By Victoria Hall Smith
Most of the muddy roads that regularly wallowed hubcaps were still dead ends when the arts and entertainment began to blossom in Eastman. Area offerings still covered less than a full page in the Valley News, but the talent and spirit in our new community was boundless. It was 1973 and the activity center at South Cove was quickly completed, fulfilling the developer’s plan for a community hub, not to mention a critical part of the sales team’s presentation to prospective buyers. Almost immediately, The Barn brimmed with arts, crafts, cooking classes, games, lectures and book discussions. Houses were still rare, so parties, potluck dinners, dances and monthly ladies’ luncheons at The Barn became a vital part of life at Eastman.
The monthly ladies’ luncheons served to welcome new comers while guest speakers provided some intellectual stimulation. Eastman was still a second-home community until the mid-1990’s, so summer luncheons usually hosted more than 100 women. Ellie Wright, who helped organize the luncheons in the late 90’s, recalls having New Hampshire native Penny Pitou, the first American skier to win a medal (silver) in the Olympic downhill, share her stories of overcoming the odds.
In 1976, theater began to find a footing in Eastman, intended to be performed at the Dudley Orr dam amphitheater, completed in 1972. (Orr was a Dartmouth graduate and trustee of the college, who helped secure the funding to buy the land that eventually became Eastman.) At the spillway at the foot of the lake, a round, wooden stage was built over the water, visible from all vantage points as an amphitheater, but according to an early resident, performers had to shout to be heard over the noise of the water rushing from the overflow pipe. Another recalls the stink from the water was even more distracting. Undaunted, the Eastman Production Company set about celebrating the community’s fifth anniversary, along with the American Bicentennial, by performing Eastman Doodle Dandy, a musical, on the tennis courts at the Activity Center. Weather intervened and at the last minute the production moved to the Yankee Barn Factory. Sumner Libby was the brains and talent behind the production of musicals such as “The Music Man” in 1978, “Oklahoma” in 1980, “Anything Goes” in 1982 and finally “Guys and Dolls” in 1984. Libby died in 1985.
A couple of years later, Charlotte Broughton and Adele Warner, both with years of experience in community theater, began organizing the untapped talent in Eastman, eventually calling themselves “Off, Off, Off Broadway Players.” Their earliest production was two one-act plays, “The Marriage Proposal” by Chekov and Neil Simon’s “The Last of the Red Hot Lovers.” Five Eastman actors played all of the parts. The plays were performed at the new Center at Eastman and were called Deli Dinner Theaters, because Tom Adams, restauranteur at that time, supplied deli sandwiches, pickles, slaw and dessert for purchase.
Charlotte Broughton was also instrumental in the founding of Artists in The Barn, started in 1990 when she and friend Katie Winner, also a painter, decided to share their creativity. Word spread quickly and soon there were a dozen artists sharing conversation and constructive critiques. Membership ebbs and flows, but the basic dual goals of inspiration and motivation continue with various mediums from watercolor to pastels, charcoal and even mixed media. They have shown their works at the Newport Library Arts Center, New London Hospital, Howe Library in Hanover, Dunbar Free Library and at the annual show at The Quechee Inn at Marshland Farm. Originally held on Thursdays at The Barn, they now meet weekly, still on Thursdays, at the new South Cove Activity Center.
Around 1989, Joanie Whiting held her annual holiday party that included a sing-along of holiday music. So many of her guests expressed interest in forming a choral group that a year later she held the first meeting of what was to become the Eastmanaires. Their first rehearsal was held later that month at Tallulah’s with 23 attending. Their first concert performance of holiday music was on December 16 at Harvey’s, the dining facility adjacent to the golf center. The following summer they added a patriotic concert as part of Eastman’s July 4th festivities, and a year later added a spring concert to their repertoire. Venues have included South Cove, The Center, Sacred Heart Church in Lebanon and various nursing homes around the area. At its peak, the Eastmanaires numbered around 65 singers with Joanie accompanying on the piano. Rehearsals will soon begin for this year’s July 4th concert.
For the past six years, the Wednesday Night Speaker Series has been entertaining and exciting residents with monthly travelogues, speakers and concerts. Held on the same night as the Bistro Nouveau Wednesday night special (two salads, two entrees and two glasses of wine for $38), the series boasts an attendance of 50 to 60Eastman and area residents. Highlights have included a PBS documentarian, nationally acclaimed authors, local and regional barbershop and choral groups as well as magic acts and various travelogues from residents’ trips around the world.
The breadth and depth of cultural activities in Eastman is clearly impressive, especially when you consider that the only professional entertainment at Eastman is JOSA (Jazz on a Sunday Afternoon). Just completing its 19th year, JOSA has been in residence for the last eight in the Draper Room at The Center. Started by Bill Wightman, Sunapee resident and music director at Proctor Academy, JOSA has grown to become the premiere jazz venue in the Lake Sunapee/Upper Valley Region. From December to April, regional, national and international jazz performers pack the house every other Sunday from 4 to7 p.m. Performers have included Richie Cole, renowned alto sax player, and Tiger Okoshi, international trumpeter. Bistro Nouveau Chef/Owner Doug Langevin offers a special menu and full bar for each performance.
Eastman has changed from a second-home community to a mix of seasonal and year-round residents, many of whom are families with children. Understandably, more of the activities and entertainment are focused on a younger audience, but residents of all ages still come out in force to volunteer to make it all happen, to continue the community spirit we all cherish.