Editor's note: Due to unforeseen circumstances, "Pygmailon" has been postponed indefinitely.
The Valley Players, Waitsfield’s venerable community theater, chose George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion, source for the musical “My Fair Lady,” to initiate its three production series of staged readings on Zoom.
“Two things struck me about it,” explained Ruth Ann Pattee, who is directing, “the commentary on women’s roles in our society, which is very topical, but honestly, for community theater, it doesn’t have many young men.”
“Pygmalion” will be presented in a live dramatic reading by Zoom online at 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, Oct. 22-24. Access will be available on the Players’ website, and admission is free. Donations are invited.
“Pygmalion” is Shaw’s 1913 comedy in which Henry Higgins, a professor of phonetics, bets he will be able to pass Eliza, a common street girl selling flowers, off as duchess by teaching her how to speak. It was adapted by Lerner and Loewe into the six Tony-winning 1957 Broadway musical “My Fair Lady” and the eight-Oscar winning 1964 film.
“The Unicorn from the Stars,” by David John Preece, winner of the 2020 Valley Players Playwright Award, follows Nov. 20-21. “A Christmas Carol,” Dec. 17-19, closes the series.
“When the pandemic first hit, we had a production of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ that was just a few weeks from going up, so we started communicating on Zoom as to how long it was going to last,” Pattee said. “It evolved into a monthly play reading where I would send out a message to the membership.”
After several months a core group of experienced actors developed that wanted to do more. Pattee proposed staged readings with rehearsals, costumes and virtual backgrounds for sets — and an audience.
The project attracted actors from throughout central Vermont, in addition to Waitsfield, from Burlington and Randolph, in part, because they don’t have to drive to rehearsals.
“My daughter Emma Walker is down in Boston and she’s in the production, as well,” Pattee said. “It’s very cool to have her Zooming in.”
The choice of “Pygmalion” wasn’t only because it’s a great play.
“We really wanted to do (the readings) but as we have no income, and probably won’t for this fiscal year, we decided we weren’t going to spend a lot of money on these productions,” Pattee said.
“So we started exploring plays that were in the public domain. And recently many plays from the early part of the 20th century became available. I go to (Project Gutenberg) and they’ve got a lot of PDFs of these classic plays.”
So Pattee cast the 11-character “Pygmalion,” and they went to work.
“As we read through it more and more in our rehearsals we’re definitely zeroing in on things that are so relevant,” Pattee said. “But it’s Shaw, so it’s snappy and hilarious.”
For Pattee, the language is like music.
“And actually the character of Alfred Dolittle (Eliza’s father) has these soliloquies that are like almost Shakespearean,” she said.
Pattee scheduled six rehearsals, one for each of the five acts, a tech/dress rehearsal, and three performances. Rather than memorize lines, the actors will have the script on their home screens, right next to their Zoom window.
“It’s an experiment, and I’m so grateful these people are willing to let me experiment on them, but we’ll see,” Pattee said. “You know, we’re trying it out, and we’re just going to see how it goes.”
“The Unicorn from the Stars” will be directed by Susan Loynd. The two-person play is a fictionalized story about the poet-writer Sylvia Plath during her time living in England, and her friendship with one of her neighbors.
In December, “A Christmas Carol,” to be directed by Pattee, is Dickens’ classic tale of the reformation of a miserly businessman at Christmas. (It is still being cast. For information, email email@example.com)
Like many organizations, COVID-19 eliminated pretty much all of the Valley Players’ income. Fortunately, they received a $10,300 grant from the Waitsfield brewery Lawson’s Finest Liquids’ Charitable Giving Programs.
“That really helped because we were unable to do our major fundraiser this year, which is the Mad River Valley Craft Fair,” Pattee said. “Thanks to Lawson’s, we received about what we would have made on the craft fair. So we are holding steady.”