OSWEGO – How does one take an old classic melodrama and mount a new production that is true to the original? That was the question I asked myself when I began the quest to director Lottie Blair Parker’s play, “Way Down East.”
First, I had to find a script.
The play was never copyrighted and never published, so I became a detective to uncover what looked like it may have been lost for decades, if not longer.
My daughter, who is a librarian, alerted me to WorldCat, an online catalog of holdings in libraries around the world.
I found numerous copies of the script and decided to go local: there was a copy on microfilm at Syracuse University.
The Oswego City Library staff secured the microfilm, had two copies made and I felt like the long search was over.
But it wasn’t.
The copy, taken from an 1898, typed acting script was hard to read, often illegible and had strike-overs and crossed out words throughout it.
I retyped the script, deciphering the words as best I could and then went on to the next step, designing a set.
I was fortunate to have purchased a number of vintage items from the era of the play, about 1900 and one of them was a souvenir photo album from the original production.
The photos of the sets led me to the design of the play using scenic drops from the 1880s that were given to me more than 40 years ago.
The drops were used in local theaters as stock scene so that visiting acting troupes wouldn’t have to carry as much scenery with them.
Included in my set were a street scene (now on display at the Richardson-Bates House Museum), a mountain scene, an interior scene and an act curtain.
The last one, a painted scene of draped curtains showing a stage is signed and dated 1888.
I don’t know where they were used here in town, but probably in some smaller hall of the time.
For the current production three of the drops will be used to evoke the period of the original production of 1898.
Add to the drops, some set pieces, outdoor fronts of buildings that revers to interiors and the set is complete.
Next came costumes.
The Oswego Players has a vast storage of costumes from many periods and we were able to outfit the show without a great deal of difficulty.
Props, I just borrowed from my personal collection of antiques and assembled a few other things from the Players and all that was left was a cast.
Cast members have come from a variety of places to fill out the show, from the Players, from Fulton Community Theater, from the college and the community.
It has become a labor of love and fun for everyone involved.
On top of that, realizing that this was the first time the play had been produced in years and that it was Oswego County’s Bicentennial, makes for a fun adventure in theater.
After more than 50 years of membership in the Oswego Players, Inc., this has been the hardest play to get to the stage, but ultimately the most rewarding.
The Oswego Players’ production of “Way Down East” opens on May 6 at 8 p.m. in the Frances Marion Brown Theater in the Oswego Civic Arts Center with additional performances at 8 p.m. on May 7, 13, 14 and 2 p.m. on May 15.
For reservations, call the box office at 343-5138.
(This is the final article in a series of articles on theater in Oswego, focusing on the Richardson Theater, Lottie Blair Parker and her play, “Way Down East.” Author Rick Sivers, currently president of the Oswego Players, Inc. and vice president of the Oswego County Historical Society, is directing the play “Way Down East” and organizing an exhibit on the Richardson Theater at the Richardson-Bates House Museum.)