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Highlights: Randolph Actor Faces Challenges Onstage and Off

  • Randolph, Vt., actor and filmmaker Jeff Tolbert, plays a transgender woman in a staged reading of Paul Lucas' play "Trans Scripts, Part I: The Women." The reading will take place Saturday, Jan. 27 at 7:30 p.m. as part of the Vermont Pride Festival at the Chandler Center for the Arts. Tolbert was photographed at the Chandler in Randolph, Vt., Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Randolph, Vt., actor and filmmaker Jeff Tolbert, plays a transgender woman in a staged reading of Paul Lucas' play "Trans Scripts, Part I: The Women." The reading will take place Saturday, Jan. 27 at 7:30 p.m. as part of the Vermont Pride Festival at the Chandler Center for the Arts. Tolbert was photographed at the Chandler in Randolph, Vt., Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Renowned and well-traveled saxophonist Greg Abate performs at Jazz on a Sunday Afternoon at the Center at Eastman in Grantham. See 'Music' for more information. (Courtesy photograph)



Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, January 25, 2018

Jeff Tolbert already was stretching his stagecraft in recent rehearsals to portray one of the seven transgender characters in a staged reading of Trans Scripts Part I: The Women at Randolph’s Chandler Music Hall.

As Saturday night’s production looms, the stakes have gotten higher.

The self-employed Randolph filmmaker, a cisgender man, will take the stage in high heels to deliver his monologue to an audience that will include his wife, Florence, who learned on Monday night that she has only a matter of days left in her long battle with cancer. (Cisgender is a term used to describe non-transgender people.)

“She definitely intends on going to see this one,” Tolbert said on Tuesday afternoon. “It’s the last show she’s going to see me in. This play is all about having compassion and empathy for people who are ‘different.’ It’s too easy for people to lose sight of what is important in life. People live for a short amount of time. We’ve all got to get along somehow.

“There’s no way I can’t do this.”

The Tolberts and their two then-preteen sons moved to Vermont from Florence’s native France in 2000, at the height of the debate over civil unions. Recalling the often-toxic “Take Back Vermont” atmosphere of that time, and watching recent efforts in red states and nationally to roll back the gains of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer Americans, Tolbert already was primed to tackle gender and human-rights issues onstage when veteran Vermont stage director Cher Laston sent him the script.

“I’d done a lot of dramatic roles lately, including Macduff in MacBeth,” Tolbert recalled last week. “It’s been mostly very serious, very downer-type plays. Then I did a fun musical in Burlington, and after that role I was debating, ‘Do I want to do another Shakespeare production?’ and this came up, and it was, ‘Yes! This is it!’ ”

Playwright Paul Lucas’ script draws from interviews he conducted with dozens of transgender people in England. Laston saw the play’s first staging as a full production in 2015, during the avant-garde Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland, and immediately began lobbying organizers of the Vermont Pride Festival to stage a reading at the Chandler.

Once she got the green light, Laston asked Tolbert to keep his January calendar flexible in case she couldn’t find, through a statewide casting call, a transgender woman to play Eden. The eventual winner of the role pulled out late in the process, at which point “I told Jeff, ‘OK: Now you have to tell me if this fits into your schedule.’ ”

It did fit, as did Tolbert into the role.

“I got my dream person,” Laston said. “He’s got the look. Eden ... sees herself split between two worlds. She identifies as somewhere in between. Jeff has very beautiful features. With make-up and the right hairdressing, he will transform into this androgynous creature.”

The hardest part of the transformation, Tolbert said last week, might have been tackling Eden’s speech patterns.

“She has a north-of-England working-class accent,” Tolbert said. “Our dialect coach was talking about trying not to let the technique in your process get in the way of the actual character.”

And what a character: “She is mercurial,” Tolbert said. “She is quick to fight. When I’ve played bad guys in other plays, they’ve tended to be sneaky. They plan things ahead. They’re very methodical, whereas Eden can spin on a dime, can be the most pleasant person one minute and then nasty, snarling the next.”

Tolbert, who has acted in other Vermont Pride productions at the Chandler, added that two of the three transgender members of the cast have helped him identify with their world view.

“We have discussions in rehearsals, where someone will go off on their experience,” he said. “That’s where I’ve gotten most of my resources.”

Laston hopes that she and the cast and crew can provide the resources to help Tolbert through Saturday night’s show.

“I have never had an actor who has had to deal with an impending loss of the love of his or her life,” Laston said. “I admire his strength. … Jeff’s passion to see this project through mirrors Flo’s determination to leave this life on her own terms.”

Florence Tolbert, a longtime French teacher at The Sharon Academy, was diagnosed with cancer in 2014 and learned that she might live another three to five years.

“We have been dealing with this for a while,” Jeff Tolbert said. “We’ve attended things like death cafes, where you learn to communicate. You talk about things. You find out what really matters. That’s part of what drew me to the play.

“If people can get that at some point, it would be a much better world.”

The Vermont Pride Festival stages a reading of Paul Lucas’ Trans Scripts, Part I: The Women, at Chandler Music Hall in Randolph on Saturday night at 7:30. Lucas and members of the cast, including Bianca Leigh (“Tatiana”) from the Edinburgh production, will answer questions after the performance. Tickets cost $15 to $20 in advance and $17 to $22 at the door. Proceeds go to the programs of GLBTQ Legal Advisors and Defenders. To reserve seats and learn more, visit chandler-arts.org or call 802-728-9878, ext. 1.

Best Bets

Accordionist Jeremiah McLane, guitarist Eric McDonald and bassist/guitarist Corey DiMario perform traditional music of the British Isles, Quebec and France, as well as their own compositions, on Friday night at 7:30 in the Hayloft of the ArtisTree Community Arts Center in South Pomfret. General-admission tickets cost $15. To learn more, visit artistreevt.org or call 802-457-3500.

The Cantabile women’s chorus sings works of Elgar, Schubert, Vivaldi, Eric Whitacre and Ola Gjeilo at two Upper Valley venues this weekend: Saturday afternoon at 3 at the First Congregational Church of Lebanon and a 3 on Sunday afternoon at the First Congegational Church of Norwich. For tickets ($5 to $15) and more information, visit cantabilewomen.org.

Previews of Northern Stage’s production of Bob Stevens’ Only Yesterday start Wednesday at the Barrette Center for the Arts in White River Junction. The play reimagines a heart-to-heart between the young Beatles John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Opening night is Feb. 3 and the show runs through Feb. 18. To reserve seats and learn more, visit northernstage.org or call 802-291-7000.

Looking Ahead

Pentangle Arts will hold auditions at the Woodstock Town Hall Theatre on Feb. 3 for its April production of Hair: The Tribal Rock Musical. Aspiring singers, dancers and actors of all ethnicities are welcome to the tryouts, which will run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. To register for an audition time, visit pentanglearts.org/hair or the Pentangle Arts Council page on Facebook.

Banjo player Bob Amos, mandolin master Colin McCaffrey, fiddler Chris Brashear and The Starline Rhythm Boys will perform bluegrass, country and rockabilly music at Tunbridge Town Hall at 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 2, during an 80th-birthday celebration for veteran Nashville music producer Jim Rooney, now a resident of Sharon. Admission is $15 in advance and $20 at the door, with proceeds going to Royalton Community Radio. To reserve tickets and learn more, visit royaltonradio.org.

Theater/Performance Art

Shaker Bridge Theatre continues its production of Broadway playwright Nick Payne’s Constellations tonight at 7:30 at Whitney Hall in downtown Enfield. The drama runs through Feb. 4. To reserve tickets ($16 to $35) and learn more, visit shakerbridgetheatre.org or call 603-448-3750.

The New Jersey-based theater troupe ArtsPower stages Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great at Randolph’s Chandler Music Hall on Friday morning at 10. Aimed at young families and school groups but open to all ages, this musical adaptation of a Judy Blume novel charts the coming-of-age struggles and triumphs of a 10-year-old girl. To order tickets and learn more, visit chandler-arts.org or call 802-728-6464.

Music

Dartmouth College’s Paddock Music Library concludes its series of sing-ins on Friday afternoon at 5, with Ron Israel leading songs on the theme of “Homeless in America: Blues in the Trump Era.”

Henry Danaher and Hal Sheeler lead a community sing of works of Ralph Vaughan Williams on Sunday afternoon at 3 at the First Congregational Church of Lebanon. Accompanying the chorus will be soprano Chiho Kaneko and Baritone Ken Munsey. Admission is by donation.

Alto saxophonist Greg Abate plays this weekend’s Jazz on a Sunday afternoon concert, starting at 4, in the Center at Eastman in Grantham. To reserve tickets ($18 to $20) and learn more, visit josajazz.com, call 603-763-8732 or 603-381-1662 or email bill.wightman@comcast.net.

Dance

The Old Sam Peabody Band sets the rhythm and Delia Clark calls the steps for BarnArts’ community contra dance at Barnard Town Hall on Saturday night. A potluck dinner starts at 6, and dancing begins at 6:30. Dancers of all ages and levels of experience are welcome. Admission is free. To learn more, visit barnarts.org or call 802-234-1645.

Gypsy Minor provides the music and David Kaynor is the caller for Muskeg Music’s contra dance at Tracy Hall in Norwich on Saturday night at 8. In addition to clean shoes for the dance floor, dancers are encouraged to bring finger food for the potluck snack break. Admission is $6 to $10. To learn more about area contra dances, visit uvdm.org or the Norwich Community Dances page on Facebook.

Bar and Club Circuit

Sky King and Dane Anderson join forces to rock the Peyton Place restaurant in Orford tonight between 6 and 9.

Bassist Charlie Berthoud plays the Taverne on the Square in Claremont tonight from 6 to 9. Thetford Center singer-songwriter Ben Fuller steps to the microphone on Friday night at 7.

The Woodstock-based roots trio Off the Rails pulls into Windsor Station tonight at 7. The rock ensembles Maiden Voyage, Mister Burns and C. Shreve take turns at the venue on Friday night at 9, while The Party Crashers visit on Saturday night at 9:30 and singer-songwriter Erik Boedtker performs on Tuesday night at 6.

Randy Miller leads the weekly live session of traditional Irish music at Salt hill Pub in Hanover tonight at 6. The weekend lineup at the venue features FLEW-Z frontman Alec Currier with a set of acoustic rock on Friday night at 9 and the B-3 Brotherhood with a session of Hammond organ-infused funk and soul on Saturday night at 9.

John Lackard sings and plays the blues at Salt hill Pub in downtown Lebanon on Friday night at 9. On Saturday night, Dopamine fills the venue with reggae rhythms.

Guitarist Ted Mortimer, saxophonist Katie Runde and accordionist Steve Pixley play Salt hill Pub in West Lebanon on Friday night at 9. Groove Sum appears with a session of rock on Saturday night at 9.

Singer-songwriter Doug Lantz performs at Salt hill Pub in Newport on Friday night at 8, and the Plush Foot duo of singer-guitarist Chad Gibbs and drummer Shane Walton plays a set of rock at the venue on Saturday night at 9. Roger Kahle joins Randy Miller at the venue on Wednesday night at 6 for the weekly live session of traditional Irish music.

Saxophonist Mike Parker and singer-guitarist Nikki Adams play the Farmer’s Table in Grantham on Friday night from 7 to 10.

Moxley Union sets the rockin’ rhythm for dancing at the Skunk Hollow Tavern in Hartland Four Corners on Friday night at 9.

The Borderstone Band shares its mix of classic rock, rockabilly, alt-country and blues at The Engine Room in downtown White River Junction on Friday night at 9.

Jim Yeager leads the Magic Box Band into the Public House in Quechee on Friday night at 8.

Pianist Sonny Saul plays jazz at the On the River Inn in Woodstock on Saturday and Wednesday nights from 6 to 9.

Singer-songwriter Jim Yeager plays the Common Man Restaurant in Claremont on Saturday night from 5 to 8.

Saxophonist Mike Parker and guitarist Norm Wolfe play jazz at the Quechee Inn at Marshland Farm on Wednesday night at 6.

Open Mics

Ramunto’s Brick & Brew Pizza in Bridgewater hosts an open mic starting at 7:30 on Thursday nights. Participants get a free large cheese pizza.

String players of all ages and abilities are welcome at the weekly acoustic jam session at South Royalton’s BALE Commons on Friday night from 6:30 to 10.

Jim Yeager hosts open mics on the following nights over the coming week: at Bentley’s Restaurant in Woodstock on Monday night at 7:30; at the Public House in Quechee on Tuesday night at 6; and on Wednesday from 8 to midnight at Skunk Hollow Tavern in Hartland Four Corners.

Fiddler Jakob Breitbach leads a weekly acoustic jam session of bluegrass, Americana and old-timey music on Tuesday nights at 7 at The Filling Station Bar and Grill in White River Junction.

Tom Masterson hosts the weekly open mic at Bradford’s Colatina Exit on Tuesday nights at 8.

Joe Stallsmith leads his weekly hootenanny of Americana, folk and bluegrass on Monday night at 6 at Salt hill Pub in Hanover.

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304. Entertainment-related news and announcements also can be sent to highlights@vnews.com.