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BETTER THAN HEARSAY - Making Things with Many Lives

Written By The Mountain Eagle on 2/23/24 | 2/23/24

By Michael Ryan

HUNTER - The only question, when Pete Preston did some hocus-pocus before your eyes at the Doctorow Center for the Arts, this past  Saturday evening was, “are the flowers real?”

They were. 

Virtually everything else came from Preston’s skilled hands and imagination as “God of Carnage” was performed, one of three staged-readings produced by the Maude Adams Theater Hub.

Preston somehow managed to create a set that merely had to be shifted a little bit, here and there, making it also work for two other performances; “The Women” and “The Gin Game.”

His magic act of nuts, bolts and many screws let the small troupe elasticate their budget, serving a vital role in the survival of community theater.

Maude Adams Theater Hub and producer Amy Scheibe were on a roll all last week, staging the annual “V Season” series of readings over five separate nights and afternoons, starting on Valentine’s Day.

The stage was a mess with tulips strewn in the aftermath of the humorous “God of Carnage,” Saturday evening, but Preston had the place looking ship-shape for the Sunday matinee of “The Gin Game.”

He then returned when the premises were emptied of excitement to “strike” the set, tearing down everything, returning things to normal, salvaging pieces and props to use for possible future shows.

One never knows what comes next but this is not Preston’s first theatrical rodeo, getting his start in unexpectedly multiplicitous ways.

“I started out as a wandering vagabond,” he says, venturing to the States from Sydney, Australia (a dead giveaway the moment he speaks).

He was a teacher at Greenwich County Day School in Connecticut for 40 years, giving the 8th Graders a unique perspective on Science.

“It’s a private school and I was allowed to create my own program,” Preston says. “I wrote my own text books. There were lots of hands-on projects.

“Once a year, the Drama Club did a big, splashy musical. I started working with the director on the sets and I found that my Science curriculum and building sets went hand-in-hand.

“I’m no actor but as a kid, I was always dabbling in things so it was a natural transition for me. Doing it right became important to me.”

Preston moved to Haines Falls in 2022, crossing paths with and becoming entwined with Scheibe and her thespian gang, the beginning, as Bogart might say, of a beautiful friendship.

“I laugh at my efforts, thinking back to when I got started in Greenwich,” Preston says. “But I let myself say I can do better than this.

“Now I am sort of a perfectionist. It is all about making the sets memorable. I talk to Amy and the directors, listen to their ideas, figure out what they need, go buy a bunch of lumber and start building stuff.”

Mixing and matching three-sets-in-one, “was a good little challenge,” says Preston. It was an evolving vision, as usual, not unlike crafting a very believable make-believe background for “Cabaret,” last summer.

“Obstacles are the fun of it,” Preston says. “It takes me back to my school days. Greenwich is a town with money so it was easier is some ways.

“But getting from nothing to Opening Night is the same no matter where you are or what show you are putting on.

“Everything is vague the first day. Then I read the script and toss around a few thoughts in my mind until I get a good image of what I want to do.

“Me losing sleep is part of it, and there is stuff piled all over the place for a while but it’s all really a pure pleasure,” Preston says.

“Amy does her production part and the actors do their part and everything comes together and then everything comes apart again.

“We save things like doors and walls so they can come together again. I am making things that have many lives. I just love it.”

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