The Working Waterfront

It’s play time on North Haven

Theater festival mounts 17 short productions, May 21-23

Alice Greenway
Posted 2021-06-02
Last Modified 2021-06-02

Spring is taking a particularly “playful” form on North Haven. Twenty playwrights, tapping at their laptops over the winter, have submitted manuscripts. Seven directors are taking time away from boatyards, school, and gardens. And 38 actors of all ages are striding the boards, which this year includes the fields at Mullens Head Park and the boathouse at the North Haven Historical Society.

At a recent rehearsal of D&D, director Courtney Naliboff calls out to her cast. “Find a gobliny thing to do. Pick your nose. Play with your toes. Are we in places? Are we in character?” The goblins defend their throne, an outcrop of rock, before fleeing an onslaught of human warriors and running to a picnic table under an apple tree.

At another rehearsal on the field, Naliboff coached veteran actor and teacher Eva Hopkins in a scene from The World to Come, a play about UFO spotters. “What was it like for women in the 1950s?” she asks. English teacher Matt Rich, playing chief UFO spotter, offers to secure props on his next trip to the mainland. “I’ll hit all the thrift stores.”

Plays are no more than 15 minutes, with some less than a minute.

Over three days, May 21-23, North Haven Community School’s Sixth Biennial Playwriting Festival will see 17 plays produced. Because of COVID, Naliboff is staging as many as possible outside. Plays are no more than 15 minutes, with some less than a minute. Audiences will walk from one performance to the next. Plays also will be live streamed from Waterman’s Community Center.

Courtney Naliboff directs.
Courtney Naliboff directs.

Naliboff founded the festival in 2011 after taking the drama and music teaching position vacated by award-winning director, writer, and artist John Wulp. No small shoes to fill. But the festival—which solicits and stages short original works, each suitable for all ages—bears her own theatrical stamp. Playwrights need to have a connection to the island. It is supported by a grant from Waterman’s.

“Sometimes you just need the door to open,” Naliboff says. “You need someone to look at your work. Then you can say, ‘My work was produced as part of this festival,’ and that’s a stepping-stone. Or, it’s just a really big thrill for a kid, like, ‘I wrote a play and then I got to see the play staged.’”

Playwrights this year range from Vinalhaven’s Phil Crossman with Now Phil to North Haven’s kindergarten class of two, who are twins. Everett and Russell Bartovics star in Spaceship Scary.

“My part is an echo,” Russell says. “I say, ‘We will drive you away from this planet for ever, ever, ever.’”

The festival also provides opportunity for directors.

“It’s exciting to be on the other side,” said high school student Sophie Hansen, who moved to the island four years ago. Hansen is directing three plays, including a satire on the pandemic written by Emily Hammond, a summer resident her age. “We’ve never met but we definitely have similar perspectives,” she says.

Cora Comstock, acting in Now Phil and The Best I Could, the latter about a mother and son, written by Paula Ressler, praises the experience.

“Being part of a theater group is something that brings life,” she says. “It’s a great way to get involved with the community. The relationship you have with people in a play is a different kind. There is an unstated trust and support.”

This winter, Naliboff launched a series of workshops led by writers Adam Alexander, Susan Minot, and Lily Thorne, all of whom have deep connections to North Haven theater. The workshopped plays include Shipwrecked by summer resident Dino Shiatis, about the breakup of a marriage.

But for the youngest actors, Naliboff advises confidence.

“One of the greatest elements of the festival is to be able to take the work of a five-year-old or an eight-year-old and not change anything,” she says. “The more you take something seriously, the funnier it is.”

Two Bananas, written by second-grader Oscar Mann, “is the funniest 30 seconds of your life,” Naliboff says.

“I was thinking about banana bread,” Mann said of his play. “Then I thought of like one grumpy banana and one very annoyingly enthusiastic banana.” Mann is also acting in Mystery by Addison Marquis, where he plays a 19-year-old.

“Acting,” he says, “is something (in which) you can have a lot of fun being someone you’re not.”

Naliboff directing
Directing the young actors is Courtney Naliboff.