Challenges don’t dim ‘Lights in the Forest’

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By Karla Kelly FOR THE DIGBY COURIER Fans waiting for the highly anticipated performance of ‘Lights in the Forest’, Hal Theriault’s play about the Stehelins of New France, will have to wait a while longer.

But a sneak preview over the Thanksgiving weekend gave an audience at the Weymouth Historical a glimpse at the compelling story of Emile Stehelin trying to save his family from war in Europe and his creation of a safe and secure future for them in a settlement in the woods back of Weymouth.

The play’s original opening date was the end of August, but production delays pushed that to November, and Theriault says two major challenges have now moved the performance into the New Year. “Right now we are looking at the middle of February,” he said. “This is a more realistic time frame as it is so important to do a good job with this story. “Challenges are just a natural flow of a play but by Thanksgiving I realized we were just not ready and could not do justice to the story if we pressed for the fall play date,” said Theriault.

The story of New France was set in the Weymouth and Clare area, and Theriault said he wants to have the play performed in Weymouth or as close as possible. A proper venue is still being sought.

Along with finding the right place for the performance, Theriault said he has been dealing with a few character replacements and it takes time for the new actors to get into their roles. “A few actors had to back out due to work commitments and they were replaced with new cast members who had to start from scratch.”

Only two members of the cast have acting experience and that has created some challenges, but Theriault said the 31 cast members are committed to the task. “I have worked one-on-one with many of the cast and everyone wants to do their best,” he added. “Acting is an intricate process and they are willing to listen to directions.”

Theriault explained that everyone is very positive and each cast member is committed to the production, as they fully understand the value of the story. “We have actors from Digby down through to Meteghan and under different circumstances their paths might never cross, but relationships are developing and the teamwork is amazing.”

Theriault wanted local actors and there are those in the cast who have ancestral ties to New France.

Two Weymouth area residents, Paula Cromwell, who plays Flora Cromwell, and Nelson Bishop, who plays her husband, Nathanial, had relatives who worked for the Stehelins.

Bishop’s great-grandfather George Cromwell worked at the Stehelin sawmill as a millwright and ran logs down the Sissiboo River.

Both actors are excited about the play and the opportunity to be part of sharing the story. “We think it is awesome,” Cromwell said. “We talked about getting involved and after meeting Hal, we auditioned for the parts.”

Costume designer Rose Button said it has been a big job providing the many and varied costumes for the play with some of the cast members requiring three costumes for the production. “Providing the right costumes has been a huge undertaking as there is a wide variety of outfits from the elite characters to the common folk,” Button said. “Homespun material reminiscent of the Acadian folk of that time was easier to find,” Button said. “The Acadian culture has been so well preserved over the years.” The challenge has been getting the rich velvet for the Stehelins’ clothing, she said.

Button said while they have nearly completed the required wardrobe, she is looking for donations of period costumes and these would be catalogued, preserved and used in future productions.

Turning this story into a play was a personal challenge for Theriault. Once underway, he realized it was impossible to tell the whole story in a single performance.

Theriault shortened the story but when his readers went through the play, it was decided that ‘Lights in the Forest’ would be the first of two plays with a possible third in order to tell the story in its full format.

Theriault said many people have stepped up to do the background work but he is looking for more volunteers to assist in designing and painting props and sets.

Anyone able to assist with costumes or sets can contact Theriault at 245-5629.

Geographic location: Weymouth, New France, Europe Clare Meteghan Sissiboo River

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