“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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Council Will Not Replace Resigning Police Recruit

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Chestertown Police Chief Adrian Baker

At the Chestertown Council meeting Monday, June 17, Police Chief Adrian Baker reported that one of two recruits recently hired by the town has resigned to take a position with another nearby town.

Baker, who said he was “disappointed” by the resignation, said the town invested a good deal of time and money in training the recruit, and it was unclear how much the town could recoup, although the recruit had signed a contract. He said it appeared unlikely the town could recoup the recruit’s salary to date, although the expense of his academy training, including uniforms, equipment, and ammunition used in training was probably recoverable. He said the contract required the recruit to pay the town “a certain amount of money” within 30 days if he left the department early.

Baker said that other chiefs in the area told him there was strong competition for qualified recruits. He said there used to be a “gentleman’s agreement” that towns wouldn’t “steal the guy next door,” but that no longer held true. One agency on the Shore is paying a $10,000 bonus to officers who will sign on, Baker said. He said he would try to find ways to prevent such an occurrence in the future, but it was by no means unique to his department.

He said had been very pleased with the council’s decision several months ago to fund hiring two new officers to bring the force up to a total of 14. He asked whether the council wanted to authorize him to hire another certified officer to return the force to 14, or to stay at the current total of 13.

My inclination is to stay with 13,” said Mayor Chris Cerino. “I feel like we’ve been operating at 12, actually, for several months now.” He added, “We’ve basically paid for this guy to take a job with another department.” Cerino noted that the police department is a very large fraction of the town’s budget and that the town is facing a very tight budget year.

Councilman Marty Stetson, a former town police chief, said that when times get better, the additional officer could be restored to the force’s budget. He said that the town would probably have to make the same decision not to replace someone who left the street department, “under the restraints we have now.”

Councilwoman Linda Kuiper said that the town should not reduce the police department’s budget in case they found they need another officer.

Cerino said that in view of the fact that the budget was so tight, “I would rather look at this as a cost savings,” giving the town a $50,000 cushion. He said that if one of the town’s revenue projections falls short, or if an unexpected expense arises, the money could be critical in balancing the books. He noted that none of the town staff is receiving a raise this budget year.

Kuiper then asked that the money budgeted for the new officer be put in a restricted fund, to be expended only by an explicit council vote.

Councilman David Foster said that if he had known the state of the town’s finances when he voted to send two recruits to the academy, he might well have voted to send only one. He said the town should postpone any decision on whether to replace the recruit until it had a better idea whether it was above or below its projected expenses.

Stetson said that if the town had a surplus at the end of the year, he would like to see the employees get “a decent raise,” especially the ones who have stayed with the town over a period of years. He said he would recommend that the town freeze hiring except if it needed to replace an essential employee such as the police chief.

Baker said that he understood the financial constraints. However, he asked that if another officer leaves, that the town consider maintaining the force at 13.

Town Manager Bill Ingersoll said he considered 13 “an ideal compromise.” He said it has been hard for the town to retain 12 officers consistently. Ingersoll said it was important for the town to have “a little cushion” for contingencies. The amount saved by not replacing the officer is “a payday and a half” in terms of the overall budget, he said. He said the town should be angry at a neighboring town “poaching” its recruits. He compared it to “heading up to the maternity ward and taking somebody’s baby right after they’ve delivered.” He said the town had paid the recruit’s salary and benefits for four months “when they’re really absolutely not doing anything for the police department other than going to school.” He said the recruit had only been available for the Tea Party festival.

Baker said the town could have lost still more money if the recruit had stayed to complete field training, which he said is very labor intensive. He said he appreciated the council’s consideration of his query whether to remain at 13 officers or seek another recruit.

Kuiper made a motion to put the officer’s $42,000 plus the $5,000 academy costs that would be refunded into a restricted fund so it isn’t expended without an explicit council vote. She said it would be equivalent to the $200,000 paid for the armory by Washington College, which was placed in a restricted fund to be used only for waterfront infrastructure projects.

Cerino said he didn’t think the funds needed to be restricted. He said they should be available in case of an unanticipated shortfall of revenue or expense, such as needing to purchase a truck. “It’s there in case we have unexpected costs,” he said.

Councilman Ellsworth Tolliver said he worried that the money might be spent piecemeal over a period of time without being specifically accounted for. “It’s gone, and we don’t know where it went,” he said. He seconded Kuiper’s motion.

Stetson said that if anyone exceeded their budget they already need to come to the council for additional funds.

After some discussion about what the restriction would apply to, the council voted 3-2 against the motion to restrict the funds, with Kuiper and Tolliver voting in favor.

Also at the meeting, the council approved three resolutions supporting local businesses applying for Enterprise Zone income tax credits for creating new full-time jobs. Dixon Valve plans to add 10 jobs at its four locations; Dixon Valve Group plans to add one new job at each of two different locations; and Kent Athletic and Wellness Club plans to add one new job at each of two locations. The resolutions were approved unanimously.

Cerino, in his mayor’s report, nominated Rob Busler to fill a vacancy on the Planning Commission and the Rev. Charles Barton to fill a vacancy on the Historic District Commission. The council will vote on the nominations at its next meeting, July 1.

Residents Question Funding of Clean Chesapeake Coalition

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The Conowingo Dam, the main target of the Clean Chesapeake Coalition’s lobbying efforts

During the June 4 public hearing by the Kent County Commissioner on the county budget for Fiscal Year 2020, Grenville Whitman of Rock Hall and William Herb, a retired hydrologist who lives on Fairlee Creek, raised questions about the county’s donation to the Clean Chesapeake Coalition. The draft budget includes a $17,000 donation to the Coalition, an amount matched by five other Shore counties, for a total of $85,000. Since 2013, the first year of the Coalition’s existence, the county has donated $159,000 to the Coalition. In addition to Kent, Caroline, Carroll, Cecil, Dorchester, and Queen Anne’s counties are members of the Coalition. Kent County Commissioner Ron Fithian is chairman of the Coalition.

The objective of the Clean Chesapeake Coalition, according to its website, is “to pursue improvement to the water quality of the Chesapeake Bay in the most prudent and fiscally responsible manner – through research, coordination, and advocacy.” It specifically identifies the reservoir of the Conowingo Dam, which is owned and operated by Exelon Corporation, as “the largest single point source of pollution to Bay waters.” The Conowingo Dam is located on the Susquehanna River just before it enters the Bay.

Herb, who testified first, said, “The Coalition wastes taxpayers’ money by pursuing a campaign against Exelon, and erroneously blames future contamination threats on the Conowingo Dam. The Coalition’s website identifies no staff or contract support with technical expertise. Members of the Coalition are public officials whose resumes demonstrate no scientific or engineering capability. Commissioners Jacob and Mason would be unwise to seek my advice on how to run a business. Commissioner Fithian would be equally unwise to ask me how to harvest oysters. The Commissioners should not unwisely get advice on complex hydrologic and environmental issues from those with no qualifications.”

He went on to note, “The Coalition purports to be in favor of a clean Chesapeake, but documents no successes in reducing even one ounce of contamination to the Bay. […] The Coalition’s budget for 2020 projects 78% for Legal, including lobbying, 11% for General Administration, and 11% for Communication, but not one cent for pollution reduction.”

Kent County Commissioner Ron Fithian – Photo by Jane Jewell

Herb said, “All of the sediment, nitrogen, and phosphorus that have entered the Bay in the past, or that will enter the Bay in the future via the Susquehanna River have their origins in Pennsylvania and New York, and not in the operation of the Conowingo Dam. If the Commissioners and the Coalition are really serious about protecting the Bay, they should seek to collect from these two upstream states, and not from a private entity, whose major environmental transgression seems to be having deep pockets.”

Finally, Herb asked that Fithian, as Chair of the Coalition, should recuse himself from any discussion, action, or vote regarding the Coalition to avoid a conflict of interest. He offered to present his technical analysis of the Conowingo Dam and the Bay to any or all of the commissioners.

Grenville Whitman at the Kent County Commissioners’ budget hearing, June 4 – Photo by Peter Heck

Whitman referred to a letter he and Herb wrote to the commissioners on April 29, which made two requests: that the commissioners conduct a public hearing “to determine what actual, tangible, real benefits Kent County residents have received from their substantial investment so far;” and that Fithian recuse himself from any discussion and abstain from any vote on his group’s funding request. He went on to list the kinds of questions the commissioners should ask before continuing the funding: what benefits have Kent County residents received for their $159,000 donations since 2013? What are the Coalition’s three most notable accomplishments in that time? And have the Coalition’s records been audited after it has received nearly $1 million in public funding?

Whitman said, “Until these questions—and others—are put to the Coalition and the Coalition responds, this funding request has not been subjected to due diligence. I ask that this request be denied, and that $17,000 be re-directed to a program that directly benefits Kent County residents. The county school system comes to mind.”

Whitman also questioned the ethics of the commissioners in allocating county funds to a group chaired by one of their members. “Perhaps the county Ethics Commission should be invited to look into this arrangement and rule on it,” he said. He questioned the ethics of the county “doling out public money” to a group that lobbies against federal and state programs and policies. He said the Coalition was within its rights to so lobby, but for them to use public funding for the purpose was questionable.

The commissioners did not respond to either Herb or Whitman at the budget hearing. At their regular meeting Tuesday, June 11, the commissioners voted unanimously to adopt the FY2020 budget. All three commissioners took part in the vote.

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