The scene at Back Inn Time in St. Albans is a capsule of days gone by: Antiques abound, from the paintings to the elegant but worn furniture. A big, old-fashioned radio perches on one curio cabinet. Though the charming bed-and-breakfast only dates back to 1858, not medieval times, it provides a sufficiently old-timey setting for rehearsals of Camelot, the Saint Albans Society for the Performing Arts’ first full-scale production.
The group, known to its members as SASPA, was started a year and half ago by Jay Fleury, who also established the Saint Albans Literary Guild and Artists‘ Guild. Thus far, the group has produced a piano concert and a short musical revue at the St. Albans Festival of Trees. When Fleury and his board decided it was time for a full-length musical, board member Rich Rodriguez volunteered to direct.
Fleury recruited Jeremy Lawyer, a new St. Albans resident and veteran of Lyric Theatre and the Stowe Theatre Guild, to cochoreograph and assistant-direct. “I’m excited to see theater in St. Albans,” says Lawyer. “I don’t think there’s been anything here for years except ‘Cardiac Capers’ at the hospital.”
Lawyer adds that St. Albans is not the only town in Franklin County to usher in a new musical theater company recently. In August, a community production of Hello, Dolly! filled the stage of the Enosburg Opera House.
Since this is SASPA’s first show, Lawyer says collaboration is the name of the game. Auditioners of all ages were welcomed to the 16-person cast as lords and ladies, and other contributions from community members were likewise appreciated, from donated costumes to shared dance moves. Use of the elegant rehearsal space at Back Inn Time was furnished by Pauline Cray, whose son Travis plays Merlin in the show. Another of Pauline’s sons, Tim Cray, who owns the St. Albans restaurant Blue Acorn, will donate tastes of his creative comfort food for Camelot’s opening-night reception.
That spirit of sharing included welcoming helpers from other communities. Steve Contompasis, a pediatrician at Fletcher Allen Health Care, commutes from Burlington to play the role of Arthur. Contompasis says he doesn’t mind the half-hour drive.
He has company on the road to St. Albans. His daughter, Judy, a junior biology major at the University of Vermont, recently stepped in to replace the performer originally cast as Guinevere. “The only thing Mom asked was, ‘Do you guys kiss on stage?’” Steve Contompasis jokes.
“We don’t, so that makes it easier,” Judy Contompasis clarifies. Running lines in the car with Dad makes things easier for Judy, who took over the role with less than a month before showtime. Luckily, she likes the script, saying, “The show is really well written, and the songs are fun.”
“If you look at it, you have [lyricist and playwright Alan Jay] Lerner and [composer Frederick] Loewe and [original director] Moss Hart, whose stagings really come to life,” adds Steve Contompasis. “Going into the sciences and medicine, I hadn’t read as many of the classics as I should have. I’ve had fun getting to know the Arthur character.”
Audiences can get to know him this weekend. And if director Rodriguez has his way, they’ll get to know some locally written characters soon; he’s on a committee planning a Franklin County playwrights’ festival in the spring. SASPA will stage the winning text. Next fall, the group plans to produce another musical; Lawyer mentions Godspell and My Fair Lady as contenders.
Rodriguez is also reaching out to the community by offering acting classes for adults and children. The former off-Broadway actor says he is happy to contribute to the St. Albans arts scene. “I love transporting people and taking them on a journey and showing them there’s more to the arts than pizza and videos,” he says.
Hopefully, as the show’s title tune puts it, the theater will not find a more congenial spot for happily-ever-aftering than St. Albans.