Hamilton-Gibson Productions began in 1991 with little else but a clear vision and purpose: we wanted to create a space where the arts could flourish...a place where people, from children to senior citizens, could tap into new areas of their lives and in so doing be enriched and empowered. Wellsboro has a long tradition of community arts. The first judge in Wellsboro, John Bannister Gibson used his log-cabin courtroom which faced the Green to play his fiddle and host dances after hours. The Bache Auditorium served as the focal point not only for performing arts such as concerts and theatre experiences , but also as a location for conferences, conventions and civic gatherings. There was even an Old Maids Convention. Not sure how that would go over now... Pa Deanes directed the Wellsboro Military Band. A Community Band played during the summer on the Green. Mansfield hosted a summer theatre under a tent drawing large crowds and providing arts experiences for many local participants.
Since Hamilton-Gibson began we have endeavored to embrace and enhance that tradition. We wanted to create a space for creativity...a space where all generations could find a safe place to be vulnerable, to explore, to create, to try new things...all generations...very young and very old. A space that is uniquely Tioga County. A grass-roots entity, so to speak, comprised of local people, people who live and work here...some were born here, some transplanted. A community space.
We didn't even have a name. We first met in a former farm implement garage midway between Mansfield and Wellsboro. We power blasted layers of oil off the floor and walls, we created a makeshift stage, and we bought a few lights. We held auditions for our first production of THE MIRACLE WORKER. People turned up for the auditions...some we knew, some were complete strangers.
That summer we worked for a name. Two women, Alma Roxie Hamilton and Clara Louise Gibson, were creative people. They were educators, musicians, artists. They loved children and exploring new things. We decided to incorporate all that they embodied in our name...so we began with Hamilton-Gibson. Productions seemed to fit since we didn't want to limit our creative space with only theatrical experiences, but felt that down the road we would embrace other aspects of the arts.
We held a contest to create a logo. Jeansylvia Anderson created a number of logos for the contest, and we embraced this. Within this simple design we find the creative space we were aiming for: We have the theatrical comedy and tragedy masks-one looking down and one looking up; the two women-Hamilton and Gibson, the tree image incorporates the sense of heritage: age, roots, branches, intergenerational, our past, our future.
We began with two productions in the summer of 1991. Each three performances, with average audience of 100. The next year we expanded to three productions with six performances each. One of these productions was a musical we staged at the Wellsboro High School, beginning our long partnership with the school district. The next year we began exploring programming during the school year. Programming was somewhat hindered since the only auditorium in town at the school was so often scheduled. We began to explore other potential sites and developed relationships with local churches, the county courthouse, the chamber of commerce, Mansfield University, and the other school districts and private schools in the county. Our partnering with the Wellsboro School District intensified when we were invited to move into the Don Gill Elementary school gymnasium in the summer of 1993. From then until 2005, all our summer programming was in the Don Gill gym, which we laboriously converted into an intimate theatre setting.
Over the years our theatrical programming has expanded so that we are now producing seven main-stage productions per year. Most of these have seven performances each. Last year four of these main-stage productions sold out nearly every performance. The number of participants in just these main-stage productions totaled over 100...and that's just the performers. The backstage and offstage volunteers totaled close to 200. In the past five years that's over 1500 people exploring the theatre arts with only the main-stage productions. Audience members in the past five years-again for just main-stage performances--well exceeds 15,000.
Besides the main-stage productions we have developed other programming opportunities. In 2001 we began our ACTING UP group: theatre experiences for senior citizens. With grants from the Pennsylvania Partnership of the Arts and local corporate sponsorships we have been able to offer opportunities for seniors to explore many aspects of dramatic arts. Workshops, reader's theatre and performance opportunities. The group has begun work with local school districts and nursing homes to present their material. This year we have developed satellite programs in the county senior citizens.
We began an annual ten-minute play festival in 2002. The festival highlights edgy new plays and provides an opportunity for people to gain directing experience. Each year the majority of plays are directed by new people, often people who have never directed before. In the last six years we've had 16 new directors. In conjunction with the festival we have developed a playwriting contest. Each year we are featuring the winner of that contest. Since we began in 2003 we have had nearly 75 entries, from as far away as Wisconsin. Beginning in 2007, our Taste of Tioga Festival features the top original plays of the contest.
Since 2000, our educational trips to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Canada have allowed area residents to experience world-class theatre every fall. We now also offer a trip to the Shaw Festival at Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Since we began in 1991, Hamilton-Gibson has been committed to the children and youth of our community. Our first season featured the two plays THE MIRACLE WORKER and THE YEARLING. Each of these plays was not only appreciated by children and youth in the audience, but also featured children and the main characters. The next year included the musicals CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN and OLIVER, both featuring many children in the cast.
Our first performance during the school year was a moving exploration of the children of Terezin in Czechoslovakia. We incorporated music which was sung by 65 area children. (Over 100 auditioned.) Seeing the incredible response of these children to some very challenging music, we saw the need for an outlet for young singers. We began the HG Children's Choir with 20 singers in grades 4-8, growing now to four choirs with singers ranging from grades 2-12, from all three school districts and private and homeschoolers. Since we began the choir in 1996, over 300 children and youth have participated and have sung well over 100 concerts. They were asked to sing with the Williamsport Youth Orchestra and the Mansfield University Symphony Orchestra. They were featured in Mansfield University's performances of Carmina Burana, both at Mansfield and in Corning. They have sung for the Little League World's Series every year for six year...including begin asked to sing when President and Mrs Bush were in attendance. They were selected as the feature choir to work with world-renowned children's choir director Jean Ashworth Bartle from Toronto at the American Choral Directors Conference in 2002. The choir was designated Tioga County's Singing Youth Ambassadors by the county commissioners, and also Pennsylvania's Singing Youth Ambassadors by the state legislature. They have conducted performance tours in Harrisburg, New York City, Washington DC, Toronto, performing with groups such as the Newark Boys Choir and the Maryland State Boys choir. In 2003 the combined choirs traveled to Prague, Czech Republic on a goodwill tour-we departed for Prague the day after we entered Iraq-and were able to visit and sing at Terezin. The Choirs embarked on a Goodwill Performance Tour to Brazil in March of 2006.
The HG CHOIRS have now embraced the 67 INITIATIVE wherein they will sing in every county in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, beginning with a trip to Pittsburgh.
We began our Shakespeare in the Schools tours in 1993. Each year we took a play or adaptation into local schools. Hamlet had ten performances in 8 different schools and was seen by over 2000 students...many of whom had never seen a Shakespearean play...many had never seen ANY play before.
We initiated a weeklong theatre experience in schools. In just one week children audition, rehearse, and perform for an audience. All three county school districts participated and are eager for more. Over 200 children were involved. Now our elementary/middle school shows produce shows in less than two weeks. The 2008 production of WILLY WONKA JR. boasted a cast of 94 students!
We began our summer drama camp for kids in 1999. Nearly 500 kids have participated and now we offer two camps, one in Wellsboro and one in Knoxville.
In all of these programs our focus is on the enormous impact the arts can have on a child. Far exceeding the technical skills of the particular performing arts, we're building self-motivation, confidence, poise...enabling the inherent passion to develop and blossom.
Realizing that 20% of all children in this county are below the poverty level, our commitment takes on added dimension. We are committed to change this. Participation in the performing arts has been proven to impact a child and help him or her to rise out of the cycle of poverty.We are committed to helping children rise above the bondage of poverty.
Throughout these years we have been fortunate to develop relationships and partnerships with many different groups and individuals. Our corporate sponsor list continues to grow. Laurel Health has been a financial supporter almost since the beginning. We have also partnered with them for the Red Garter Revues. We participate in the Children's Health Fair.
We have developed active and vital partnerships with all three school districts and especially with Wellsboro School District.
The three local foundations have all been huge contributors: Tabor particularly with the choirs, Packer with on-going production costs, Sweet with the building project. Pine Creek Arts Council has helped with Drama Camps and other programs for children. The Wellsboro Diner, Intelligent Direct, Wellsboro Imaging, Drs Tina Tolin and Grady Gafford, and Laurel Health System, Hebe & Rague Law Firm, Northwest Savings Bank, Citizens and Northern Bank, and First Citizens Bank have all been a part of the ongoing support. All the local restaurants have joined in opening night receptions. Mansfield University has worked closely with us in performance opportunities, and venues providing clinics and workshops contributing in performance.
Nineteen years has seen thousands of volunteers in all aspects of production: on stage, backstage, off stage. Volunteers who meet every need. Tens of thousands of audience members from not only our local area, but all over Tioga County, plus many tourists and guests.
We are active members of the Pennsylvania Association of Community Theatres, entering award-winning entries four years in a row. We are involved with the Bradford County Regional Arts Consortium. We have explored partnerships with regional community and university theatres with the view of performance opportunities once we build the space.