Patty Carver: Let’s Hear It For Holiday Musicals
It was a busy morning at Patty Carver's Essex house-first was a phone call from a school that would be attending a production of Jack Frost by Connecticut Children's Theatre at the College of Mount St. Vincent in the Bronx. The caller asked a classic question: Where was the parking? The next caller wanted to tell Patty his school would be bringing eight more people than he had reserved for to that day's show.
None of it fazed Patty, who with her husband Jerry Goehring, is one of the principals of Connecticut Children's Theatre, a group they formed some 20 years ago to bring live theater performances to children in inner city neighborhoods. Patty is artistic director of the theater, but this morning she was also logistics manager.
She explained to the first caller that there would be an attendant to show school buses where to park. She told the second that the extra people were no problem: She would call the theater and tell them to change the numbers on the reservation.
"It's like this at Christmas," says Patty, who in addition to her responsibilities with the children's theater is producing a holiday musical, The Snow Angel, at the Chester Meeting House from Friday, Dec. 21 to Sunday, Dec. 23. The show features some 18 young actors, the smallest aged only four, from local towns, including Essex, Ivoryton, Centerbrook, Westbrook, Old Lyme, and Old Saybrook.
Patty is not only producing The Snow Angel, she also wrote the book and the lyrics and collaborated with Leo Carusone on the music.
"I write because there are not a lot of shows for children's theater. It's hard to find good and appropriate material," she says.
In all, she has written 30 shows for young people.
Some of the youthful performers in The Snow Angel have been regulars at the theater camps she runs every summer, held for the past seven years at Valley Regional High School.
"I want the audiences to see how tremendously talented these young actors are," she says.
Holiday shows, Patty notes, are now inclusive rather than exclusive. Jack Frost, the Connecticut Children's Theatre production, which she also wrote, involves the adventures of three boys from Brooklyn, one celebrating Christmas, another Hanukkah, and a third Kwanza.
The Snow Angel is about Pearl, the one snow angel chosen to go on an annual trip to earth at holiday time to grant one person's wish and then return skyward. Myriad complications ensue, including one all too familiar, a power outage, but in the end Pearl completes her mission. In the process, all the characters learn lessons of love, sharing, and friendship.
Producing theater for children has grown more complicated in 21st century, where electronic effects and computerized wizardry are part of everyday life. Sometimes Patty has to explain the nature of live theater to her young audiences.
"I have to tell them I am not on a television; I am here," she says.
On her own, Patty has an active schedule of solo productions, many of them about famous women, which she performs for audiences from school children to senior citizens. She started the shows when her children were small.
"It was just a way to keep singing and keep sharp," she explains.
Her son Andrew is now l6 and a junior at Valley Regional. Her daughter Theresa is a freshman a Fordham University. In the intervening years, Patty's solo performances have become so popular that she has to turn down bookings during Women's History Month in March.
"It's been a labor of love, an amazing journey," she says.
Her subjects include Betsy Ross; Deborah Sampson, who masqueraded as a man to fight in the Continental Army in the Revolutionary War; and l9th-century feminist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, an early leader in the struggle to obtain the vote for women. Stanton, she says, is one of her favorites.
"She knew that she would not live to see women get the vote, that at least three more generations were necessary, but she never stopped working," Patty says.
Stanton died in l902, and the l9th Amendment, extending votes to women, was passed in l920.
Patty researches and writes all the shows herself and develops the general themes for the music, which she then works on with an arranger. She started out doing research at the Scranton Library in Madison, where she has since performed several times-"She's very talented," says children's librarian Jane Ash.
Now she belongs to the local branch of Society of Children's Books Writers and Illustrators, which meets monthly at the Guilford library. She is among the group's published writers; some six of her plays for children are in print.
Patty grew up in Ledyard and graduated from St. Bernard high school in Uncasville and then from Providence College. She says she knew she wanted to be in theater ever since she heard her father singing Rodgers and Hammerstein songs as a child.
After college she joined touring companies and did regional productions, getting a chance to play some of the classic roles in musical theater like leading ladies Nellie Forbush in South Pacific and Maria in Sound of Music. The drama was personal as well as professional at the Crown Uptown Dinner Theatre in Wichita, Kansas, where Patty met her husband Jerry, also in the cast.
"It's great we met each other. We are both theater animals," she says.
At the moment, Jerry is not only involved with the holiday productions for Connecticut Children's Theatre, he also is one of the producers of a musical version of the l983 movie, A Christmas Story, on Broadway at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, running until Dec. 30. He is also the director of the performing arts program at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield.
Despite his own theater commitments, Jerry will be helping with The Snow Angel as a sound technician. And the rest of the family will be committed as well. Andrew, who was nominated for best actor award by the Connecticut High School Theatre Awards for his role in last year's Valley Regional production of Titanic, will be doing lights. Patty thinks daughter Theresa will be helping sell tickets. And then, once they have provided holiday entertainment for everyone else, Patty's family will at last have a chance to enjoy the holiday spirit themselves.
"After The Snow Angel, we'll have Christmas," Patty says.
The Snow Angel
Chester Meeting House
Friday and Saturday, Dec. 21 and 22 at 7 p.m.; Sunday, Dec. 23 at 2 p.m.
Tickets $10 general admission; $8 for seniors and children; for reservations and information, call 860-767-5068.
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