Another town has shut off Popcorn Falls’ namesake waterfall to recycle them as a sewage treatment site. But Popcorn Falls’ townsfolk (“kernels”) discover a loophole when they find they can secure a town-saving grant if they can produce a play — in just one week!
But there is no playhouse, no players and no play.
And only two actors to become the 20-plus townspeople!
After a year’s hiatus to avoid the COVID-19 pandemic, Vermont Stage Company returns with “Popcorn Falls,” a wacky two-person farce by James Hindman, July 28-Aug. 8 outdoors at the Isham Family Farm in Williston.
“I wanted to do a show that was just fun,” explains Cristina Alicea, Vermont Stage’s artistic director, who directs the show.
“When I was planning a production in the farm, I wanted it to be just a fun, enjoyable experience, especially coming out of the pandemic, being such a challenging time for everybody. I wanted something that would make people feel joyful and laugh — to be together in a way that feels really happy.”
“Popcorn Falls” premiered at Theatre Nova in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Jan. 20, 1917, and opened off-Broadway in New York at the Davenport Theatre on Oct. 8, 2018. Much like “The 39 Steps” comedy, two actors play more than 20 townsfolk trying to rise to the challenge and prove that art can save the world.
“I love plays where the actors have to do all kinds of crazy things to make the play fly,” Alicea said. “I though it would be a challenge.”
Vermont Stage veterans Patrick Clow and Sarah Mell are Actor 1 and Actor 2, respectively. And the rehearsal process has been intense.
“Not to diminish Patrick’s role in this, because he is on stage for the entire show, and does all the transitions and everything,” Alicea said, “but Sarah does a lot of the heavy lifting in the role of Actor 2. She’s playing 12 roles in the show, and so most of these changes are hers.
“It’s been really a fun and challenging process to figure out how are we are going to convincingly play these different characters, and through these changes in the middle of the scene — it’s not like she can leave the stage. How does she change into this person in a way people will buy it?”
This is the first production Alicea has directed in two years.
“It has been so much more challenging than I thought it would be, directing the show,” she said. “Sarah plays three different characters in less than a minute. It’s really wild!”
Patrick plays primarily one character in the whole show.
“And so it’s a lot of just watching Sarah play all these different characters in a scene,” Alicea said. “So how do we find a way to support all of these changes? It’s been like choreographing a dance — especially the ensemble scenes where we have every character in the play in the scene together.”
It has definitely been like a dance.
“The movement is like pivot on this foot, then stand here,” Alicea said. “And it has to go pretty similarly every time for it to work. And that’s been the real challenge.
“It’s just what farce demands, that specificity of movement – just get to the right place and hit that line at the right time,” Alicea said.
As opposed to the acting, the staging is simple. There will be an outdoor stage, but no set or complex lighting.
“All of our artists, staff and volunteers are fully vaccinated,” Alicea said. “Because it’s outdoors, it will be safe.”
In case of inclement weather, ticket-holders will receive information via email about the option to use their ticket at a later date in the show’s run. All performances are general admission. Entry to seating area will begin a half hour prior to show time. (Please bring a low-back folding chair to sit.)
“When I first read it, I immediately wanted to produce it, but it was, oh, it’s a little cheesy,” Alicea said. “But what’s been fun as we’ve been bringing it to life, it’s still cheesy but it doesn’t feel saccharine. It’s definitely over the top, but it ends up playing in a way that’s really just fun. The sillier it gets, the more fun we’re having.
“We’re mostly just rolling around the floor laughing,” Alicea said. “It’s just a fun farce.”