The Big Read Kickoff: John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath
John Magnus. left, choreographed an original dance rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s “The ghost of Tom Joad”, performed by dancers Danny Ryan and Nicole Padilla, center, of the Joffrey Ballet for Saturday’s opening ceremony of “The Big Read” at the Delaware Valley High School auditorium. Jeffrey Stocker, founder/director of the American Readers Theatre which is sponsoring the program locally is pictured on the right. (Photo by Marilyn Rosenthal)
The Big Read kickoff’: A community affair By Marilyn Rosenthal
WESTFALL — “Wow” was the exclamation heard most frequently at the Big Read Kickoff on Saturday, May 3, at the DelawareValleyHigh School. “Wow” was followed by “fantastic,” “such amazing talent” and “grrreat.”
The Big Read Kickoff was the opening ceremony for the month-long events highlighting John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” and the Depression era of that time. The program is an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts designed to restore reading to the center of American culture.
American Readers Theatre Director Jeffrey Stocker was master of ceremonies and stage director for this opening event. He stressed that it was really the support of the entire community that contributed to the successful evening.
Partners in the event were the Grey Towers Heritage Association, the Pike County Historical Society, the Pike County Library and the DelawareValleySchool District.
It was the talented performance of various student groups from DV that brought the aura of the era closer to home. The DV Jazz Band (directed by Lance Rauh) played as the people filed into the auditorium and while a student art show and other photographs depicting the era was projected on the screen.
The DVHS Band and Chorus performed a “God Bless America” medley under the direction of Gordon Pauling. Dr. Candis Finan, school superintendent, introduced various faculty and administrative staff who worked with the students to help them identify with, understand, and express their empathy for “The Grapes of Wrath” and its era, including Gina Vives and Nancy Schoenleber, Mack McElroy, and Jackie Weston.
The Ding-Del Middle School Chorus performed “Red RiverValley” under the direction of Brian Krauss, and one of the evening’s treats was Natasha Green’s performance of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Natasha also performed “This Land is Our Land“ along with Jared Feldman on the guitar. The audience enthusiastically participated and it was fun to watch the ever-so subtle touch of Gospel contributed by the high school soloist.
Among other highlights of the evening was an original ballet rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” performed by Joffrey Ballet dancers Danny Ryan and Nicole Padilla, and choreographed by Joffrey Master Ballet Teacher, John Magnus.
The American Readers Theatre performed a dramatic reading from the “Grapes of Wrath” screenplay so beautifully and realistically that there were tears in many an audience eye as they brought the words to life.
Local singer Sandy Stalter performed “Happy Days are Here Again,” a well-known song of the era.
The closing remarks were by David Kipen, the director of literature for the National Endowment for the Arts. He mentioned that his job is to visit the more than 100 communities who received an NEA grant for this purpose. Kipen, himself, a passionate student of Steinbeck and the history of the era, said that our local performance of the Big Read was one of the best that he has seen in his travels around the country.
David Kipen, Literature Director for the National Endowment For the Arts Blogs About The Kick Off Evening. Read David's ongoing blog as he tours the Country promoting the Big Read at:www.nea.gov/bigreadblog/
Delaware Valley, PA
Do you know the term “run of show”? It’s performers’ lingo for the printed rundown of every segment in any given revue, vaudeville bill, or other raree show. Submitted below, with abiding gratitude and wonderment, is an annotated run of show for last Friday’s kickoff of Pike County’s The Grapes of Wrath Big Read at the Delaware Valley High School auditorium, just inside the jagged Pennsylvania slice of the Penn-New York-New Jersey border pie. . .
“JAZZ BAND playing as audience enters under the direction of Lance Rauh
1. WELCOME REMARKS by Jeffrey Stocker”
A word here about Jeff Stocker’s American Readers Theatre, the principal grantee for this Pike County Big Read of Steinbeck: Beats me why more theater companies don’t apply for Big Read grants. To go by this troupe, rep companies have the showmanship, the elbow grease, and the chutzpah to round up partners all over town and put a Big Read out where everybody can see it. One instance of this is the terrific school participation that A.R.T. has lined up…
“2. GOD BLESS AMERICA MEDLEY” performed by DVHS Band And Chorus under the direction of Gordon Pauling.
I have to confess, I was a mite skeptical of that “GOD BLESS AMERICA MEDLEY.” Stocker introduced it by recounting how Steinbeck asked to have the lyrics to “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” printed on the endpapers to the hardcover edition of The Grapes of Wrath. The novel’s title comes from the song’s lyrics — written just a couple-three blocks from here, by Julia Ward Howe in the WillardHotel, as all of us with bumper stickers reading “I Brake for Historical Markers” will tell you. But if the lyrics come from “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” why not sing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”? Still, any misgivings about the musical offerings were allayed in short order by the return of the high-school Jazz Band, and by some glorious musical surprises farther down the bill…
3. Introduction of DVHS Administration and Faculty by Dr. Candice Finan
4. Art Show on screen projections while Jazz Band plays
5. REDRIVERVALLEY performed by Dingman/Delaware Middle School Chorus under the direction of Brian Krauss”
Here’s where some real thought had obviously gone into the program. Up on a scrim behind the singers passed a montage of carefully chosen New Deal images by Dorothea Lange and other photographers for the Farm Security Administration. “Red RiverValley” made the perfect followup to this medley, since it crops up not just in the John Ford and Nunnally Johnson’s classic movie of The Grapes of Wrath, but in just about every other picture Ford ever directed.
As you might expect of a Big Read ringmastered by a theatrical company, the film component of the DelawareValley’s Big Read is especially strong. They’re showing The Grapes of Wrath, of course, but whose inspired idea was it to show Robert Riskin’s It Happened One Night, or Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo? Great ideas both, the first for its pure screwball 1930s escapism, the second for its loving evocation of what movies and moviehouses meant to a country sandbagged by the Depression. Speaking of which, the vintage unrestored Milford Theatre in town is a real bijou in the rough. Anybody out there looking for a treasure is hereby enjoined to follow the neon glow to on Catherine Street in Milford, PA..
“6. Introduction of FILM FESTIVAL with showing of original trailer for THE GRAPES OF WRATH by Greg Giblin
7. “SOMEWHERE OVER THE RAINBOW” sung by Natasha Paolucci, DVHS student
8. “THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES” sung by Ray Weeks, PikeCountyHS”
There’s nothing like an old standard, belted out for all its worth by a teenager born around the time its copyright expired. Natasha Paolucci fairly sang the stuffing out of Yip Harburg’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” followed by music teacher Ray Weeks plangently crooning “Thanks for The Memories.” Just the thing for a Big Read wayfarer like me, pining from the road for the Jonathan Schwartz-programmed High Standards channel of our sainted Big Read partner XM Satellite Radio…
“9. AMERICAN READERS THEATRE read from THE GRAPES OF WRATH screenplay with Jared Feldman
10. JOFFREYBALLETSCHOOL presents “THE GHOST OF TOM JOAD,” performed by Danny Ryan and Nicole Padilla, choreography by John Magnus”
By this point, I was discreetly weeping. The whole kickoff was turning into a perfect distillation of the month to come, a sampler of the kind of meal I regrettably never get to stick around for. American Readers Theatre finally got to shine with one early and then one late scene from Nunnally Johnson’s Grapes of Wrath screenplay. The latter was Tom Joad’s climactic “Wherever there’s a fight so hungry people can eat” speech, which producer Darryl Zanuck used to take credit for with unwary interviewers — who didn’t that know it comes straight from the book.
Then came a mindblower. Turns out the choreographer John Magnus has a place in the area, so he corralled a couple of Joffrey dancers in from Chicago to perform a original pas de deux, set to Bruce Springsteen’s haunting “The Ghost of Tom Joad.” Lovely, simply lovely.
“11. HAPPY DAYS ARE HERE AGAIN,” performed by Sandy Stalter
12. CLOSING REMARKS by David Kipen, NEA Director of Literature, National Reading Initiatives
13. THIS LAND IS YOUR LAND,” performed by Natasha and Jared, with sing-along”
In between Franklin Roosevelt’s campaign song “Happy Days Are Here Again” and America’s shadow national anthem, Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land “– in its true uncensored version, no small mercy — I took the microphone and snorfled out my lachrymose thanks for about double the allotted five minutes. Why had I never heard of Milford, Pennsylvania, before? Why haven’t you? All I know is, I wouldn’t have traded my aisle seat in the Delaware Valley High School Auditorium for Joel Cairo’s own orchestra seats at the Geary Theater in San Francisco.
There followed wine, cheese, and a whole lot of grapes, and at last a sorrowful look at the American flag bunting that became Abraham Lincoln’s impromptu death shroud, which reposes at, of all places, the Milford Historical Society. Then a festive wrap party hosted by Jeff Stocker and A.R.T. trouper Greg Giblin — who, I suspect, did a lot more of the heavy lifting for this thriving Big Read than he was letting on — and, belatedly, back to the nearby Port Jervis Comfort Inn for a warm bed and a too-early wake-up call. .
NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE ARTS ANNOUNCES PIKE COUNTY ONE OF 127 COMMUNITIES NATIONWIDE TO RECEIVE A BIG READ GRANT FOR FIRST HALF OF 2008
Pike County to read and celebrate Grapes of Wrath during Big Read program
November 13, 2007—Washington, DC—The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) today continued its drive toward making the Big Read the largest federal reading program in U.S. history. The NEA announced that American Readers Theatre is one of 127 libraries, municipalities, and arts, culture, higher education, and science organizations to receive a grant to host a Big Read celebration of one of 16 classic novels from January-June 2008. The NEA launched the Big Read nationally in 2007 in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services and in cooperation with Arts Midwest.
The latest Big Read grantees represent 38 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The NEA inaugurated the Big Read as a pilot project with ten communities in 2006. By 2009, approximately 400 communities in the U.S. will have hosted a Big Read since the program’s launch.
American Readers Theatre Director Jeffrey David Stocker stated “" ART's Board of Governors and members of the talented company of performers are very excited and proud to be a part of the national initiative that shares our common goals. ART is a not-for-profit performing arts organization promoting literacy through the art of dramatic readings. To be chosen by the National Endowment for the Arts is a great honor. I look forward to working with ART's collaborators which include the Delaware Valley School District, Pike County Public Library, Pike County Historical Society, and Grey Towers.”
“In just two years, the Big Read has grown from ten communities to include nearly 200 towns and cities nationwide. Although each of these communities celebrates its Big Read program in its own way, one theme we consistently hear back is that the Big Read is not just bringing citizens back to the joy of reading, but also reinvigorating the very idea of community,” said NEA Chairman Dana Gioia. “I am delighted to announce the newest round of Big Read communities in this program, which is about so much more than reading.”
The organizations selected to participate in the Big Read for the first half of 2008 will receive grants ranging from $2,500 to $20,000 to promote and carry out community-based programs. Participating cities and towns also receive reader’s guides and teacher’s guides for each novel, audio guides that also can be used as radio programming, publicity materials, an online organizer’s guide for running a successful Big Read program, and access to a comprehensive Big Read Web site. Each local program will include events, such as read-a-thons, book discussions, film screenings, and library and museum exhibits, aimed at avid and lapsed or reluctant readers alike. "The Big Read is reaching across state and international borders," said Dr. Anne-Imelda Radice, Director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), the NEA's lead federal partner for the Big Read. "As director of the IMLS, the federal agency that funds libraries and museums, I am pleased to support this initiative that is creating a new generation of readers. The sky is truly the limit with this partnership."
The Big Read is an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts designed to restore reading to the center of American culture. The Big Read brings together partners across the country to encourage reading for pleasure and enlightenment.
The next Big Read application deadline is February 12, 2008, for communities wishing to host a Big Read from September 2008-June 2009. For more information on the Big Read, including program FAQs, the complete list of Big Read novels, and application deadlines, please visit www.neabigread.org.
A listing of all the Big Read grants awarded for programming in January-June 2008 is also available at www.neabigread.org.
The American Readers The American Readers Theatre is a performing arts organization created for the purpose of "Promoting literacy through the art of dramatic readings". These readings are regularly scheduled throughout Pike County, Pennsylvania, New York City, and targets all ages. The activities of the American Readers Theatre are supported through the volunteer efforts of the residents from Milford, Pennsylvania and the surrounding tri-state area. The National Endowment for the Arts is a public agency dedicated to supporting excellence in the arts—both new and established—bringing the arts to all Americans, and providing leadership in arts education. Established by Congress in 1965 as an independent agency of the federal government, the Arts Endowment is the nation’s largest annual funder of the arts, bringing great art to all 50 states, including rural areas, inner cities, and military bases. For more information, please visit www.arts.gov. The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 122,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. The Institute’s mission is to create strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas. The Institute works at the national level and in coordination with state and local organizations to sustain heritage, culture, and knowledge; enhance learning and innovation; and support professional development. For more information, please visit www.imls.gov. Arts Midwest connects people throughout the Midwest and the world to meaningful arts opportunities, sharing creativity, knowledge, and understanding across boundaries. Arts Midwest connects the arts to audiences throughout the nine-state region of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. One of six non-profit regional arts organizations in the United States, Arts Midwest’s history spans more than 25 years. For more information, please visit