It’s not often that an entire town comes out to celebrate one person. But that’s what’s happening in Cambridge, NY this weekend. July 4th weekend 2014 isn’t just a national holiday, it’s a weekend to celebrate the magic of Benjie White, the person responsible for this cauldron of creativity in upstate New York.
A granter of wishes we didn’t even know we had, Benjie has given the community access to world-class theater, dance and opera, he’s introduced countless kids to a world of art and music, and revived the creative spark in many of their parents, including the two parents in the cool cave at Minister Hill.
Without that magic spell, I would still be scribbling my epiphanies into a notebook that would end up in a drawer. I would NOT be drawing again, and I would NOT be living with Lenny of Of Mice and Men (he somehow manages not to strangle me). The magic we found at Benjie’s infected us with opportunities and connecting us with a congregation of other spell-bound members of the community – people we might never even have met otherwise.
Two years after my first brush with this magical place, I’m now heavily involved in the Ministry of Encouragement – a cult formed by another Hubbard Hall mentor extraordinaire, bestselling author Jon Katz, and it would never have happened without that first visit to the church of possibility in the middle of Cambridge. It would never have happened without Hubbard Hall and especially without it’s instigator, Benjie White.
UPDATE – Check out the new schedule and find season tickets here: 2012-2013 Season
There’s something magical in Cambridge, and while this post may seem like a shameless plug for the place that’s making it happen, I’m actually hoping that the writing will be like the rubbing of a genie’s lamp.
My husband was lured to the Hubbard Hall’s Theatre Company by another actor from Arlington. The invitation came at just the right time – he had engaged in a protracted battle with partial blindness that ended in stalemate – and at first he thought they had found the wrong man for the part. It turned out that the part – playing a slow-witted monk in a medieval monastary – was exactly what he needed and at exactly the right time.
Working, as many Vermonters do, at a job that sees little change or opportunity for growth (but for very nice people) and depressed from numerous healthcare battles that seemed to pop out of nowhere, he suddenly found himself under the spell of a company of players who had more faith in his acting potential than he did. And, while the play was important, it was the company that was the thing. This seemingly diverse tightly-knit group opened the seams long enough to let him in, and there he has stayed. And then the magic grew, and he invited our son in.
Thing 1 is not a huge fan of art museums, so we knew taking him to something with word Shakespeare in it could end badly, but my husband was enjoying the theater so much that he decided to drag someone along, and Thing 1 happened to be handy (Thing 2 wasn’t theater-trained yet). I watched him ride away, slumped in the front seat, determined to show Dad how wrong he was about Shakespeare and theater. Three hours later they were charging back down the driveway, laughing and chatting, and Thing 1 was hooked. He hasn’t missed any of Dad’s performances since.
But the Hubbard Hall effect had just begun. As our family became friendlier with members of the theatre company, I began searching for writing classes. My harassment of Hubbard Hall’s artistic director paid off, when he announced that he had convinced Jon Katz to lead a writing workshop. The discovery that there was a screening process was a worry, but I got lucky and got in.
We kicked off the first session with nervous but friendly introductions, and I think all of us were nursing a few insecurities at the beginning of the evening. But it was clear that our esteemed (I still say fearless) leader was not willing to feed those demons or to foster any competition or back-biting. When we left, the spell was taking effect, and within the week, we were reaching out to each other from our respective corners, marveling at the impact the group and the Project was having on our psyches.
Both boys are now fully under the spell at summer workshops offered by Hubbard Hall, and my mornings are spent working at a picnic table under a tree on their green. From my vantage point I see Cambridge residents flow in and out of morning fitness and music classes and, as they stop to commune with each other, I realize that the magic in this place isn’t just about theater or art or music or writing or any of the other educational opportunities it provides. It is about the connections it creates far beyond its borders. So as I rub my lamp, my wish is for all of us who are lucky enough to be touched by this magic to take a little piece of it out into the world and let it grow again.
Signed prints of the Hubbard Hall genie, matted to fit an 11 x 14 are available on archival paper for $20 + $3 shipping, with 10% of each purchase going to Hubbard Hall. I can take checks or send a paypal invoice. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.