The Industrial Revolution played out in miniature on the falls of the lower Esopus Creek, which provided power for factories in the early 19th century. The mill erected by Henry Barclay below the falls at present-day Saugerties was the first in America to manufacture paper in rolls; he subsequently built an iron mill and a massive bluestone dam that attracted a cluster of factories manufacturing white lead paint, bookbinderies, paper and other products.
That history is the inspiration for this year’s outdoor performance by Arm-of-the-Sea Theater at Saugerties’ Tina Chorvas Waterfront Park on August 24 and 25. Titled Under Mill Wheels, the performance will recount local tall tales and historical fictions derived from a legacy that’s now so much “water over the dam,” yet continues to reverberate, as artistic director Marlena Marallo noted.
The Arm-of-the-Sea studio, which is next door to the park, “sits within the walls of the mill ruins,” said Patrick Wadden, Marallo’s husband and co-director of the company. “These remnants are of places where a thousand people once worked day and night. Now it’s so quiet. It’s kind of haunting. We’re both singing the praises of human enterprise and singing a cautionary tale. Progress is a double-edged sword.”
Part of the fun and magic of Arm-of-the-Sea is that the company takes material buried in musty archives and resurrects it with imaginative flair. The larger-than-life puppets and inventive masks and stage props created by Marallo, presented by black-clad “puppeteers” who also dance, result in a performance that is part-visual spectacle and part-cathartic ritual. Watching an Arm-of-the-Sea performance seated on a blanket in the dark on the creekside bluff, one can’t help but feel the excitement of the live performance and be transported by its story. It’s a refreshing change from movie entertainment that overwhelmingly skews toward a kind of flat realism in which characters and situations look like real life but are too often contrived and empty.
All proceeds benefit the company’s new educational initiative, called “Stories from Here.” As part of the program, Arm-of-the-Sea will be holding residencies in the fall at Cahill Elementary School and Saugerties High School. The residencies will focus on “visual storytelling,” Wadden said. “We’re interested in a sense of place and what creates that sense of place. We’ll be examining people’s lives here and giving form to them.” Wadden added that the company normally has had to leave town for work, and the program will enable it to be more involved with the local community.
Wadden wrote and directed the production. Bob Lavaggi and Sarah Underhill contributed to the script and lyrics, and the musicians include Dean Jones, Sarah Underhill, Malcolm Cecil and Doug Elliot. The show will be performed by Arm-of-the-Sea veterans Bob Lavaggi, Cathy Muller, Leeanne Richards and Wadden. Working alongside them will be a dozen interns and community volunteers.
The performance starts at 8 p.m. Cake will be served afterwards, in celebration of the company’s 30th birthday. Arm-of-the-Sea tours throughout New York and adjacent states, presenting about 100 performances of its original productions at cultural centers, festivals and schools each year. Its 2012 season includes appearances at TriBeCa Performing Arts Center, Clearwater’s Great Hudson River Revival, the Norwalk Oyster Festival and the Governor’s Island Festival in New York City.
Under Mill Wheels, an original production of Arm-of-the-Sea Theater, will be performed at Tina Chorvas Waterfront Park in Saugerties this Friday and Saturday, August 24 and 25 at 8 p.m. The rain date is August 26 at 8 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults, $5 for children and $25 for a family of four. Tickets are available at the park entrance on the evening of the event. Audience members are encouraged to arrive early and bring lawn seating. For more information, visit www.armofthesea.org or call (845) 246-7873.