Folks who’ve walked down Sumner’s Main Street during the Hometown Holiday Celebration know the feeling of being transported to another time, and nothing quite captures that like the Norman Rockwell “living art” displays.
During the downtown event that welcomes Christmas into Sumner, actors dressed in petticoats and pointy shoes, top hats and other turn-of-the-century garb stop you in the street to say hello and reenact famous, nostalgic holiday scenes in downtown storefront windows.
For the last six years, those actors have been from Act 1 Theatre Productions, formally Ascension Productions.
At this year’s event on Nov. 10, those characters will be played by members of ManeStage Theatre Company.
ManeStage director Tim Lott told Patch his group was approached by the Sumner Downtown Association to perform the “living art” displays this year.
“We’ve been wanting to do something with SDA for a while,” Lott said. “We are excited to be able to bring awareness of the arts to the people that will be visiting these events.”
SDA board president Barbara Riske said her association, which works to promote merchants through local events and visibility, wanted to open the door to working with multiple groups in town.
“SDA continues to be committed to producing quality events in downtown Sumner […] and doing our part to help keep the downtown economically viable. Consequently, we would like to take advantage of the many groups and talented individuals in Sumner, rather than committing to just one group or individual for services,” Riske said in a statement to Patch.
But to Act 1’s artistic director Petra Karr, giving the gig to another group after hers developed it feels a little like “intellectual theft.”
While they won’t be performing the Rockwell living art installments, Act 1 will perform as the “dancing scarecrows” at SDA's Autumn Evening this Saturday and still wants to participate in events moving forward.
“It has always been our pleasure working with SDA even as things change. We started out donating our time, equipment, and services to support SDA’s events because we received a great deal of promotion in return as well as recognition for the activities we performed,” said Karr in a statement sent to Patch. “We have always believed that through our participation, the City of Sumner’s downtown became recognized for the unique approach to its events.”
Neither Act 1 or ManeStage donate their performances to the community for free. Last year, Act 1 was paid $320 for donating music and speaker equipment to the Hometown Holiday Celebration and store owners paid the group $50 per window reenactment. SDA paid the copyright to use the “Norman Rockwell” name, said SDA executive director Laurie Miller.
This year, ManeStage will be paid $50 per window reenactment and SDA will again pay for the Norman Rockwell copyright.
“But there are fewer interested merchants this year due to cost and the economy,” Miller added.
In her letter, Karr explains the reason Act 1 charges for its free community performances.
“Ultimately, we could not continue to offer our services at no charge, and we were directed by our board to at least cover the cost of supporting the activities we participated in with SDA and others,” said Karr. “To accomplish that, we began charging for specific activities to cover our costs, while donating the actual value difference to SDA and its merchant members.”
Act 1 Theatre is not a member of SDA; ManeStage Theatre is.
When it comes down to it, all parties said they want to take the “high road” when it comes to the future of community theater in downtown Sumner and keep it positive.
“ManeStage has always been supportive of all the community theatre groups in the area and will continue to bring family oriented entertainment to the local communities,” said Lott.
On that point, Act 1 and ManeStage see eye-to-eye.
“We are glad to see that the tradition of 'living windows' will continue, even if it is not us performing. We know how much people have come to appreciate these events,” said Karr. “We will continue to work with SDA where requested in advance, and also continue to work directly with merchants and other event organizers, to provide theatrical entertainment, and bring joy and vitality to Sumner and its downtown core.”