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Andy’s Summer Playhouse returns to its roots in Mason

  • A rehearsal of “Alice in Wonderland” by Andy's Summer Playhouse in 1972, when it was located in Mason. PHOTO BY Don MacIntosh

  • Performances from Andy's Summer Playhouse when it was located in Mason. —Courtesy photo

  • Performances from Andy's Summer Playhouse when it was located in Mason. —Courtesy photo

  • Andy’s Summer Playhouse Artistic Director Jared Mezzocchi, left, speaks with founder Bill Chalmers about the history of Andy’s Summer Playhouse after a performance of the theater’s traveling show in the Mason Town Hall, where Andy’s originated.  Staff photo by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Andy’s Summer Playhouse performers practice in an open dress rehearsal for their traveling show, “My Hero” which was put on at the Mason Town Hall on Saturday.  —Courtesy photo

  • Andy’s Summer Playhouse performers practice in an open dress rehearsal for their traveling show, “My Hero” which was put on at the Mason Town Hall on Saturday.  –Courtesy photo



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Tuesday, August 07, 2018 10:16AM

Andy’s Summer Playhouse returned to its roots Saturday with a performance in the Mason Town Hall and a talk afterward with Andy’s founders Bill Williams and Peg Sawyer.

The Wilton-based children’s theater was founded nearly 50 summers ago when Williams and Sawyer put on youth theater productions on in the Mason Town Hall.

Williams, now a resident of Manhattan, returned to the town hall Saturday for a performance of the playhouse’s current traveling show, “My Hero,” and to reminisce with those who grew up with the playhouse as well as those who attend it now.

The show was held as a precursor to Mason’s 250th Anniversary celebrations, planned for Aug. 25.

Andy’s started on a whim, Williams said.

Sawyer and Williams both taught 5th and 6th grade English and social studies at Mascenic Regional High School in 1971. Sawyer had a theater background, and also taught a theater elective that put on some scenes from “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” (called “Mascenic’s Peanuts” for copyright reasons). Though he had no theater experience, Williams was the only person on staff who could play piano and was recruited as the musical director.

“We did a production with 50 or 60 of the 5th and 6th graders, and it was performed in April in the mud season of that year, and everyone came to see these shows,” said Williams.

It was such a hit, Williams and Sawyer looked at each other, and asked what the other was doing that summer.

“That was the genesis,” Williams said.

At that time, Mason was part of the Mascenic Regional School District, and the town of Mason agreed to let Williams and Sawyer use the hall for a summer theater program to put on three performances: “The Wizard of Oz”, “Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat” and “Peter Pan.”

There was no participation charge, Williams said, and the children came in droves.

Ann Moser of Mason calls herself an “Andy’s baby” – a nod to the nickname “Andy’s kids” used to refer to the children that perform with the playhouse.

“Andy’s Playhouse was magic,” Moser said.

If not for Andy’s, it’s likely she wouldn’t have been exposed to theater as a child, Moser said. Born into a large family, as a middle child, her choices for entertainment were mainly limited to no-cost or low-cost offerings in the community. And that experience touched her later life, propelling her into studying performing arts in college, and later clowning.

Charlie Moser, of Mason, said he was attracted to Andy’s because of his interest in music, not acting.

“They were looking for a bass player to play Paul McCartney in “Yellow Submarine,” Charlie Moser said.

Though he went on to play other parts in other productions, that introduction was validating for him as a musician, he said. And he didn’t live in Mason at the time, he said, but that childhood experience was what drew him to make his home there as an adult.

“If you don’t like what I’m doing as a selectman, you can blame Andy’s, because that’s what brought me here,” he said.

Barbara Devore of Mason, who was a teacher at Mascenic when Andy’s was founded and assisted in the productions, recalled trying to fundraise for the cost of putting on the productions. One family donated $100, she remembered.

“It was as if someone had donated half a million,” she said. “We couldn’t believe it.”

And it wasn’t just the children providing prodigious talent. One of the adults who came in to volunteer to help create the scenery was Elizabeth Orton Jones, a Mason resident who was known for her Caldecott-winning children’s book illustrations.

“Little did I know,” Williams said, of his first meeting with Jones.

And though he died the year before the theater really took root, another famous Masonite, C.W. Anderson, another illustrator famous for his books and drawings of horses, did some logo work for the theater. It is from his name that the theater became to be known as “Andy’s,” from his nickname.

It wasn’t without its pitfalls, recalled Williams. During a performance of “Peter Pan,” when Captain Hook (played by Williams) is searching for the Lost Boys’ lair, he sits on their stovetop, disguised as a mushroom. In the play, his pants start to smoke courtesy of some flashbangs, and Hook is supposed to jump up and cry, “Oh, I’m burning!” However, in earlier runs the flashbangs had not worked properly so some extra were added to the performance for insurance, Williams said. The extra flashbangs worked all too well, he said, when his line became reality and his costume carried the singe marks to prove it.

Williams also recalled a night that first season in the Mason Town Hall when his father drove up from New Jersey to see a show. Afterwards, told his son, “You’ve got something really special here,” Williams said.

That’s when he first began to realize it himself. Running the playhouse encouraged him to take an acting class, where he met his wife, and eventually the classes turned into a career teaching theater.

“Only after Andy’s did I start studying theater and acting with any serious, and it became my entire life,” Williams said. “A whim became a career.”

Andy’s continued on in the Mason Town Hall for years until 1985 when the opportunity arose to purchase a permanent playhouse – Wilton’s Meeting House, where it exists today.