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ON THE SCENE: The Grange

January 10, 2011
Despite, or perhaps to a degree because of, these challenging economic times when people and communities are being impacted by steep costs of travel, food and supplies, relatively recent arrivals and long standing locals are joining forces to create community cultural centers with imagination, a lot of sweat equity, and sometimes in the tiniest of locales.

The Recovery Lounge in Upper Jay, and upholstery shop by day and often performance site by night is one that has been gaining well-deserved attraction of late. Another, a bit further a field for readers of the News is The Grange in Whallonsburg, equally well worth the trip.

The Whallonsburg Grange Hall, PH 954, was organized in 1903, with the present building constructed in 1915, and moved in 1933 to its current site to make way for the then new Route 22. It is the oldest continually operating grange hall in the county, a large white building that many of us whiz past on our way to the Essex Ferry. Indeed blink an eye and you are through Whallonsburg. Blink no more. Now put on the brakes.

In 2006, faced with declining membership, the Grange Hall was transferred to the Town, and in 2008 a newly formed Whallonsburg Civic Association took over management of the facility agreeing to continue the Grange’s core mission to educate and entertain the community. With local artist Ted Cornell agreeing to serve as the venue manager, the WCA brought together seasonal, native and recent residents and, as Fat’s Waller would say,” The Joint is jumping.”

On Sunday, Dec. 19, they presented one of the most moving performances of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, a performance that seemed to happen spontaneously like those Flash events that are becoming the rage across Europe and in our country wherein in some civic space a few people sburst into song (or dance or whatever) and more and more people join in much to the surprise and delight of the casual observer. At the Grange people wandered in with bags of canned goods to donate to the ACAP Food Pantry, food for an intended post but turned into pre-performance refreshments, and several who I thought were in audience demurred places to sit as, it turned out, they were part of the cast.

“This is our second performance of Christmas Carol,” said Chris Casquillo, manager of the Depot Theatre and soon to be on stage as Bob Cratchet “I think our first collaboration with the Grange was a reading of The End Game on 2007. That was really well received. It’s all very casual. Most of our collaborations are about getting the people out. It is like the old saying, ‘Many hands make light work.’ If we (The Depot) just did it or Ted (Cornell and the Grange) did it it’d be a lot of work. There is a lot of overlap between the two organizations, we live in two small towns next to each other so it makes sense to pool our resources.”

“I’m from Reber,” said Bob Marsh. “I’m in the play. I have a few lines. I volunteer and support both organizations.”

“Ted and Carrie Treadwell did a project here that used some of the people from The Depot that she knew. I think that got it started. They also have heat here in the winter and we don’t, that’s one practical reason for working together,” said Casquillo. “And then there is that old idea that there isn’t any entertainment here unless you make it.”

“We trade places as to who is in the audience and who is on stage,” said Marsh.

“A bit like the Keene Central School soccer team, everyone plays,” I said.

“Exactly,” said Marsh. “My wife and I retired here. We had visited the area a lot and it was a natural transition. We don’t see it as a second career but as an avocation.”

“I’m Scrooge’s housekeeper Mrs. Dilber in the play,” said Kathy Recchia of Upper Jay. “I think the Grange is fabulous. It has made Whallonsburg a destination, especially this time of year when the towns around here are kind of sleepy. I first came for some of the square dances as a way of checking out the place.”

“So what are you hoping for this evening?” I said to Ted Cornell.

“I am hoping for an entertaining and thought provoking event,” said Cornell. “Chris Jones (aka Scrooge) is a great actor. We usually have a good time. We have the mobile seats. We set them up in different ways.”

“I play Mr. Fizzy Wig,” said John Bringham. “Being a part of this play is such fun. It is a real gift to us. To think of being in that time when celebrating Christmas was barely allowed. A Christmas tree was considered pagan. Dickins helped introduce Christmas in England and America. Scrooge represented the mentality of most people at the time. To get it right, Queen Victoria opened it up as a celebration, but Dickins helped promote it after visiting a poor section of London. He wrote the book as a result of that experience and published it himself.”

“This is my second year playing Tiny Tim,” said Elizabeth Hartwell, 8, after the play. “The most fun thing about playing Tiny Tim is knowing that all the money raised and all the food people brought is going to the ACAP Food Pantry.”

“The play is about connecting people,” said the actor Chris Jones. “My part was about connecting Scrooge to the kid he was before. It is very satisfying to be a part of this performance and to support the Grange. It connects people.”

“I thought it was great,” said Kim Rielly. “I love to see all my good and talented friends on stage. It is a great treat.”

For a schedule of events, visit or call 962-4386

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