Every year, right around the time of our one annual fundraising benefit, “Festival of Trees” (this past Dec. 1), I engage in an annual meditation by rewatching the Frank Capra classic, ‘It’s A Wonderful Life.’ The film is set in a New England town called Bedford Falls and deals not only with small town life but with questions of civic identity and unrealized hopes and dreams in the face of familial duty and sacrifice. The film gets right to the heart of what really matters in life.
There is more than a little of Bedford Falls right here in our hometown of Rutland, Vermont. Perhaps it is the lack of pretension or the best of innocence and simplicity of a place like Rutland that can well understand the goodness at the center of this wonderful story of Christmas.
Each year on Festival of Trees night, one can walk into our storied lobby, look around at the carefully decorated silent auction and peek into the wonderland of lights, trees, poinsettias and auction items upon our stage and be transported to an earlier time; a time of leisurely enjoyments and simple pleasures. If, on a winter night on Center Street, you squint your eyes and tilt your head just so, you might just see George Bailey running down the street in the falling snow, “Merry Christmas Fire Station, Merry Christmas Library, Merry Christmas ya old Bardwell Hotel, Merry Christmas Paramount!”
And that is the spirit that washes over our town and pours through our doors every early December at the Festival of Trees as we kick off our holiday season and raise funds for our beloved hall! We, here at the Paramount, are blessed with “Clarence” Angels (yes, they all have won their wings). They are in every direction we travel as we lean into the three-month marathon known as FOT.
Imagine this: over 200 donors give to the auction, large items and small — trips to exotic locations and $20 gift certificates; a $38,000 electric car and a handmade quilt for a pet, something for virtually everyone. Many of the items walk out of our doors at very good value for our bidders.
Each and every year brings more people through the doors, more kindness and goodwill shown to our endeavors and more of a singular Paramount/Community spirit as we begin this time of giving, caring and loving family fellowship. Who would have ever thought that the total value of donated items would reach very nearly $200,000! Our 2018 FOT smashed all previous records and exceeded our goals for the 10th year running.
It takes a very large village, to “put on this show.” A team of more than 800 includes audience, donors, volunteers, theatre staff, board members and clerical helpers, all pulling in the same direction — namely, the delivery of a terrific party and a successful annual benefit. We are forever in all of their debt and we give humble thanks!
We, here in Rutland, have our George Baileys and our Mary Baileys, our Uncle Billys, our Bert and Ernies, our Ma and Pa Baileys and our Sam Wainwrights (Hee-haw!). What we don’t have in Rutland are venal and hardened old curmudgeons like Mr. Potter, measuring the quality of their lives by the value of their holdings and their dominion over the community. The Mr. Potters of this world cannot grow and thrive here, it isn’t the way that Vermonters roll — we watch out for others and we help when help is needed. We have far too many winged Clarence Angels who make our community better and better each and every day. So many of these angels smile on our endeavor and help to make it successful.
In 1946, “It’s A Wonderful Life” was dismissed by many critics and certainly by the intelligentsia who scoffed at what they deemed to be cheap Norman Rockwell unearned sentiment. I strongly disagree. This story of redemption and second chances (with a dab of divine intervention) is the exact antidote to these perilous and toxic times in which we live. At the end of the film, the entire town pours into George and Mary’s home, cash in hand, to help save the Savings and Loan, capping the film’s poignant message of finding meaning, love and even happiness in the darkest of circumstances. It is our profound hope that a sense of that message is in each of our Festival of Trees patrons as they depart the theatre, and in the hearts of all of our citizens at this very special time.
Special, profound thanks must go to our durable chairwoman, Laurie Mecier-Brochu, who shouldered this year’s event as its sole leader. She tended the herd with her immaculate attention to detail, her inspiring work ethic and her ability to make a room really, really pretty. Kudos, respect and sincere thanks to Laurie.
From the entire staff and board of the Paramount to all of you: Have a wonderful holiday season.
Bruce Bouchard is the executive director of The Paramount Theatre in Rutland.