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MEMORIES OF BUXTON
5 February 2013
If we had not been trapped on the roof of that garage after seeing Princess Ida on Saturday, the journal entry for that day was going to be about Buxton, England, and our trip there in 1995.
American theater companies who perform Gilbert & Sullivan were invited to attend the 2nd International Gilbert & Sullivan festival in Buxton. The Lamplighters is the 2nd oldest such company in the U.S. (the first being one in New York). There was a lengthy fund-raising effort and ultimately, the company decided they could afford to make the trip. The show they were bringing to the competition was Princess Ida.
By that time, my friend Gilbert had been dead nearly 10 years and Alison and I had written the second book, so essentially my participation with The Lamplighters had come to an end, but Walt had become a member of the tech crew and would go to Buxton to help get the show ready to be seen.
My mother had become a widow a little over a year before and we thought she might enjoy going with us on the trip. We told her that after the festival was over, we would take her to Amsterdam, where her husband's relatives lived. She had met them a few times before and we knew she would enjoy spending time with them.
And so off we flew to Manchester, England, where we took a bus to Buxton. The three of us were staying in a hotel half a block from the theater. It was a lovely building called Old Hall Hotel.
Since there were 3 of us, we were given a "suite," and, because we knew that Queen Elizabeth had stayed in this hotel in 1575, we decided we must have had her room, because it was set up with a raised platform where the bay window was, and the two chairs made it look like the platform was meant to accommodate a throne. We called it "the throne room."
(I don't think she had a TV when she stayed there, though)
Our first order of business was to find the "@ people." A group of us had been participating in a Gilbert & Sullivan discussion group on line and several of those people were also coming to the festival. We decided we would recognize each other if we wore buttons with "@" on them. (I may have made the buttons because I had a button-making machine, but I don't remember doing that.) Let me tell you, if you think Gilbert & Sullivan people are nerds, G&S people who were also computer people in 1995 take the cake for the nerdiest of the nerds!
The theater for the festival was just beautiful.
It was located across the street from a pub (that darkish-brown building behind the yellow truck on the right). The tech crew had been promised a place where they could build the set pieces they needed for the show (and also the loan of some standard set pieces to fill in, where necessary). The area they were given turned out to be on the street between the theater and the pub.
The conditions were primitive, the tools they were loaned also primitive, but the set crew managed to get a workable (and, as it turned out later, impressive) set put together.
While Walt was building sets, my mother and I were going on a few excursions and enjoying the surrounding countryside, and attending a production in the afternoon. My mother had never seen any Gilbert & Sullivan show before, and she got a Baptism by fire. Some of the shows were quite good, some were not. We were surprised that the British "societies" (that's what G&S companies are called in England) were not head and shoulders above those from other countries, since they had been at it so long.
Each night we met all the other contestants in the dining room, where we learned about "mushy peas," which looked like green mashed potatoes (apparently a standard in the north of England). The society which had given the performance that afternoon put on some sort of entertainment after dinner.
After each performance, a gentleman, called the adjudicator came on stage and gave a critique of the performance. The adjudication for our Princess Ida was all superlatives and everyone raved about the show. The adjudicator said, in part, "Throughout this opera there was considerable evidence of inspired direction, it was evident at every turn. There were no cheap jokes. The words were allowed to do the work. This company obviously has a clever informed director and the company responds. Particularly impressive were the tableaux at the end of each act which can only be described as masterful. Special mention should be made of the fight sequence which was extremely professionally done."
The Lamplighters was also the only group which had planned the entertainment for after dinner and everyone was very impressed with our show.
At the end of the competition, there was a final banquet at which the awards were given out. I was thrilled to find out that my long-time idol, John Reed, d'Oyly Carte patterman, was going to attend. I hoped that I would get a chance to meet him.
When the awards were announced, the Lamplighters had won Best Production, Best Overseas Production, Best Director, Best Male Singer, and Special Adjudicators Award for Costumes. Photos were taken, including this one with Barbara Heroux (director), Baker Peeples (musical director) and John Alecca (producer) with John Reed (in the white tux).
After the picture was taken, I presented Mr. Reed with copies of the two Lamplighter histories, because his photo was in one from a visit the d'Oyly Carte company had made to San Francisco, and he kissed me. My favorite memory of the trip.
When we left Buxton, we spent a few days in London and then delivered
my mother to her relatives-in-law in Amsterdam. We hadn't made a G&S fan of her,
but I think she had a good time on the trip, and I was thrilled to be able to share my
passion for The Lamplighters with her.
PHOTO OF THE DAY
Company members who made the trip to Buxton.
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