Summer Stock Theater:The Hobbit Packs a Bag

The joke around the office is I help edit a travel website, but I hate to leave New England. It’s true I did turn down trips to Paris and Madrid and drive ten hours to a B&B in Maine.

No disrespect to those ancient capitals, far from it. I suggested writers who could (and did!) do a much better job than I could — Sony Stark and Chance St. John.

I have a theory, based, I admit, solely on my personal preferences, that you can have as much fun in Maine as you could have anywhere in the world. Just take a look at a map of Maine and you’ll see what I mean, the way the land embraces the sea.

I think one of the silver linings in the air travel crisis is more and more people, expecially New Englanders, are going to discover the breathtaking beauty of Maine, which has for generations captivated the attentions of so many great painters.

If only there were a train from Boston. People wouldn’t have to drive.

This month I am again bestirring myself, this time even less far, to New Hampshire, where I want to write an article about summer stock theater. I think that’s something people don’t usually think about when they plan their vacation, but it can be really memorable, especially for kids.

I’ve been talking about this lately with friends, and I’ve found so many people who fondly remember plays they saw when they were kids. I remember vividly seeing ‘Toad of Toad Hall’ at the Barnstormers Theater in Tamworth when I was six, half a century ago.

This play, based on The Wind in the Willows, is a swamp-based metaphor for America in the 21st century: the manor has been taken over by rats and weasels and the dimwitted owner, obsessed with motoring, is unable to restore decency and morality.

Summer stock allows children to enjoy theater without riding in subways and taxicabs or wearing uncomfortable clothes, and anything that awakens a kid’s sense of wonder can’t be all bad.

Summer stock theater also allows greenery-deprived actors from New York to take a breath of fresh air and get a little closer to nature, and I’ll bet they enjoy that. But I don’t know, so I’m going to ask them.

Then there are the members of the community, many of them kids, who work on the plays. Every stage hand winds up knowing the play by heart, and being a part of a dramatic production gives you a depth of understanding of drama and stagecraft that you never forget because it entwines your own imagination with the playwright’s and everybody else’s all at once — the director, the actors, the musicians, the prop manager, the lighting guys, everybody.

Long after it’s all over, you feel an attachment to everyone else in the production that it’s hard to describe. It’s like when Dorothy wakes up in Kansas and everything is black and white again and she says, “But you were there! and you! and you! and you!”

So if a few more parents decide to include a summer stock performance in their vacation planning, and a few more kids discover the power of imagination, that’s alright with me.