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Civil War play aids Old State House mission

By Eric E. Harrison

This article was published April 3, 2014 at 3:06 a.m.


Dustin Alford and Donna Singleton star in The Bridegroom of Blowing Rock at the Old State House Museum.

The Old State House Museum takes a big theatrical step with its production of The Bridegroom of Blowing Rock by Catherine Trieschmann, 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at the museum, 300 W. Markham St., Little Rock.

Admission is free; seating is limited. Call (501) 324-8645 or visit bridegroom.

The two-act play deals with how women in a small North Carolina town keep their homes together in the absence of able-bodied men during the last days of the Civil War. It’s the first collaboration between the museum and Torn Kite Theatre Company, a Little Rock-based group that focuses on socially conscious and historically significant issues.

Director Josh Sigal, coordinator of theater programs for the museum, is the connection.

Michael Nickerson, Sigal’s predecessor, started the museum theater project and put on two amateur productions of Shakespeare plays, for which rehearsals took place in the daytime.

Sigal says he’s working to transition the museum theater program into a more professional entity. “That was largely the idea behind bringing in an outside group, even though it’s my outside group,” he says, “because we’re now licensed to rehearse in the evening.”

And with a $2,000 grant from the Arkansas Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission, Sigal can afford to pay his seven actors, four women and three men.

“We ended up with a phenomenal cast of seasoned actors who are bringing a whole lot to the table,” Sigal says. “Somebody else on staff, Daniel Cockrell, who isa technical theater whiz, has been working very diligently turning the upstairs [the museum’s second floor] into a theater. The set looks great.

“The nice thing about doing a period piece in a historical setting: all our props and set dressings [are authentic], because we’re the ‘go-to’ for that sort of stuff. And we have a wonderful costume closet full of period garb.” Those costs are being borne by the museum’s education budget, he adds.

Sigal’s four principals are Rachel Hampton, Ben Gibson, Donna Singleton and Dustin Alford. Moriah Patterson, Beth Ross and David Monteith round out the cast.

Sigal says he also took advantage of some of his performers’ other talents.

“It’s a straight play, not a musical in any way, but we ended up with some very talented singers, so I took the liberty of recording them singing Civil War songs as a soundtrack and scene-change music, and we ended up with some really cool stuff,” he says.

A northern New Jersey native who moved here from Seattle, Sigal took over the museum theater program a year and a half ago. He has forged what he calls successful education partnerships with two charter schools, nearby eStemand, starting next year, Little Rock Prep.

North Carolina playwright Catherine Trieschmann, is apparently no direct relation to central Arkansas playwright Werner Trieschmann.

“My challenge is to find works that fit our mission, illuminating the history of the region from 1836 to 1911, which is when the Old State House was the Capitol,” Sigal says. “So you start looking for plays and there’s not a lot of them set in the South in that time.

“The experience of these people in Blowing Rock, N.C., which is in the Great Smoky Mountain range on the Tennessee-North Carolina border, is very similar to that which would have been experienced of the people who were living in the northwest part of Arkansas. Almost right down to the accents they would have shared with the people in that part of the state.”

Weekend, Pages 32 on 04/03/2014

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