Council Hears Reports on Meter Bags, Car Show, Police Recruit

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At the Chestertown Council meeting, July 15, Kay MacIntosh of Main Street Chestertown showed council members samples of bags to be placed on parking meters for streets that need to be closed for special events.

Kay MacIntosh

MacIntosh said the bags would be an “easier and more positive” way to inform the public of street closings, not just saying “you can’t park here,” but turning it into “don’t park here because there’s a great event coming.”

The bags would take a burden off the police department, which currently posts paper signs on trees, utility poles, or other fixtures for the purpose. Those signs can be damaged by rain or wind, which requires that they be replaced. The weatherproof bags, designed by Barbara Slocum, are made of bluish-purple canvas,  and they would have a slot with a clear plastic window for insertion of a paper sign specific to the event. The signs would be placed in the bags at police headquarters before they were deployed. The bags can also be used for the Saturday Farmers Market, where they would stay up full-time, MacIntosh said. 

A $2,464 grant from the Maryland State Arts Council will pay for almost all of the bags, MacIntosh said. The Tea Party Festival is the only regular event that would require placing bags on all the downtown meters, which are primarily on High and Cross Streets and Park Row. If the cost exceeds the grant amount, she said, the balance can be covered from donated funds visitors put in the parking meters.

MacIntosh said she would consult with the town police before placing a final order for the bags.

Town Manager Bill Ingersoll asked MacIntosh about plans for a classic car show to be held downtown in September.

MacIntosh said the organizers had not yet received permits for the event, but she believed they had filed the application. The show is scheduled for Sept. 14, at 2 p.m., after the Farmers Market closes. Cars would be exhibited on High Street next to Fountain Park, and on Park Row and Memorial Plaza. There would be a couple of food trucks, and beer and wine vendors. Half a dozen especially interesting cars would be displayed in the park itself, she said. She said the organizers would take special care to avoid damaging the grass in the park.

Councilwoman Linda Kuiper expressed concern about giving Farmers Market vendors enough time to break down their displays and leave the park before the cars need to set up. Barbara Slocum, one of the organizers, said she had been at Farmers Market and timed the vendors as they left. The park was “almost empty” by 12:40, she said, leaving enough time for everyone if setup for the car show begins at 1 p.m. and the show itself at 2.

Ingersoll said the possibility of damage to the park grass should be minimal. He also said it should be put in the context of a plan by the Chestertown Garden Club to aerate and reseed the park later in September. He joked that “the biggest rain of the season” would probably fall on Sept. 13, making the park too muddy to show cars there.

Chestertown Police Chief Ardian Baker

After Chief Adrian Baker presented the monthly police report for June, Ingersoll asked if there was any update on the “purloined” police recruit who completed training under Chestertown auspices and then resigned to take a job with another Shore town.

Baker said the police department had received a personal check from the recruit reimbursing the town for his salary. The department also expects a check from the town with which he is now working for the cost of training, Baker said. He said the other recruit hired at the same time is “doing great,” with field training expected to be completed by August. He said he would bring the new officer in to introduce him to the council at the next meeting.

Councilman David Foster, in his ward report, asked if the town was considering kayak and bike rentals in the marina.

Ingersoll said there had been some discussion of the idea. He said said that any rentals would need to be “non-commercial,” so as not to expose the town to tax liability for the property. Also, he said, there is currently dredging being done at the marina, which makes it less safe for kayakers to launch there. The two kayak launches at the marina were not getting a great deal of use, he said.

Ingersoll also said there is an issue with slip fees for visiting boaters who want to eat at the 98 Cannon restaurant. He said the restaurant only maintains two slips. “We’re working out details,” he said.

Councilman Marty Stetson reported that playground equipment in Margo Bailey Park was recently vandalized. He said the equipment is underused, and its location makes it an easy target for mischief. “It’s a question if it’s the right place for it,” he said. Stetson also reported that the town street crew had pruned and trimmed about 100 trees in the park. “It’s really beautiful,” he said.

Council Discusses Ways to Restore July 4 Fireworks Display Next Year

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Chestertown council members, at the July 15 meeting, responded to numerous complaints from the public about the lack of a July 4 fireworks display this year.

Fireworks were dropped from the FY2019 budget during deliberations last Spring, in response to tightened fiscal circumstances that also led to an increase in the town’s property tax rate. However, since a 2018 fireworks show had been already included in the previous budget and was already under contract, the town went ahead with the display last summer on July 4, 2018. The town website did not mention that there would be no display in 2019, and many residents evidently assumed it would take place “as usual.” Some online search engines, including Google, made the same assumption and erroneously listed Chestertown as one of the Shore towns with a July 4 fireworks show.

Chestertown Councilwoman Linda Kuiper and Town Manager Bill Ingersoll

Town Manager Bill Ingersoll described the reaction as “a lot of flak,” adding that one complaint that “went overboard” was turned over to the police. “If everyone out there who’s angry wants to donate, this is a good time,” Ingersoll said. He said the town could put up “an unbelievable show in the space that we have” for $7,500. He said the town could start accepting donations for next year right away.

“A lot of people should have known,” said Councilwoman Linda Kuiper, who presided over the meeting while Mayor Chris Cerino was on vacation. She noted that the decision to eliminate the fireworks display was made more than a year ago. “Maybe they just weren’t paying attention,” she said. She asked how far in advance of a proposed fireworks show would the town need to start obtaining the necessary permits.

Ingersoll said permits from the U.S. Coast Guard and “the bomb squad” need to be obtained three months before a proposed display, “so we usually start in February.” He said the town has staged the display on the same small site near Wilmer Park for several years now. “It’s very visible from the river,” he said.

Councilman Marty Stetson said the town should try to find some community organization that would take on the fireworks display. He said he felt it was unfair to taxpayers to fund the display out of public money when not all of them are interested in fireworks. He said after the meeting that he knows of very few residents of Ward 4, which he represents, who go to the show. He said that Rock Hall, which finances its fireworks from donations, actually has money left over after the show, which he said costs about $20,000.

“I know the boating community was upset,” said Stetson. He said he asked people who complained to him how much money they would be willing to contribute for a show. “I think it would be great if some other organization heads it up,” he said. “The government doesn’t do well raising funds.”

Kay MacIntosh of Main Street Chestertown said there had been discussions last year about her organization possibly taking over the fireworks, but she would have to talk to her board before she could make any commitment. She said the organizers of a Fall Car Show scheduled for September told her that if the show made any money they could donate it to the cause. MacIntosh said she had gone on vacation to a little town in Pennsylvania where the local businesses sponsored the display, and there were signs all along the road acknowledging the sponsors.

Councilman David Foster said he had talked to members of the town’s fire department who had a booth at the Farmers Market last Saturday. He said they appeared willing to consider the idea, although they made no commitment. He said he had written them a letter proposing the idea for them to discuss at the next department meeting, which he couldn’t attend because it took place at the same time as the council meeting. He pointed out that the fire department is in need of more volunteers, and that they have “fundraising challenges of their own.” As a result, it would probably require another organization to work with them to do some of the fundraising and advertising. Also, he said, the firefighters would probably want to touch base with the Rock Hall Fire Department to see what was involved. “I was pleased that they would be willing to discuss this on short notice,” he said. He said he would report what he heard back from them.

Councilman Ellsworth Tolliver said there are several community organizations “that want to contribute and make it happen,” and that working with the fire department could be a good way to bring all the resources together.

Also at the meeting, the council heard the monthly police report; a report on proposed “no parking” bags to place on downtown meters when a festival or other event requiring street closings is scheduled; and a short preview of the September car show. Look for a full account of these and other town council matters in an upcoming issue of the Chestertown Spy.

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“Lights for Liberty” Vigil Protests Treatment of Immigrant Children

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A “Lights for Liberty” vigil in Chestertown’s Memorial Park Friday, July 12, drew some 125 residents to protest the incarceration of immigrant children in what are being called concentration camps located both near the US border with Mexico and in other states. The vigil featured speakers, music, and prayers for the children in the camps, which have drawn widespread criticism for crowding and inhumane conditions.

Heather Mizeur, organizer of the vigil  — Photo by Jane Jewell

Soul Force Politics, a political action group created by former Maryland Delegate and gubernatorial candidate Heather Mizeur, organized the event. Mizeur opened the proceedings, noting that the candlelight vigil on Friday was one of hundreds being held around the nation and internationally, with some sources estimating over 1,000 such events world-wide. She said the purpose of the vigils was to call attention to the presence of the camps and the conditions of the children “in a nice way.” She then called out, “(Rep.) Andy Harris, are you here? We’re trying to send you a message.” As the Stam Hall clock tolled 9 p.m., she said the attendees were there “to toll the bell for a different way” of treating the refugees in the camps. “This isn’t going to stand any longer,” she said.  It was important, she stressed, that we bring both intention and attention to the situation.

Fredy Granillo then took the microphone for a song in Spanish, which he dedicated to all Latino people. He asked the crowd to make an effort to see that Latino people they meet in the community are comfortable and feel welcomed. As he sang, the crowd joined in on the chorus, “Sobreviviendo” (“surviving”).

Alana Watson of Students Talking About Racism (STAR)   — Photo by Peter Heck

The next speaker was Alana Watson, of the Students Talking About Racism (STAR) group at the Kent County public schools. She said it was shameful that children are being imprisoned, and noted the words of the Pledge of Allegiance, “liberty and justice for all.” She said that while the damage of the camps is not being done “in our backyard,” it’s necessary to shine a light on it to make everyone aware. She characterized the children in the camps as “people without someone to bring them justice… We need to be those people.” She ended by recalling the July 4th celebrations in Rock Hall, with the song “Proud to Be an American” playing, while the children in the camps were cold and alone. “I hope they know that we care,” she said.

Bob and Pam Ortiz and Ford Schumann then joined Granillo for more music. Bob Ortiz said that his own family was part of the first wave of Latino immigrants to the U.S. that arrived between the end of the Spanish American War in 1898 and World War II. Granillo joined in on the song, “Vaya con Norte,” (“Go North”) with the audience singing along with the chorus. Ortiz said he had only recently learned that Puerto Ricans are only “provisional” citizens.

Fredy Granillo, Pam Ortiz, Ford Schumann, and Bob Ortiz perform a Puerto Rican song   — Photo by Jane Jewell

Mizeur invited several members of the clergy who were in attendance to say a joint prayer. She expressed hope that the incarcerated children and their parents know that people are “standing with them,” and that Americans understand that they are here because of the threat of violence in their home countries. With the threat of raids by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) police beginning Sunday, “it’s up to us to provide a safe harbor,” and directed attendees to the Soul Force Politics website for resources to help refugees. Mizeur also suggested that attendees support Latino-owned businesses such as the Mexican grocery store near Chestertown. She concluded by saying that Chestertown was “the most beautiful I have ever seen you” that night at the vigil, and told the attendees, “Your heart, your soul, your dedication matter.”

Members of the clergy attending the vigil  — Photo by Jane Jewell

Caitlan Gartland, the associate pastor of the Presbyterian Church of Chestertown, said that the vigil showed that “the spirit is moving upon the people,” and expressed hope that the protests would help turn around the administration’s immigration policies.

Rev. Tom Sinnott, who serves the Spanish-speaking congregation at Shrewsbury Church, said he had picked up a candle at the local convenience store and saw that it was labeled “born to shine.” He said that was equally true of people of faith, and that he was here to make sure they said, “No more” to those maintaining the camps.

Granillo and the Ortizes then came together for a final song, “Dale,” from Granillo’s native El Salvador. Granillo said that the song has a happy rhythm, but the words are “in the opposite direction” from the rhythm. He dedicated the song to all Latin American people.

Mizeur closed the evening by asking each audience member to hug five people before they left. “Love each other real good,” she said. “It’s love that’s going to bring about change.”

Photos by Peter Heck and Jane Jewell

Lights for Liberty Vigil – Friday, July 12, 2019 – Photo by Peter Heck

Lights for Liberty Vigil – Friday, July 12, 2019 – Photo by Peter Heck

Photo by Jane Jewell

Legacy Day to Celebrate African-American Churches in Kent County

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Sunday school students from the Still Pond/Colemans charge, including Mt. Zion, Fountain, Union, and St. George United Methodist churches

At the center of this year’s Legacy Day celebration, scheduled for August 17, is a recognition of the role of African-American churches in the history and culture of Kent County. A joint project of the Kent County Historical Society and Sumner Hall, Legacy Day is in its sixth year of celebrating the role of African-Americans in the community. Drawing attendees from a wide area, Legacy Day has become an important part of Chestertown’s cultural landscape.

Asbury United Methodist Church, Georgetown

While the most visible part of the festivities, for many attendees, is the parade and block party Saturday evening, Legacy Day incorporates a lot more, including a great deal of research into the history of Kent County. This year’s research was even more extensive than usual, documenting the history of all the African American churches that were founded more than 125 years ago, a total of 24, of which 16 are still actively holding services.

As lead researcher Bill Leary notes in an article summarizing the research, the historic African American churches were all of the Methodist denomination. This is because, as Leary says, “No other religious group treated African Americans better. Early Methodists worked hard to make black converts and spoke out clearly against slavery.” Also, with the church’s emphasis on conversion rather than the formal study of church doctrine, Methodism made itself accessible to the poor and uneducated of all races.

Eleven of the historic churches were founded in the years before the end of slavery, and another eight in the years immediately following the Civil War, when hopes for reconstruction and racial equality were high.

Leary notes that despite welcoming black worshipers, the early Methodist churches were not free of discrimination. African Americans were required to sit in the back of the church, or in the gallery, and at camp meetings, they were not allowed to sit in front of the speakers’ platforms. Because of this, a movement arose to establish independent churches for black Methodists. In 1813, Peter Spencer, born a slave in Kent County, founded the Union Church of Africans in Wilmington, Delaware. Three years later, the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church was founded by Absalom Jones and Richard Allen. Other black Methodists, including many of those in Kent County, remained within the main body of the church. However, by 1864, they were seeking more control over the governance of their own churches, leading to the foundation of the Delaware Annual Conference. This group, including churches in New York City, Philadelphia, New Jersey, and the Delmarva peninsula, remained independent of the United Methodist Church as a whole until 1965.

Janes United Methodist Church, Chestertown

Probably the earliest African-American church in Kent County was Zion Methodist Episcopal Church, founded in Chestertown before 1828 when a property transfer document refers to it as already standing on a plot on Princess (now Queen) Street. Moved and rebuilt several times, the church was renamed in 1867 to honor Bishop Edmund Janes, whose name it bears today. The present structure at the corner of Cross and Cannon Streets was built in 1914 after a fire destroyed much of downtown Chestertown. In its long history, it has been the spiritual home of many prominent citizens, including 19th-century businessmen William Perkins and James Jones, both trustees of the church.

Chestertown’s other historic black church is Bethel A.M.E. Church, founded sometime before 1872. The church trustees bought land at the corner of Kent and Calvert Streets in 1878, where the congregation met until 1910 when a new church was built on College Avenue. The church has been a center for the fight for equal rights, with its pastor Rev. Frederick Jones Sr. among the founders of the local NAACP chapter. Rev. Jones also welcomed the Freedom Riders to Kent County in 1962. More recently, Bethel has hosted the monthly meetings of the Diversity Dialogue Group.

Other Kent County churches still holding services are Emmanuel United Methodist Church in Pomona, founded in 1849; Asbury-John Wesley United Methodist Church in Millington, from before 1855; Graves Chapel Union American Methodist Episcopal Church, Millington, reportedly founded by and named for a veteran of the U.S. Colored Infantry in the Civil War; and Wesley Chapel of Love United Methodist Church in Sassafras, incorporated in 1893 and merged with two other congregations in 2004.

Also active in the modern era are Mount Pisgah United Methodist Church of Melitota, founded before 1860, when it appears on a map of the county; the New Christian Chapel of Love in Big Woods, founded sometime before 1888 as Fountain United Methodist Church; Mt. Olive A.M.E. Church of Butlertown, built in 1898 but likely founded much earlier; and St. George United Methodist Church of Worton Point, which is adjacent to the historic African American schoolhouse, built in 1890 and purchased by the church in 1958.

Union United Methodist Church, Coleman’s Corner

Union United Methodist Church in Coleman’s Corner was probably built in 1865 or 1866, shortly after Emancipation. Asbury United Methodist Church of Georgetown traces its origins to 1863 when local black residents began holding services in the local school. It is named for its first pastor, Rev. Asbury Grinnage. Mount Pleasant United Methodist Church, located on the north side of Fairlee, purchased land for a church in 1885. Its present building dates to 1908.

Emmanuel United Methodist Church, Pomona

Aaron Chapel United Methodist Church of Rock Hall originated when the local white church donated its chapel, which it no longer needed, to the free black community in 1854. Holy Trinity A.M.E. Church of Edesville erected its first church building in 1885, but there is evidence that the local African-American community was holding church services at least 20 years earlier when it built a school for black children shortly after Emancipation.

Another nine churches built more than 125 years ago are no longer holding services, and in many cases, the buildings are in ruins. Leary’s history, which will be available at the Historical Society during the month of August, gives details on all 24 of the churches, including the names of their pastors, prominent members of their congregations, and other historical information. There will also be an exhibit including artifacts from several of the churches, first at the Historical Society and later at Sumner Hall.

Members of the existing churches have been invited to take part in the Legacy Day celebrations, including a concert of old-time gospel music Aug. 10 at Bethel Church, and the parade Aug. 17.

The full Legacy Day schedule:

Saturday, August 10:

2:00 pm, at Bethel AME Church – Old Time Gospel Music presented by local churches and Reception for Honorees

Saturday, August 17:

10:00 am, at Chestertown Public Library – Genealogy Workshop

11:00 am – 4:00 pm, at Sumner Hall – Stories and Snacks for the Young and Young at Heart

12:00 pm – 6:00 pm, at Chestertown RiverArts – Special Legacy Day Exhibit

2:00 pm, at Bethel AME Church – Gospel Concert by Rev. Dr. Anthony Brown

5:00 pm – Parade Down High Street, with MC Yvette Hynson (Lady Praise)

6:00 pm – 10:00 pm – Block Party on High Street featuring Music by Jasper Hackett with Quiet Fire — the band that played the first Legacy Day in 2014

The evening festivities include food and drinks booths and a dance contest.

Photos courtesy of Kent County Historical Society.

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“Lights for Liberty” Vigil in Chestertown Friday

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There will be a nationwide “Lights for Liberty” vigil Friday evening, July 12, protesting the U.S. concentration camps for migrant children. As part of the nationwide vigil, a Chestertown event is planned for 9 p.m. in Memorial Park, at the corner of Cross and High Streets. Please plan to arrive before 9 and bring a candle.

According to the Daily Kos website, as of Thursday Lights for Liberty has 544 events scheduled in all 50 states, with main events in El Paso, Texas, and Homestead Florida, both sites of migrant camps, and in San Diego, Cal. near the border crossing at Tijuana, Mexico, as well as New York City and Washington DC. There are also international events scheduled in Mexico, Canada, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and other countries.

The local vigil is sponsored by Soul Force Politics, which describes itself as “a social justice movement that envisions how our world would be different if politics were rooted in radical love.” Previously known as MizMaryand, Soul Force Politics is a non-profit educational organization created by former gubernatorial candidate Heather Mizeur and “dedicated to the cultivation, empowerment, and alignment of inner wisdom and external engagement as a catalyst for individual and community transformation.”

For more information, see the Soul Force Politics website.  

Postponed – Chestertown “Music in the Park” Concert – Sat. July 6 – Chesapeake Brass Band

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Chesapeake Brass Band concert for July 6 has been postponed due to the forecast of heat and rain for this Saturday.

The leader for the Chesapeake Brass Band has decided to postpone the concert by the Chesapeake Brass Band scheduled for this Saturday, July 6, in Fountain Park in downtown Chestertown.  Rain and thunderstorms are predicted off and on for the entire day with temperatures in the high 80s and “feels like” temperatures ten degrees higher n the 90s.

At first, the band had planned to go to a nearby church as a rain location, but upon checking out the facilities in person, it became apparent that it would not be possible to fit all 35 members of the band into the available space.

Plans are to reschedule the concert for early September, tentatively for the weekend of Sept. 6-8, exact day and time to be determined.  The Sept. concert may be an afternoon concert as dusk comes earlier by then.

The Chesapeake Brass Band is a traditional, British-style brass band that plays popular and patriotic songs.  For more information, dates and locations of other concerts, and to hear a sample of their music, see their website at http://www.chesapeakebrassband.org/

There are three remaining concerts in the Chestertown Music in the Park summer series.  All are on scheduled for Saturday evenings from 7:00 – 8:30 p.m. except the Legacy Day event which starts at 5:00 p.m. and goes until about 9:30 p.m.

July 20 – Music from Musicals with Marcia Gilliam

Aug 3 – Swing City band playing Miller, Dorsey and other Big Band favorites

Aug 17 – Legacy Day – parade, street dancing, live music, 5 – 9:30 p.m. Soul music Quiet Fire band

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Environmental Committee Asks Chestertown to Endorse Federal Carbon Dividend Act

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Hope Clark speaks to the Chestertown Council for the town’s Environmental Committee

The Chestertown Council, at its meeting July 1, heard a presentation by the town’s Environmental Committee about H.R. 763, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act currently before the U.S. Congress. Hope Clark of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, Chestertown chapter, made the presentation, outlining the possible benefits of the act and asking if the council wanted to endorse the proposed legislation.

Clark began by showing the council maps created by the Army Corps of Engineers to delineate areas of the town projected to be subject to tidal flooding over the next five to 10 years. After viewing the maps, Mayor Chris Cerino asked what the surge would be in the event of a major hurricane or tropical storm. He said the town experienced a surge 8 feet above high tide during Tropical Storm Isabel in 2003. Clark explained the color scheme, which showed a surge of more than 3 feet in purple. She asked what plans the town has for dealing with flooding.

Cerino said the town raised the parking lot of the marina between 1.5 and 3 feet in response to chronic flooding. The marina store and office were moved to the higher end of the parking lot to minimize their exposure to possible flooding. The dock at the foot of High Street is county property, and not in the town’s purview, Cerino said. Also, Wilmer Park is subject to “a lot of overwash,” and in need of attention. He said the town was working on a proposal in conjunction with Washington College to install a waterfront walkway along property extending from Wilmer Park to the Armory. He said one option might be to eliminate bulkheads and install living shorelines, as in the section of Wilmer Park near the pavilion. The challenge, he said, is that the project would be “crazy expensive,” but on the other hand, there is no critical infrastructure exposed along the riverfront in those areas.

Cerino and Town Manager Bill Ingersoll also noted that the town has made a major commitment to renewable energy by installing a 3-megawatt solar array at the town’s wastewater plant, providing essentially 100 percent of the town government’s usage. Ingersoll said the town has also contracted to buy power in 3-year blocks, with a plan to shift entirely to solar in its next contract. He said the contracts had saved the town more than $100,000 in power bills.

Clark said the Environmental Committee was asking the town to look at the bigger picture, and possibly endorse H.R. 763. She said the bill proposes a fee on the production of carbon dioxide, beginning at $15 a ton and increasing by $10 each year, as a way to encourage businesses and manufacturers to switch to renewable energy sources. The money raised would be returned directly to taxpayers, instead of going to governmental agencies. In addition, the law is expected to create in excess of 2.1 million local jobs in renewable energy and other areas. And the removal of fossil fuels from the energy mix will create a healthy environment, saving numerous lives.

The Chestertown Mayor and Council in session, July 1 — (L-R) Councilman Ellsworth Tolliver, town clerk Jen Mulligan, Mayor Chris Cerino, Town Manager Bill Ingersoll, Councilwoman Linda Kuiper, and Councilman David Foster

Councilman David Foster, who sits with the Environmental Committee, said that the latter provision makes the proposed law “close to being bipartisan” in its appeal. He said it would cost the town nothing to endorse it, and that our children and grandchildren would applaud the effort to slow climate change.

Cerino asked who, if anyone, opposes the proposed law.

Foster said that climate change deniers would be the primary opponents. He said there are “not too many” of those in Chestertown.

Clark said the proposed law has more than 50 co-sponsors in the House, and that more than 100,000 citizens have endorsed it. Also, a number of large cities have expressed their support for the measure.

Cerino said he is definitely convinced of the reality of global warming. However, he said he would need to study the proposed law more carefully. “It’s not necessarily the town’s job to endorse federal legislation,” he said. He said he was also concerned about a possible precedent, encouraging groups with all kinds of agendas – he mentioned abortion and gun rights – to lobby the town to support their positions.

Ingersoll said he worried about the funds actually reaching ordinary citizens – “Money to Washington touches too many hands to expect the same amount that goes in to come out,” he said.

Cora Dickson of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby said the town’s endorsement would be an important symbolic gesture, and that she hoped the council would do so.

Ingersoll said there was no inherent problem with the council as a whole or individual members making such an endorsement. He suggested that the committee draft a statement for the council to consider at a future meeting. Clark said she would be happy to do so.

Chestertown Utilities Manager Bob Sipes

Town Utilities Director Bob Sipes, in his monthly report, outlined several items of equipment upkeep and maintenance the department has recently had to make. He said that many pieces of equipment at the 13-year-old wastewater plant are near or past their expected lifetime. He began replacing or upgrading equipment seven years ago, he said.

Foster said he had made a note to himself to ask Sipes “what keeps you up at nights” as far as possible problems with the water and sewer systems.

Sipes said the water mains are the oldest part of the system, with some of them more than a century old. The oldest are made of rolled steel, which can’t be repaired beyond patching small holes. He said the pipes along Maple Avenue from the bridge and along Washington Avenue past the college are especially worrisome – he cited a break in one pipe 11 years ago, which crews had to dig through a foot of concrete to reach.

Also, Sipes said, the town water plant is between 80 and 90 years old, and some buildings are beginning to lean. He said they will need to be replaced within the next 20 years. He said he also needs to upgrade the restroom at the plant, which has no shower. “I’ll try to budget for that,” he said.

During ward reports, Foster said he had met with County Commissioner Ron Fithian about the possible resumption of the tax differential the county formerly paid the town for services such as police protection and street repair that the town performs out of its own budget. He said that Fithian has agreed to some kind of audit by a neutral party to determine how much the town is saving the county for such services, and that Commissioners Tom Mason and Bob Jacob have reportedly agreed as well.

Cerino said the cost savings the town supplies to the county are considerable. “It won’t be a small number,” he said.

Ingersoll said he has annual budget figures available and can supply them to whoever performs an audit.

The council also voted to appoint Rob Busler to fill a vacancy on the town’s Planning Commission, and the Rev. Charles L. Barton to a vacancy on the Historic District Commission. Both votes were unanimous.

Short Attention Span Brings Laughter to Garfield

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Sharon Herz as Lucy, an energetic Shih-Tsu dog who annoys the more serious dog, Archibald, played by Lyle Pinder.  Archibald’s owner is played by Christine Kinlock — “Park and Play” in Short Attention Span Theatre – AKA SAST – All photos by Steve Atkinson 

Short Attention Span Theatre is back! The Garfield Center’s 10-Minute Play Festival runs three weekends through July 7, showcasing local actors, directors, and playwrights in eight rib-tickling comedies.

Paul Cambardella as Marvelous Man in “The Superhero.” — Photo by Steve Atkinson

First up is “The Superhero,” written by Brent Lewis and directed by Diane Landskroener. It features Brianna Johnson as a cat burglar who breaks into the apartment of a comic book fan played by Dan Guidice. Tom Dorman makes a brief appearance as a city cop warning about burglaries, and Paul Cambardella takes the title role. The final straw is when the burglar finally figures out what’s really valuable among the fanboy’s possessions.  It’s a hoot.

Next on the list is “Don Vito’s Method,” by Rich Pauli, directed by Garfield Center theater manager Nick Carter. Bradley Chaires plays a Mafia don who seeks a very special favor from his grandson, played by Lyle Pinder. Chaires does one of the better Marlon Brando imitations you’re likely to see, and Pinder is earnest and clueless as the young minion. It has a clever twist at the end!

 

Diane Landskroener and Jim Landskroener as Elise and Walter in “Mistranslation — Photo by Steve Atkinson

Diane and Jim Landskroener star in Jack Rushton’s “Mistranslations,” directed by Jim Landskroener. The schtick here is a set of special hearing aids meant to solve the problem of one member of a couple putting their own interpretation on something the other says. A nice spin-off of a situation familiar to any couple that’s been together longer than one or two dates.

Kara Emily Krantz’s “Park and Play,” directed by Zac Ryan, concludes the first half of the bill. Lyle Pinder plays Archibald, a dog whose owner, played by Christine Kinlock, brings him to the park to play. Unfortunately, Archibald wants nothing to do with the other dogs – especially a flighty Shih-Tsu played by Sharon Herz. Pinder and Herz are thoroughly amusing – and believable – as dogs. This skit is a “howling” success!

Brad Chaires and Paul Cambardella are two princes competing for the sleeping princess (Phebe Wood) in “Power Nap.” — Photo by Steve Atkinson

After intermission, Steve Arnold’s “Power Nap,” directed by Tia Glomb, brings on a trio of princes competing for the honor of awakening a sleeping beauty.are two sword-wielding princes who believe it to be their destiny to kiss the sleeping princess and inherit the 47 kingdoms she rules by right. But then arrives a bookish prince who throws the competition into a new light – proving, in the process, that the pen is indeed mightier than the sword. Phebe Wood pays the princess, who turns out to have her own opinion of what’s involved in the magical bargain.

“Everybody Says I Love You,” features two actors  played by Nick Carter and Amanda Fry (seated) and two script doctors – (Dan Guidice and Jen Friedman ) — Photo by Steve Atkinson

Mark Sullivan wrote and directed “Everybody Says I Love You,” featuring two actors in a love scene, played by Amanda Fry and Nick Carter. But shortly into the scene, two script doctors – played by Jen Friedman and Dan Guidice – decide to tweak the dialogue and the characters’ motivations to make it more dramatic. It’s full of theatrical in-jokes, and the bare-bones plot grows even more preposterous with each rewrite.  For anyone who knows theatre, it rings all too true!

“Old Aquatics,” written by Steven Korbar and directed by Chaires, stars Sharon Herz as a drunken New Year’s Eve partygoer and Robert Holt as a driver sent to get her safely home. But it turns out that the partygoer is looking for more than the driver bargained for. Herz is convincingly sloshed, and her dialogue is a string of hilarious non-sequiturs, while Holt does a good job as the straight man.

Shannon Whitaker as the bride in “Wedding Belles” — Photo by Steve Atkinson

The final offering is “Wedding Belles,” by Brett Horsey, directed by Jennifer Kafka Smith. Shannon Whitaker plays a bride admiring her gorgeous dress, only to be interrupted by the groom – whom she tries to send away, telling him it’s bad luck to see her before the wedding. Finally, the groom, played by Zac Ryan, convinces her that it’s absolutely necessary for them to talk – at which point the real fun begins. It’s capped off by an appearance by Jim Landskroener as the father of the bride.

Mark Sullivan, who is co-producer of the festival with Diane Landskroener, said after the performance Sunday that this year’s festival drew some 80 entries. “It was daunting to read them all,” he said. The eight-person panel making the final selection chose four by playwrights with a local connection, including himself, Rich Pauli, who hails from Annapolis, and Brent Lewis of Easton, both of whom are regulars at the Garfield’s Live Playwright’s Society. Steve Arnold is the former director of Church Hill Theatre. The others are all by published playwrights, many of whom have numerous productions to their credit.

As usual with SAST, the sets are flexible and minimal – a couple of chairs and a table, a doorway, other items as appropriate to the skit being performed. The costumes, on the other hand, are more elaborate, from a superhero’s cape to a prince’s regalia, a bridal gown or even a floppy-eared cap for a canine character. But it’s the actors who make these plays work, and their performances, on the whole, deliver the goods. Especially considering how much local talent was already involved in competing productions at Church Hill Theatre and elsewhere during June, this is a solid turnout by the local theater community.  Do go.  You won’t regret it.  It’s a relaxing and fun evening of laughs.

Short Attention Span Theatre is running for two more weekends through July 7, with performances at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. Admission is $15 for general audiences, $5 for students. Note that some of the plays may not be suitable for children under age 13.

Bradley Chaires (on floor) and Lyle Pinder (standing) in “Don Vito’s Method” — Photo by Steve Atkinson

Dan Guidice as Peter and Brianna Johnson as Shell in “The Superhero”  — Photo by Steve Atkinson

Phebe Wood and Ian Ellison as princess and prince in “Power Nap.” — Photo by Steve Atkinson

Ian Ellison and Bradley Chaires in “Power Nap”. — Photo by Steve Atkinson

Diane Landskroener and Jim Landskroener as Elise and Walter in “Mistranslation — Photo by Steve Atkinson

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Churchhill Theatre’s “Superstar” a Triumph

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“The Last Supper” scene in CHT’s production is here recreated with reflections of the famous painting by Leonardo da Vinci – Church Hill Theatre 2019 production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” Photo by Steve Atkinson

Church Hill Theatre’s production of Jesus Christ, Superstar is a remarkable testimony to the depth and quality of theatrical talent in the local area. Directed by Shelagh Grasso, the production runs through June 23. Anyone who follows musical theater should make it a point to attend.  The show is currently sold-out for its entire run. However, if you don’t already have reservations, just show up for one of the three remaining performances and ask to be on a wait-list. There are always some no-shows and the theatre has been able to seat a number of extra people at each performance.

From its appearance in 1970 as a “rock opera” concept album with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice, Superstar challenged preconceptions. A musical dramatization of the last week of Jesus’ life, it attracted attention simply for its subject matter, especially because of the often ironic take on the characters’ motivations and attitudes – notably its sympathetic treatment of Judas. Originally banned by the BBC for being “sacrilegious,” the album became an international bestseller, with more than 7 million copies sold by 1983.

Jesus (Mark Weining) with Mary Magdelene (Stav Pinder) and a crowd of followers.

The album’s success led to its opening as a Broadway musical in October 1971. The cast included Jeff Fenholt as Jesus, Ben Vereen as Judas, and Bob Bingham as the Jewish High Priest Caiaphas. Yvonne Ellman as Mary Magdalen and Barry Dennan as the Roman governor Pontius Pilate reprised the roles they sang on the original album. Carl Anderson, who had the role of Judas on the album, replaced Vereen when he fell ill, with the two alternating in the part after Vereen’s recovery. The Broadway production ran for 711 performances. The show failed to win a Tony Award, despite racking up five nominations, but Lloyd Webber received some recognition in the form of a Drama Desk award as “Most Promising Composer.” The play opened in London’s West End in 1972 and ran for eight years straight – London’s longest-running musical at the time. Superstar was the third collaboration between Webber and Rice, who both went on to become major figures in the modern musical theater, with such hits as Evita, Cats, and The Phantom of the Opera — just to name a fewto their credit.

Superstar was made into a film – shot in Israel and other Middle East locations – in 1973, with several of the Broadway cast again reprising their roles. A second film version, released as a video only, was shot in 1999 and broadcast on PBS’s “Great Performances” in 2001. And on Easter Sunday 2018, NBC produced a widely-acclaimed live concert version of the play, with John Legend in the role of Jesus.

So Church Hill’s production has high expectations to fulfill. As Grasso said following the opening night performance, the local theatrical community came together in several months of hard work and pulled off a stunning performance.

The choreography by 2016 Washington College graduate Kendall Davis is spectacular. 

The “rock opera” designation is accurate in the sense that the dialogue is almost entirely sung – only a few lines are actually spoken. It is also accurate in that the vocal demands on the main characters, as far as range and projection, go a good bit beyond the average musical. So all the main roles need to be in good singing voice, and in addition, there is a significant element of choreography in many of the roles. The cast — which covers an age span from a 13-year-old to several in their 70s — makes it all work. It’s as powerful a piece of musical theater as this area has seen in a long time.

Mark Weining, who plays Jesus, is visually an excellent choice for the role.  He looks like Jesus!   And his voice and acting chops – developed in numerous roles at CHT – are up to the challenge. The dramatic demands of the part – possibly the single most significant figure in the history and culture of the last two millennia – are obvious: the actor must walk the line between deep sympathy for the problems of the poor and oppressed and the authority of a major prophet – perhaps even a god incarnate. And in the second act, after his arrest, the role of martyr becomes predominant, with all the attendant physical pain and psychological doubt. Weining brings it all off powerfully.

The role of Judas is central to the play, and Max Hagan does a fabulous job. Both in his vocal numbers and in his acting, he brings a strong presence to the role. High energy and passion. Keep an eye on him even when he is to the side of the stage – his reactions to what Jesus and his followers are doing are as important to the overall plot as what is happening in the center of things. Hagan stands out – as he should.  Note that he is dressed in red and black while Jesus is in a pure white robe and his followers and the various other characters wear shades of black and white but mostly gray.  It is not coincidental.  Hagan shows how Judas is genuinely concerned about the direction Jesus’s movement is taking and Judas fears that it will lead to more persecution and oppression of the Jewish people by the Roman authorities.  Judas also thinks that by betraying Jesus, he is fulfilling a prophecy and that Jesus understands, even wants, the prophecy to be fulfilled. This Judas does not want “Blood Money” and is in agony when he begins to understand that he has been used by the high priests to help them get rid of a “problem”.

Jesus (Mark Wiening) and  Judas Iscariot (Max Hagan) with Peter (Bob McGrory) and Simon Zealotes (Nevin Dawson)

Stav Pinder takes the role of Mary Magdalene. She is a delight. Her strong singing voice shows to good advantage in the show’s big ballad, “I Don’t Know How to Love Him.” And as the show’s single significant female character, her role takes on greater importance. Her training and experience in opera are clearly visible.  Her ability to interpret a song, not just hitting the notes but bringing emotion and meaning to the lyrics, is highlighted in songs such as “Could We Start Again, Please” and “Everythings’s Alright.”

Stav Pinder as Mary Magdelene, sings one of the most beautiful melodies in the show, “I Don’t Know How to Love Him.” 

Doug Porter and Brian Whitaker are well cast as the high priests Caiaphas and Annas.  They are appropriately sinister and imposing – and they sing their roles well. Porter’s low voice is just right for lines such as “We need a more permanent  solution to our problem.” And it sends absolute chills down the spine when they join together with other male voices–including Ken Gresh,  David Ryan,  and Goldey Vansant–to intone “This Jesus must die, must die, must die.” CHT stalwart Matt Folker is also well cast as Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor who “washes his hands” of the decision to condemn Jesus to crucifixion.  Folker ably conveys Pilate’s inner conflict;  his reluctance to punish–or worse yet, crucify–what he considers an innocent man.  But the crowd demands crucifixion.

Matt Folker as Pontius Pilate – Church Hill Theatre 2019 production of “Jesus Christ Superstar”

Bob McGrory is very good as the apostle Peter, who pledges his fidelity to Jesus, then denies him three times after Jesus is arrested by the Romans. McGrory also has a fine voice that blends beautifully with Pinder’s in the duet part of “Could We Start Again, Please.”  Nevin Dawson plays Simon Zelotes, who tries to persuade Jesus to ignite the Jews to rebel against Roman oppression.  His solo is one that really rocks the crowd with piercing “yips” and “yelps” about the “power and the glory” that Jesus will bring.  The crowd here does a wonderful dance routine that ends with both Jesus and Simon on high platforms and the crowd raising their arms in jubilation.

Doug Porter as the High Priest Caiaphas 

Speaking of the dance scenes, Greg Minahan, who polished his dancing chops with the Broadway musical Cats, gets a show-stopping number as King Herod, coming across as a slick hustler leading a chorus of floozies in a soft-shoe number – one of the show’s best bits of theater. Minahan deftly tosses his hat and cane to one of the guards and joins the chorus line of dancers. It got laughter and thunderous applause on opening night.

Greg Minihan as Herod with his chorus line.

A lot of the impact of the show depends on the ensemble — at many points, there are some 30 bodies on stage, dancing, adding their voices to the chorus, reacting and interacting with the main characters, and adding spectacle and considerable emotional power to any given scene.  A good number of the ensemble members have at one point or another been in lead roles themselves in other shows, both here and in bigger venues. And several say in their cast bios that performing in “Jesus  Christ Super Star” is a “bucket list” item for them. That level of commitment comes across in the performance. There are too many such crowd scenes to mention all but a good example of this is the Temple scene where Jesus throws out the greedy money lenders and then is surrounded by a crowd of lepers, all desperately hoping for a miracle. The lepers–including Heather Byers, Connie Fallon, Jane Jewell, Helen Vansant, and Fred Welsh– creep, crawl, stumble, and limp onstage frantically trying to touch the hem of Jesus’ robe. Watch for Natalie Lane, Melissa McGlynn, Laura McGrory, Colleen Minahan, Shayla Moore, Krista Roark, Becca Van Aken, and several others who are absolute dancing dervishes in multiple scenes.   Kudos to all.

At the temple, a group of lepers approaches Jesus with hopes of a cure.

The “community” tag is especially apt in that many family groups are part of the cast. Bob, Laura, and Maya McGrory are father, mother, and daughter. Greg and Colleen Minahan are a brother-sister team., both of whom have worked professionally on stage and screen. Matt Folker and Becca Van Aken are a husband-wife team, as are Goldey and Helen Vansant. Folker and Van Aken met and married at Church Hill Theatre–literally.  After several years of acting in various productions together, the couple staged their own wedding ceremony right there on the CHT stage. And the family connections extend to behind the scenes as well, with director Grasso’s husband Carmen doing set construction and their son Chris doing sound design. Chris Grasso brought the impressive professional sound system used in Superstar from Upper Darby, PA, where he is a chemistry teacher who moonlights as a sound technician.  Chris Grasso will also be providing sound equipment and assistance for this summer’s Green Room Gang productions.  Stage Manager Michelle Christopher brought in her husband Speedy for set construction and their son Speedy Jr. to operate the light board, and a second, younger son was frequently on hand during rehearsals, running errands and helping out. And Erma and Tina Johnson, who worked on costumes, are sisters-in-law, married to two brothers, one of whom, actor and singer Jim Johnson, is on stage as one of the apostles.

Judas goes to the high priests to tell them where to find Jesus. 

The rock quartet that provides the musical foundation for the show consists of Tom Anthony on bass guitar, Helen Clark on keyboards, Frank Gerber on drums and Quinn Parsley on lead guitar. They make up a driving band, with Anthony’s bass lines often carrying the main melody line and Parsley adding a visual “rock star” flourish at various points. If you wonder how they kept it all together musically, adjusting on the fly to variations in each performance, listening for cues, waiting for entrances or audience laughter and applause to subside, well, they are being guided by the show’s musical director, Julie Lawrence, who is keeping time and directing it all from just off stage where the band and most of the singers can see her but the audience can’t. An impressive job by all.

The set, designed by director Grasso and her husband Carmen Grasso, is a large set of scaffolding occupying the entire width of the stage and rising three levels. With the large cast filling it for many of the production numbers, it gives the performance weight and depth that emphasizes the significance of the action taking place. A nice example of “less is more.”

Nevin Dawson as Simon Zealotes 

Tina Johnson, Erma Johnson, and Debra Ebersole deserve much credit for the costumes, which cover a range from period-believable robes to punk modern and several stages in between. And Kendall Davis, a recent Washington College graduate, took on the choreography for the show — no easy task, given the age range and the varying levels of experience of the cast, but the results are spectacular.

As a musician myself,  I am more of a jazz and blues man but the performance of the music in Jesus Christ Superstar was outstanding. If you can possibly see it, do so. There are occasional points where one actor or another is weak on the high notes, or where the lyrics are hard to hear over the band. However, I was sitting on a back row aisle seat and found that even there I was able to easily follow 90% or better of the lyrics/dialogue – which is about as good as you can get with any production whether onstage, in a movie theatre, or even at home watching TV (where we always turn on the subtitles!).  This kind of clarity requires careful and precise enunciation and practice, practice, practice so that 30 people are always singing the same note and pronouncing the same words clearly at the exact same time. How many times have you seen a play or movie and half the time couldn’t understand certain characters who slurred or mumbled or spoke too quickly? This ensemble does not suffer from that common problem, for which great credit is due to director Grasso and musical director Julie Lawrence. All the principal characters had individual mics which also makes a big difference.

The pace of the show is fast with quick scene changes covered by music and hardly any blackouts. The stage lighting, designed and programmed by Kat Melton, is used very effectively to establish both the setting and the mood. A scene may start with bright blue lighting and then morph to gold or pale reddish orange.  The final scene, the crucifixion, is done basically with lighting variations including the projection of a cross in a halo of light.  It is very effective, though I felt it went on a bit too long.  That, however, is a fact of the script and the score and not a flaw in this production.  In fact, this reviewer, at least, didn’t find any major flaws in the performance as a whole.  It’s a must-see production of a world-famous show.

Peter denies that he ever knew Jesus. (Sarah Ensor and Bob McGrory)

Superstar will be playing through June 23; performances are at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. According to the theater, all performances are sold out; however, come to the theater as there are always people with reservations who fail to appear. Reservations that are not picked up by 10 minutes before curtain will become available. So don’t be late if you do have reservations!  Tickets paid for in advance will not be given away, so don’t worry if you get caught in traffic. If you do need to cancel, please let the box office know. Admission is $20 for the general audience, $15 for CHT members and $10 for students. Call the theater at 410-556-6003, or visit the theater website.

All photos by Steve Atkinson, courtesy of Church Hill Theatre

 

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