Amateur Theater in South Berwick
Excerpted from a talk by Ernie Wood, Old Berwick Historical Society Lecture, November 17, 2005
"As the Earth Turns" shown here in 1936, is an example of South Berwick enjoying amateur theater productions. Author Gladys Hasty Carroll, whose best-seller by that title was published in 1933, is the woman at the center of the group (third from the left). It was performed during the summer on an outdoor set in the Dunnybrook part of South Berwick.
By the 1960s, theatrical shows were being “cooked up” in Cora Currier's living room by a group of Berwick Academy alumni as a means to raise funds. Most of the cast of characters but not all were BA grads. Doris Bernier and Cynthia Gagnon were the directors and many local people became involved. Cynthia tells of some arm-twisting and some alcohol that were used to recruit participants.
The first “Itsariot” was produced in 1961 and then another in 1963. Performed at Central School, they had about 12 acts, each wackier than the previous one, such as skits involving men dressed in drag. They were tremendously successful beyond the cast's expectations, brought the community together and allowed newcomers to get acquainted with the natives. Where else could you get to see the local insurance agent, doctor, veterinarian, banker, superintendent of schools, principals and teachers dance around in long underwear and ballet slippers with sequined bras?
Bob Gagne was one of those performing a singing belly-button act known as “The Whistler.”
One skit featured Albert Roberge and two other men in a bed in a hillbilly, moonshine drinking act. They hadn't really learned their lines too well, so they had playbooks under the covers with them.
Another featured Cliff Ham dancing to “The Flight of the Bumble Bee”. He had a large furry bee suit with matching antenna. A ramp was added to the stage so as to engage the audience more.
The first year, the male ensemble spent at least a month learning to dance “ballet moves” so that they could dance to “The Waltz of the Sugar Plum Fairy”. Their costumes consisted of long white underwear, pink net tutus, and sequined bras and rather large homemade ballet slippers with ribbons up their legs. Among this group was Dick Gagnon, Albert Roberge, Owen Stevens, Michael Kenney, and Joe Powers. Also very active in Itsariot were George and Dorothy Anderson, and George and Dorothy Michaud. Cynthia notes they were actually good!
The second year the ballet was replaced by a fashion show. Elsie Gagnon acted as the style commentator as many stunning outfits were paraded Tim Fogarty in an “Itsy Bitsy, Teeny Weeneie, Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.” Try to also picture 6' 4” Bill Murdock as the blushing bride in the finale.
I am happy to report that Cynthia is working on remaking her 8mm film of some of this on to a DVD for OBHS and posterity.
The cast of “Itsariot” later transformed into another group that called themselves “The South Berwick Players.” This group did a series of one act plays one year, and then performed the three-act play “You Can't Take It with You”. These last two shows were done on the stage at St. Michael's. The final show and proceeds honored Dr. John Murphy when he retired in 1981-- community recreation with a purpose.
In the 70s, Bonnie Cabe revived the effort to have fun and raise money for good causes. Some of the productions included such as slapstick comedies “Indian Love Call,” starring Bob Paige and Kitty Davis; “This is Your Life,” with Junior Roberge; and “Dallas Cow Flaps.”