Reading Between the Lines: Towne Lake Arts Center
Erin McCarthy as Emily Webb and her real dad, Mark McCarthy, as Mr. Webb rehearse a scene from Our Town with the Elm Street Players. Photo courtesy of Elm Street Cultural Arts Village
When organizations choose to read Thornton Wilder?s The Bridge of San Luis Rey and Our Town for The Big Read, one of the requirements is to present a production of Our Town. This wasn?t a problem for the Towne Lake Arts Center, recently re-named the Elm Street Cultural Arts Village: they have incorporated stage adaptations into their two previous Big Read programs. In addition to the production of Our Town, organizers partnered with local art galleries to present works of love, life, and the beauty of ordinary things, as well as an accompanying ?Little Read? for the younger members of Cherokee County. We spoke with G. Lora Grooms, Towne Lake Arts Center?s artistic director, about her experiences with The Big Read.
NEA: How do you think seeing the stage production of Our Town will add to your community?s understanding of Thornton Wilder?s writing?
G. LORA GROOMS: It is perhaps not widely known that Our Town is performed every day somewhere in the world. Certainly a play that has that much appeal must have a profound effect upon audiences everywhere. As a grantee that produces 12-14 plays and musicals a year for the past nine years, bringing Our Town to our stage was a natural. We have produced stage adaptations of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and To Kill a Mockingbird as major programming elements of our previous Big Reads with great success by encouraging residents of Cherokee County to read the book then see the play for free.
NEA: This is your organization?s third Big Read grant. How do you continue to attract new community members to the program?
GROOMS: By alternating the target age groups for our Big Reads as well as presenting Little Reads during programming weeks, we find we reach a wide audience every time. We only select Big Read books that coincide with the reading curriculum for Cherokee County Schools, making our school partnerships smooth, logical, and rewarding for students and teachers alike.
NEA: What effect do you think The Big Read has had on your community?
GROOMS: We find that while our readers are enjoying the current Big Read, we are always asked what our next selection will be! School media specialists and literature teachers look forward to receiving information and materials and the free books. Several local book clubs have made The Bridge of San Luis Rey their selection for March. Our library system recently had hours cut due to budget constraints and we hope that the influx of visitors to pick up books and materials will demonstrate the importance of keeping our libraries open despite the economy.
NEA: What Big Read event are you most looking forward to this year?
GROOMS: Since our organization has changed its name to the Elm Street Cultural Arts Village and moved right onto Main Street in downtown Woodstock, we are quite literally making Woodstock ?our town? while producing Our Town. The beauty and tenderness of this play is astounding and I personally am very excited about the talented cast and crew made up of local professionals and volunteers we have gathered for the production.
NEA: Any last words?
GROOMS: We are extremely thankful to the NEA and Arts Midwest for making The Big Read possible and for trusting us for three years with this prestigious and important programming.