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Hartford native gathers his thoughts for a one-man show in Thetford

  • Alan Haehnel rehearses his new show, "Wonders of the Shiny Dome," at the Parish Players' Eclipse Grange Theatre in Thetford, Vt., on Feb. 19, 2019. The presentation of original speeches, poems and stories will be at the Theatre from Feb. 21-24, 2019. (Valley News - Joseph Ressler) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Alan Haehnel rehearses his new show, "Wonders of the Shiny Dome," at the Parish Players' Eclipse Grange Theatre in Thetford, Vt., on Feb. 19, 2019. The presentation of original speeches, poems and stories will be at the Theatre from Feb. 21-24, 2019. (Valley News - Joseph Ressler) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Alan Haehnel rehearses his new show, "Wonders of the Shiny Dome," at the Parish Players' Eclipse Grange Theatre in Thetford, Vt., on Feb. 19, 2019. The presentation of original speeches, poems and stories will also be followed by a one-act comedy written by Haehnel. (Valley News - Joseph Ressler) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Omega Haehnel, left, and Pearl MacLeod play Concentration to warm up before rehearsing their performance of "Package Deal" at the Parish Players' Eclipse Grange Theatre in Thetford, Vt., on Feb. 19, 2019. The new one-act comedy, written by Alan Haehnel, will follow his show of speeches, poems and stories, "Wonders of the Shiny Dome." (Valley News - Joseph Ressler) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 2/20/2019 10:05:06 PM
Modified: 2/20/2019 10:05:16 PM

More than three decades after putting aside ambitions to play the trumpet and teach music, Alan Haehnel recently devised another way to blow his own horn — literally and theatrically.

This weekend at the Parish Players’ Eclipse Grange Theatre, the shaved-headed, longtime Upper Valley educator will unveil his one-man show, Wonders of the Shiny Dome, which recycles observations he’s made about life at occasions ranging from speeches at Toastmasters International competitions and Upper Valley poetry slams to the commencement address he delivered to Hanover High School’s class of 2015.

“It’s kind of like wearing a prom dress,” Haehnel, in his ninth year of teaching English at Hanover, said last week. “I thought, ‘I spent all that time getting these things ready. Was that all that I was going to do with them?’ ”

Take the commencement speech, at which Haehnel recalls his own graduation, from Hartford High in 1980, and the “beautiful blond hair that spilled out of my graduation cap like a glorious mane.”

In addition to his exhortation to those Hanover seniors to pursue their dreams with a mixture of irony, humility and hope, Haehnel will bring to the Grange the trumpet on which he blew the opening bars of Procol Harum’s Conquistador that mid-June evening almost four years ago.

“I guarantee my performance will not be perfect,” Haehnel will say again, “but perfection is just one of those big illusions that keep us from doing important things.”

He’s been following that mantra in his own work as a performer and a writer the last several years, including several collaborations with Lyme resident Linda Neubelt, a Parish Players officer. She’s long appreciated his observations, his self-deprecating wit and his stage presence, and when he proposed the Shiny Dome project, she readily agreed to produce the four performances that start Thursday night.

“He presented his various writings to the community engagement committee, and they said, ‘Yeah: Go for it!’ ” Neubelt recalled this week. “I suggested some tweaks to cut the time to an hour, and suggested some other elements to add, like music.”

After intermission, Haehnel will cede the stage to daughter Omega and her friend, Pearl MacLeod, who will perform Package Deal, a play that Haehnel wrote for them to perform as a fundraiser for a trip to Japan. The duo, who graduated from Hartford High in 2017, portray sixth-grade BFFs who re-enact, both for themselves and for the audience, their showdown with a teacher who insists that they work with other partners, for a change, on a science project.

Alternating between amusing themselves and addressing the audience, they recall how they won the confrontation by convincing their middle-school’s administration to grant them a “state-mandated individualized education plan” that addresses their “overdependence disorder that is entirely beyond their control.”

Haehnel figures that he’s been ruminating on the ironies and absurdities of life at least since he headed to Brigham Young University in Utah in 1980, with the aim of playing his trumpet in the marching band and becoming a band director.

Instead, humbled by the shock of going to a school of 27,000 students, and of sacrificing his leonine locks to the Mormon school’s dress code, Haehnel wound up majoring in education and developing a taste for theater.

After returning to the Upper Valley, he taught at his alma mater for 18 years, during which he also oversaw the drama program and, for a time, the varsity track team.

“Other than what I was doing in front of my classes and with my athletes, I didn’t have much time to perform,” Haehnel recalled. “I was directing the musical and the one-act play festival, and I was writing a lot.”

Similar responsibilities kept him backstage his first several years at Hanover High, where he’s taught since 2010. Then a few months after his graduation speech there in 2015, he played the U.S. nuclear-arms negotiator Paul Nitze in North Country Community Theatre’s production of the Cold-War drama A Walk in the Woods, which Neubelt directed. The acting spark turned to flame.

In addition to tackling theater, Haehnel honed his under-the-spotlight skills in a few different settings. First he joined the Upper Valley chapter of Toastmasters International, and won a number of regional and national public speaking competitions.

He has also performed in one of AVA Gallery and Art Center’s Mudroom storytelling sessions, at the Parish Players’ recent “Pieces of Work” storytelling show, and attended poetry slams, at which he recited his verse with mixed success.

Now, with Neubelt’s encouragement and guidance, he’s facing what jitters remain.

“It comes down to, ‘Can I go out and actually enjoy doing this,’ as opposed to going, ‘Oh, God: I’m so nervous!’,” Haehnel said. “It’s about having a conversation with the audience, living in the moment. This isn’t a time to be thinking about technique. Once you’ve rehearsed enough, you just have to shift over to fun and adrenaline and energy.

“I just get a thrill out of trying things like this. It’s frightening, but it’s also exhilarating to put stuff out there.”

The Parish Players host Alan Haehnel’s Wonders of the Shiny Dome at the Eclipse Grange Theatre in Thetford, on Thursday, Friday and Saturday night at 7:30 and on Sunday afternoon at 3. Admission is by donation after the performance.

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304.




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