https://youtu.be/pqlauO6IYrs
“Shakespeare on Sleep” performed by Michael Kennedy
“Charles Henry’s Last Curtain” performed by Ron Bos-Lun
T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of Alfred Prufrock” performed by Jon Mack
Prospero in Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” performed by Adrienne Major

SOLOs Episode 3: From Paradise to Hell on Earth

https://youtu.be/RR9g4JWo2ps
“Walter Simmons” (Spoon River) performed by Stewart McDermet
 “Diary of Adam” performed by Annie Landenberger
 “Diary of Eve” performed by Thomas Ely
 “Enoch Dunlap” (Spoon River) -Stewart McDermet
 “Legacy,” written and performed by T. Breeze Verdant
“Judge Somers” (Spoon River) – Stewart McDermet
 “Macbeth” performed by Dan Lloyd
 “Penniwit the Artist” (Spoon River) – Stewart McDermet
“The Gettysburg Address” performed by John Moran

SOLOs Episode 4: William Forchion
https://youtu.be/WNthyb7XEqY
Spirit Dance, A conversation with the ancestors

SOLOs Episode 5: Travis Laplante
https://youtu.be/GAHUqhZ8uRg
Dissolving Mirror

SOLOs Episode 6: Sense & Nonsense
To be released Friday, March 19.
With Jenny Holan, Cyndi Cain , Ian Hefele , Anneli Curnock, Cassandra Holloway 

SOLOs Episode 7: Originals
To be released Friday, April 9.
With Annie Landenberger, Joel Kaemmerlen, Gary Keiser, Charlene Kennedy, Johanna Gardner, Erica Walch

SOLOs: Episode 5 – Tenor Saxophonist Travis Laplante performs Dissolving Mirror

New Amsterdam Records recording artist and frequent Yellow Barn contributor Travis Laplante performs his composition Dissolving Mirror in SOLOs Episode 5. Filmed on the Hooker-Dunham stage, Laplante’s performance premieres simultaneously on BCTV and YouTube at 7:30 PM on Friday, Feb. 26.

Rolling Stone Magazine describes Laplante’s tenor saxophone artistry as “head-spinning” with “flights of circular breathing” combined with “prayerful lyricism” and cites his album Human among its selection of the “currents that shaped the jazz genre this past year and the must-hear releases that exemplified them.”

“Travis is an amazing performer. His improvisational saxophone ranges from sounding like the wind wafting through the forest to the haunting melody of a love song to the roar of a tempest. It’s hard to believe that all this music comes from a single instrument played live on stage,” says Jon Mack, director of the Hooker-Dunham Theater.

Travis Laporte performs Dissolving Mirror, from SOLOs Episode 5, Austin Rice, Videographer
Travis Laplante performs Dissolving Mirror, from SOLOs Episode 5, Austin Rice, Videographer

SOLOs is a collaborative production of the Hooker-Dunham and the Rock River Players designed to bring creativity to the fore in this challenging time for performing artists and audiences. “It’s a pleasure to see the talents of so many people combine to create authentic performances. The outpouring of talent and the ability to reach a wide audience both locally and internationally is deeply rewarding,” says Mack.

Coming up next for SOLOs is “Episode 6: Originals.” Bahman Mahdavi, who produced this episode, describes it as “our most ambitious undertaking yet with all original material and enhanced production values.”

SOLOs “Episode 7: Sense and Nonsense” follows. It combines “challenging the nonsense of narrow gender stereotypes with the delightful nonsense of Lewis Carroll’s poems,” says Mack.

Links to the Premiere will be posted on the Hooker-Dunham ( HookerDunham.org), Rock River Players (RockRiverPlayers.org) and BCTV (brattleborotv.org) websites.

All performances are free.

CONTACT: Jon Mack info@HookerDunham.org
Landline: 802-348-7159
Cell: 516-698-1069

SOLOs, Episode 4: William Forchion’s “Spirit Dance, A conversation with the ancestors”

BRATTLEBORO William “Bill” Forchion takes us on a philosophical and spiritual journey in “Spirit Dance: A conversation with the ancestors” in Episode 4 of SOLOs, a co-production of the Hooker-Dunham Theater and The Rock River Players. The Hooker-Dunham and the Rock River Players are proud to have the opportunity to present Forchion’s unique show during Black History Month.

William Forchion in  "Spirit Dance, A conversation with the ancestors"
William Forchion in “Spirit Dance, A conversation with the ancestors”

Forchion’s “Spirit Dance” premiers on February 5 at 7:30pm on YouTube and Brattleboro Community Television (Channel 1075) with an Q&A immediately following at 8:25 via zoom. The link to the YouTube Premiere is https://youtu.be/3ErgenAust8. To get the zoom invitation, please email info@hookerdunham.org. Information and links are also available on the Hooker-Dunham website (hookerdunham.org).

As a talented circus performer, Bill Forchion has performed with the Cirque du Soleil among many others. In addition to being an actor and filmmaker, Bill has long been a philosophical writer as seen in his book and his one-person show, “Billosophy.”

According to Hooker-Dunham Director, Jon Mack,“The SOLOs series is a bit of a play on words, since it is the effort of many people working together. This is a period in our lives where all forms of art are needed more than ever, but in person attendance isn’t viable. Local actors have connected with local directors to create excellent solo performances rehearsed and filmed on the Hooker-Dunham Theater stage. Many of our area’s directors have taken on pieces including Jessica Gelter, Christopher Coutant, Karla Baldwin, Annie Landenberger, Adrienne Major, Carrie Kidd, Michael Nethercott as well as Bahman Mahdavi (co-producer of the series) and myself.” Noting the collaborative nature of the series’ production, Mack continues: “It’s the combined efforts of the theater, The Rock River Players and BCTV working together that keep the project thriving. We’re all excited to see the broad audience the SOLOs series is attracting. ”

Next up in the SOLOs series is a music interlude with Travis Laplante, brilliant young tenor saxophone recording artist and frequent contributor of solo saxophone performances at Yellow Barn in Putney. Travis’ performance premiers Friday, Feb. 26 at 7:30. Mack notes:“The sounds that Travis evokes from the saxophone are like the wind. A marvelous and innovative player.”

Two more shows of short theatrical pieces are in final rehearsals with March show dates. Episode 6 features all original material, while Episode 7 includes roles that challenge gender role stereotypes and the nonsense poetry of Lewis Carroll.

For more information, check out the websites of the Hooker-Dunham (hookerdunham.org) or Rock River Players (rockriverplayers.org).

FRIDAY, Feb. 5: BCTV & YouTube at 7:30; Q & A via Zoom at 8:25
All performances are free of charge.

CONTACT: Jon Mack, info@hookerdunham.org