Teaching “Our Town” in Peterborough Saturday

  • A 1983 production of thorn Wilder’s Our Town at the Peterborough Players. Peterborough Players archives—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Thursday, July 12, 2018 3:30PM

Portsmouth High School English teacher Patrick Ganz was a sophomore in high school when a middle school production of “Our Town” stopped him in his tracks.

“First and foremost, a person who gets to see a great performance of this play will be overwhelmed emotionally,” Ganz said. “It really captures, the value and the wonder of life and also the foolishness, the short sightedness and foolishness of human nature.”

Ganz, who grew up in Connecticut, has been teaching in Portsmouth for more than 20 years. He became a huge fan of playwright Thornton Wilder in that moment, even taping a short documentary about Wilder off PBS as a senior in high school and watching it over and over again.

The play is now something he teaches several times a year to his students at Portsmouth High School.

“Certain themes: life, purpose, the universality of the human experience, the question of what are we doing here and how we want to live our lives. It captures the ephemeral and the eternal,” Ganz said. “It doesn’t really matter what type of life you live or what career someone pursues – Everybody is going to be born and everyone is going to live and everyone is going to die.”

Despite the universal themes the play deals with, as a younger teacher Ganz said at first he didn’t know how to teach his favorite play. Other playwrights, such as Shakespeare, you can ask students to break into groups and modernize a scene, but these types of activities don’t seem to bring across the full meaning of “Our Town.”

“When I had the opportunity I was stuck. I wasn’t sure what to do with it, because I loved it so much and I really didn’t know how to convey the enormity of the play and Thornton Wilder himself,” Ganz said.

Through teaching “Our Town,” Ganz said he has learned the best approach is to simply have his students act the play. “I always always teach “Our Town” at the very end of the course. It’s always a great way to end the course,” he said.

Ganz said he usually plays the Stage Manager. How well cast the part of Emily is seems to determine how big an impact the play will have on students, he said.

“It’s just gets to what’s really essential in life. You can go back to the play and find something you need each week,” Ganz said. “I’ve never stopped learning from that play.”

Ganz is a panelist for the Third International Thornton Wilder Conference taking place in at the Monadnock Center for History and Culture this week in Peterborough.

He plans to speak about “Teaching Our Town in a New Hampshire High School” for the Wilder Conference Session 10: “Teaching Our Town” on Saturday at 9 a.m.

Individuals are allowed to attend up to three free events during the conference.

Reservations can be made at www.eventbrite.com.