By Audrey Richardson
Special to the Standard
The talents of the Woodstock Union High School speakchorus have gone national.
This year, in partnership with the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Park, the group created a performance entitled, “Woodstock’s Civil War: A Speakchorus,” on the town’s role in the Civil War. The performance was so well-received that the park turned it into a DVD – and the circulation of that DVD has been expansive. Positive feedback has bounced back from Civil War specialists and historians from around the globe. The WUHS speakchorus had such an effect that they inspired a Kansas City school to create a performance of their own community’s role in the Civil War.
“It is an incredibly emotional and evocative performance and it has made a great film,” said Rolf Diamont, MBR National Park Superintendent.
The speakchorus program is a long-lived pillar of WUHS, and Theater Director Harriet Worrell was eager to work with the park to create the original performance. “Woodstock’s Civil War: A Speakchorus,” is based on the themes of the MBR tour based on the Civil War. The students, under the direction of Worrell, were deeply involved in the research and construction of the performance. The production was first performed at the Town Hall Theatre and then the students traveled to Phoenix, Arizona where they performed after receiving their national award.
The 22-minute film was directed and produced by local filmmaker Charles Rattigan and received a 2006 Leadership in American History Award from the American Association of State and Local History.
Diamont’s says his respect for the performance goes beyond the students’ expression of history to the students’ own realizations about their local history. The film not only features some captivating performances but also contains interviews with each student about what they came to understand about Woodstock’ place in the Civil War.
“It was amazing to see how it kind of rocked their world,” said Diamont.
Supported by a National Park Service Civic Engagement Grant, Rattigan’s film chronicles the development of the speackchorus’ rapid-fire dramatic reading of material drawn largely from personal diaries and letters of the period.
Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park is the first national park to offer a walking tour devoted to the Civil War homefront. The ranger-led tour through the village center includes the Congregational Church, site of early anti-slavery activity, the Phoenix Block, recently identified as the nerve center for Vermont’s war effort, and River Street Cemetery, where Civil War veterans from Woodstock’s free African-American community are buried side-by-side with white veterans. Research has been guided by Howard Coffin with park rangers working together with student interns- combing home front records from the Woodstock Historical Society and pension files of the National Archives.
“‘Woodstock’s Civil War’” is a superb and exemplary approach to local history. It could serve as a model for community awarA eness in countless American locales for decades to come,” writes David Lowenthal, Professor Emeritus, Department of Geography of University College London about the production.
As the DVD of their performance began to spread, it ended up in the hands of a teacher in Kansas City school in Missouri. In a recent article in the Kansas City Star, one of the Missouri historians Kathy Smith claimed that the DVD of the performance gave her chills, saying, “It made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.” The school went on to perform their own rendition and achieve local recognition.
Copies of the DVD are available at The Marsh Billing Rockefeller National Historic Parks as well as information about the dates and times for upcoming Civil War Home Front tours. Call (802) 457-3368, ext 22 for more information.
This article first appeared in the June 9th print edition of the Vermont Standard.