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Have Truck, Will Travel: Cornish Theater Troupe Will Take to the Road

  • Arielle Strauss of New Jersey looks up from her music while rehearsing the Carnival for Wayward Saints at the Plainfield Town Hall in Plainfield, N.H., on June 18, 2013. <br/><br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    Arielle Strauss of New Jersey looks up from her music while rehearsing the Carnival for Wayward Saints at the Plainfield Town Hall in Plainfield, N.H., on June 18, 2013.

    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • Momentum Theater's Music Director Will Ogmundson leans back to advise the cast while rehearsing a song for The Carnival For Wayward Saints, a play adapted from George Herman's Historical Fiction Novel by Momentum's Artistic Director Sean Eastman and Ogmundson. The rehearsal took place inside the Plainfield Town Hall in Plainfield, N.H., on June 18, 2013. <br/><br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    Momentum Theater's Music Director Will Ogmundson leans back to advise the cast while rehearsing a song for The Carnival For Wayward Saints, a play adapted from George Herman's Historical Fiction Novel by Momentum's Artistic Director Sean Eastman and Ogmundson. The rehearsal took place inside the Plainfield Town Hall in Plainfield, N.H., on June 18, 2013.

    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • (Left to right)  Ryan Collins of Plainfield, Kerry Tattar of Connecticut, and Scott Sweatt of New London, N.H., warm up for their afternoon rehearsal for Momentum Theater by mirroring each other's movements in the back yard of the Percy MacKaye House in Plainfield, N.H., on June 20, 2013. <br/>in Plainfield, N.H., on June 20, 2013. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    (Left to right) Ryan Collins of Plainfield, Kerry Tattar of Connecticut, and Scott Sweatt of New London, N.H., warm up for their afternoon rehearsal for Momentum Theater by mirroring each other's movements in the back yard of the Percy MacKaye House in Plainfield, N.H., on June 20, 2013.
    in Plainfield, N.H., on June 20, 2013.
    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • Arielle Strauss of New Jersey looks up from her music while rehearsing the Carnival for Wayward Saints at the Plainfield Town Hall in Plainfield, N.H., on June 18, 2013. <br/><br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap
  • Momentum Theater's Music Director Will Ogmundson leans back to advise the cast while rehearsing a song for The Carnival For Wayward Saints, a play adapted from George Herman's Historical Fiction Novel by Momentum's Artistic Director Sean Eastman and Ogmundson. The rehearsal took place inside the Plainfield Town Hall in Plainfield, N.H., on June 18, 2013. <br/><br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap
  • (Left to right)  Ryan Collins of Plainfield, Kerry Tattar of Connecticut, and Scott Sweatt of New London, N.H., warm up for their afternoon rehearsal for Momentum Theater by mirroring each other's movements in the back yard of the Percy MacKaye House in Plainfield, N.H., on June 20, 2013. <br/>in Plainfield, N.H., on June 20, 2013. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

Carnival of Saints couldn’t be a more fitting work for the Momentum Theater Troupe to adapt.

Though the 1994 book is set in 16th-century Italy, consider this blurb, from its author’s website:

“Pooling their wits, their talents, and their scanty resources, this band of fugitives, misfits, and thieves don fantastic disguises and, transforming their guild wagon into a stage set, mount bawdy, slapstick entertainments in the city piazzas.”

A similar journey is in store for Momentum, a Cornish-based troupe that will perform locally this summer and across the Northeast and Midwest, with seven actors both green and veteran. When they get to each destination, they won’t park outside a theater or concert hall — one side of the large truck they travel in can be pulled down to form a stage.

“We’ll bring the theater to you, wherever you are,” said Sean Eastman, Momentum’s artistic director.

They’ll perform outside in parks, on farms and town commons, attempting to grab the attention of not-so-captive audiences.

The advantage, and challenge, of a roving theater, said Scott Sweatt of New London, a founding member of the troupe, is that people in the audience can come and go at any point. The actors must always be on their games to attract the attention of passersby.

“That’s the most rewarding thing,” Sweatt said, of the moment that someone stops walking and pays attention. “I got you.”

The tour kicks off July 11 at the Blow-Me-Down Farm in Cornish. Three shows will be offered at each stop: Carnival of Wayward Saints, an adaptation of a portion of a George Herman novel; a new take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream called Bottom’s Dream; and The Man Who Turned Into a Dog, a one-act play about a down-on-his-luck man who takes a job as a watchdog and also takes on canine behaviors.

But first, practice. On Tuesday last week, the youthful cast, which ranges from a 19-year-old college student to comparative theater veterans (max age: 31), gathered in the Plainfield Town Hall for their second day of rehearsals. They moved folding chairs into a semicircle around an old upright piano. Drizzles and the threat of heavy rain forced them indoors, away from the truck.

Other than the cluster of actors in one corner, the hall was spare. Will Ogmundson, a North Sutton, N.H.-based composer who put together an original score for the Saints adaptation , stood near the middle, listening to the group try out one of the songs a cappella .

“They’re singing the songs on their own without me telling them to,” Ogmundson said, smiling. “That’s good.”

Ogmundson, 36, said the music for Carnival was inspired by Stephen Schwartz’s jaunty score for Pippin . As in Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf , each character will be represented by a separate, single instrument.

He sat at the piano, and began to play the pensive early section of the song Love Sequence.

“Why do I love him?” sang Kerry Tattar, who recently studied theater in New York. “Why do I sparkle when I hear his voice? It’s as if I have no choice ...”

“Oh,” said Ogmundson, happily, still playing piano. “You’re interpreting it!”

“Why do I want him?” Tattar continued. “Why do I tremble when he meets my gaze?”

The song soon departed from sweetness, moving into a march and then over-the-top operatic emoting. At one point, the cast debated the merits of singing “either” as “ee-ther” or “eye-ther.” (The latter won.)

The final version will include a portion of the source material’s story, bits of commedia dell’Arte , in which the performers don masks, and four songs. Carnival Of Saints author George Herman participated by email , helping Ogmundson with lyrics and steering him in certain directions when the composer made a character say something the book author didn’t feel was right.

“He’s been so supportive through this whole process,” Eastman said.

In an email, Herman, an author, teacher and playwright who lives in Portland, Ore., wrote that Momentum’s stage on wheels was something he had long been interested in.

“With so many parks throughout America, wouldn’t it be cool to convert a big 18-wheeler into a mobile theatre?” Herman wrote. “You’d pull up at a park on a designated day, put down a center portion of one wall to form a three-quarter stage ... and do a commedia-style play in which the actors interact with the audience.”

The interaction appeals to Sweatt, a lead actor in the troupe. He said he grew tired of the constrictions of acting only in New York theaters when he was there in the mid-2000s, and wanted to work in a way that didn’t put up barriers between actors and viewers.

Over time, positive reactions to Momentum’s brand of theater have become more common, Eastman said. In the troupe’s early years of traveling, he was nervous about the reception he’d get from crowds in unfamiliar towns and cities. But on the eve of the 2013 tour, he’s more excited than worried.

“People do get it; people do show up,” Eastman said. “I know this works. Now I’m ready to make it work again.”

Jon Wolper can be reached at jwolper@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.