Journal of the Lunt-Fontanne Fellowship Program, 2013

The Fellows’ Arrival 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The 2013 Lunt-Fontanne Fellows came from the great stages around the country – Indianapolis, Sarasota, San Diego, Millburn, Ashland, Pasadena, Denver, Boston, Cleveland, and Santa Maria – and made their way to Ten Chimneys for their first evening together with Master Teacher, Alan Alda. And what an evening we had. Undeterred by the warm summer rain, we gathered in the Lunts’ Cottage, the place where Lynn and Alfred began their married life together, for a champagne toast of welcome with new friends who are beginning a week we hope will be filled with inspiration and rejuvenation.  We made our way to the Main House, and just as we began speaking of the Lunts’ remarkable innovations on stage, the lights dimmed and the summer storm let us know it would be hanging around for a while. True to form, these actors who know how to find the light – and led by the innovative Alan Alda whose passion for science took center stage – pulled out their mobile phones and engaged their Flashlight apps, shining their lights in the Helen Hayes Bedroom on the cartoon Ms. Hayes commissioned for the Lunts in 1958 when they opened the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in NYC, and on the triptych in the Noël Coward suite of the three friends forever framed by their friendship, and on the sterling silver hair brush on Lynn’s dressing table, nestled beside her favorite gardenia perfume. The romance of the Lunts’ lives was not dimmed in the least but instead brought gently to life by the dancing flicker of a modern spotlight.

True to the Lunts, dinner was served by candlelight in the Lunts’ beloved Dining Room, where so many greats of their day – Kate and Larry and Helen and Noëlie – had gathered not so very long ago. Mr. Alda regaled the Fellows with stories from his life and words from the stages he has inhabited during his celebrated career, and all enjoyed a multi-course meal complete with ginger carrot soup (Vodka optional), garden fresh vegetables, Alfred’s cucumber and dill salad, Bulgar wheat stuffing with strawberry, rhubarb and orange conserve on a bed of kale, delicately roasted farm-raised chicken with pan sauce and, for dessert, sugar-crusted peach pie with a dollop of Wisconsin’s own rich frozen custard. Working in the minimal light of flashlights brought out of canvas bags and pockets, the caterers (Thank you Helen and Barb and Barb!), worked their magic in Alfred’s Kitchen, creating and serving a meal the Lunts would have loved.

After a final story and a few more bursts of laughter, our Fellows and Mr. Alda bid Ten Chimneys a fond good night, looking forward to returning the next morning for a week in a place they now call “home.”

Master Classes Begin

Monday, July 22, 2013

After a light, informal breakfast, our 2013 Lunt-Fontanne Fellows and Master Teacher Alan Alda got right to work in the Drawing Room for their first Master Class session. A masterful, joyful teacher, Mr. Alda engaged the Fellows from the start with a gentle combination of fun and frolic so our Fellows would have the space and the grace to get to know one another as actors and as new friends. From the start, Mr. Alda created a “classroom” that was safe and full of new experiences, all under the watchful gazes of the Claggett Wilson murals that seemed to spring to life around the actors practicing their craft, first with merely movement, and then with words added in. As Mr. Alda so astutely surmised, “Words are just words, but life is in between the lines.” There was a lot of life going on in between the lines as the Fellows laughed and entertained not only one another, but, from the smiles on their faces and the spring in their movements, also themselves.

Lunch was lovingly prepared by a thoughtful group of Ten Chimneys Volunteers who, from the first year our Lunt-Fontanne Fellowship Program began, have graciously offered their time and their talents so our Fellows’ first lunch together would have a most lovely Ten Chimneys flavor. And it did, as the Fellows and Mr. Alda enjoyed colorful salads and tea sandwiches, bowls of fresh fruit and homemade biscotti, chilled lemonade and crisp iced tea.

The day ended with a boisterous dinner as we all gathered around the same table, so like when the Lunts brought those they held dear to them. We laughed and we told stories and we shared not only a meal, but also a growing sense that the work the Fellows and Mr. Alda are doing this week is important and transformative and absolutely necessary to continue to nurture the arts in our country. What the Lunts taught us all is that when the arts are alive and thriving, so are the communities. And what a community we have in our Fellows and in our Master Teacher. We have no doubt that this group, this extraordinary group of actors, this passionate collection of creative spirits, so much like the Lunts, are changing the face of American theatre right before our eyes.

Siglinda and the Sun

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Tuesday afternoon, our Fellows met Siglinda and were as charmed and enchanted by her as the Lunts were when she first arrived at Ten Chimneys. You see, Siglinda has been a presence here for more than 50 years, and has seen a lot: summer picnics on blankets spread about the estate grounds; pool parties with the likes of Noëlie and Larry and Helen and close Lunt family and friends; the local farm boys who would sneak onto the Lunts’ property and skinny dip when no one was watching. Tuesday, she was treated to the inaugural dips in the pool taken by our 2013 Lunt-Fontanne Fellows. They splashed and they laughed and they enjoyed this space that was so much a part of life at Ten Chimneys when the Lunts were in residence.

Siglinda should write a book, you may be thinking, but a book will most likely not be forthcoming any time soon. After all, Siglinda is an Alfred Lunt design, a whimsical sculptured lady surrounded by garlands of carved flowers and delicate dancing butterflies on her bonnet. We’re not yet sure from where Alfred got his inspiration, but we do know that he drew her and then took the design to a local lumber yard to inquire if the craftsmen there could bring her to life. And they did. So charmed by her were Alfred and Lynn, that they placed her on a pedestal at the head of their pool, and it is there she has remained ever since, welcoming swimmers and picnickers and now our Fellows and our Master Teacher, who lingered by her and then spent the afternoon spread out on blankets, sharing stories from their stages and exploring scripts from their lives.

After a late afternoon Master Class and as the sunlight was fading, we gathered on the Cottage Porch to enjoy a casual meal of hand-tossed pizzas and favorite local brews. Chipmunks scattered about, the birds offered a closing chorus of song, Siglinda held her post at the head of the pool – and our dear Fellows and Master Teacher had a front row view of it all at the home created by an extraordinary couple we’re pretty sure were watching from above.

To Play and To Dream

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A day of Master Classes began with our Fellows and Master Teacher Alan Alda in a circle, warming up their voices and their bodies for the exercises that would be a part of their day. They pantomimed and paraded; they laughed and lingered; they jumped and jostled; they began the important work they are doing with moments of camaraderie and partnership that are building lasting relationships we know will not soon fade. These Fellows, these Master Actors, have been eager, curious, brave participants as their Master Teacher has given them the space and the permission to play and to dream. Day 3 of our Fellows’ time here saw them learning from one another and reaching deep within their creative wells to discover corners that, so many have shared, are new to them – all guided by the gentle touch of a Master Teacher who vows he’s not a “master” at all but just one of the actors still honing his craft.

Soon after this week began, our Fellows started sharing with us that they just didn’t want the week to end. They say they are finding at Ten Chimneys and in the company of one another, moments they never thought were possible, experiences, they say, that will change the way they will step onto the stages of our country and share their craft.  We are finding the same in them and are humbled by their courage, buoyed on by their passion, charmed by their wit, honored by their presence, and in awe of their boundless talents – truth be told, we don’t want the week to end either. But when it does, we know that these 10 Lunt-like actors and this exceptional Master Teacher will not be far from our thoughts, nor from the quiet corners of the Lunts’ home that for decades to come will echo with these new friends’ voices. They are a part of Ten Chimneys now, and, from what they shared, Ten Chimneys is now a part of them.

Volleyball Anyone?

Thursday, July 25, 2013 

Summer days in Genesee Depot are filled with crisp blue skies and layers of leaves that create a canopy above the carpet of lush underbrush. Local residents gather at the Post Office to pick-up their mail while friends meet for breakfast at main street restaurants to catch up and share photos of summer trips out of town. When the Lunts were here, the same kinds of activities took place: Alfred often attended Friday evening barn dances and looked forward to trips to the butcher; Lynn relished the deep blue of the skies and walks through the land that quickly became her home. Summer days at Ten Chimneys were something special for Lynn and Alfred – time to laugh and love and be inspired so they could face what would come their way in the Autumn with renewed spirits and rejuvenated creative souls. Time at Ten Chimneys still echoes with all that made this place so adored by the couple who created it.

Our Fellows began Thursday’s class with a game of volleyball, deftly refereed by Master Teacher Alan Alda. Teams formed, strategies developed, and the game became competitive very quickly as Fellows called out to one another to set, bump, and spike – all spontaneously created using an imaginary net, a ball gathered from thin air, and a court defined by a coffee urn and a table of sweets. To the untrained eye or an observing coming late to the “game,” our Fellows had perhaps gone ‘round the bend. To the Fellows and their equally involved referee, this was spontaneity at its best and it was glorious. They dove to get the “ball” and made sure not to run into “the net”; they called to one another and high-fived when a “play” went well; they groaned when a point was lost; and they did it all with passion and conviction and with the joy that the Lunts would have delighted in because these Fellows were acting and they were doing it with the level of dedication to their craft for which the Lunts were most admired. Watching our Fellows and our Master Teacher do what they do so well makes us all believe and absolutely certain that these are the kind of actors who lead with courage and who nurture with grace, the kind of actors who breathe theatre and lead with their hearts, the kind of actors for which Ten Chimneys was created, and the kind of actors the Lunts loved.

Wrapped Up

Friday, July 26, 2013

There are very few images of Lynn and Alfred together when they hadn’t found a way to be touching: they are wrapped within one another in many of the images from their most iconic roles; one would tilt a toe just a bit toward the other’s foot when they were seated at a table; a finger would be extended so it brushed the elbow of the other in a candid moment leaning over a fence at Ten Chimneys. The Lunts were connected, both on the stage and in their private lives, and that palpable love came through in the way they chose to live their lives, both on the stage and when they were home at Ten Chimneys.

During Friday’s Master Class sessions, we noticed something lovely happening: our Fellows were finding one another, first with the brush of a foot and then with unabashed arms wrapped around one another. Waiting to “go on,” they leaned their shoulders toward their fellow Fellows and tilted their heads onto one another’s shoulders. They laughed and they trusted and they worked incredibly hard on their art, all while entwined and all within a space the Lunts created for just this purpose.

The day ended with a sold-out Conversation at Ten Chimneys with Master Teacher Alan Alda that brought the house down. As one might imagine, Mr. Alda was gregarious and charming and wowed us all with stories he shared that let us all, for an evening, have a glimpse into the life he’s lived these past 77 years. With ease and grace, he told of his childhood, filled with memories from his time standing in the wings as his father performed in Burlesque acts, and of his family’s strength in helping him overcome polio, and of the moment he knew that the stage had come calling. Mr. Alda regaled us with wit and held us rapt with the serious sides of a life as full as his. Always generous, Mr. Alda took questions from the audience, and allowed each guest who took the microphone to have his full attention as he gave back off-the-cuff answers filled with remarkable detail and lighthearted tales.

These Fellows, this Master Teacher, are entwined with one another and with us, and we couldn’t be more humbled, more honored, more enamored with each and every one of them.

Theatre People

Saturday & Sunday, July 27 – 28, 2013 

It’s not at all easy to impress knowledgeable theatre crowds, particularly those who, through the years, have attended our Concluding Presentations on the final night of our Lunt-Fontanne Fellowship Program. From all indications, however, our guests on Saturday evening were thoroughly wowed by the interplay and the passion and the unequivocal talent of our 2013 class of Lunt-Fontanne Fellows, led this year by Master Teacher, Alan Alda. Under Mr. Alda’s direction, the Fellows took to our Program Center stage and offered a peek behind the curtain of the work they’d been doing all week long. They began with an exercise that placed them in 2 teams, playing a game of tug of war that quickly morphed into a very competitive match-up, with teams jockeying for position and players calling out direction. Throughout the program, the Fellows took on spontaneous roles of enemies and friends, of a veteran returning from war, and of a family on a long car trip – all the while bringing us along for the ride. Laughter came easily and applause erupted often as guests in attendance offered the most pure, the most joyful, the most welcomed forms of appreciation an audience can give to an actor on stage. It’s exactly the reason the Lunts chose to remain “theater people,” and didn’t venture into film, but for their only feature together, The Guardsman. They loved the energy and the immediacy of the audiences’ reactions; they reveled in the electricity that comes from people gathered together to experience a live performance; they lived for the lights and the laughter that is unlike any other arena in the world. On Saturday evening, during the final night they would be together, our Fellows and our Master Teacher, gave us all a gift from the stage the Lunts knew all too well: they gave us their hearts.

They’ve returned to their homes now, this remarkable group of Theatre People, to the stages they left for the week so they could be together at Ten Chimneys and study the art they have mastered. If the smiles on their faces and the glisten in their eyes are any indication, they had an extraordinary time together, and leaving was not so easy. These Fellows, these Master Actors, have left their mark on all who were with them this week. We won’t soon forget their joy and their dedication and their talents. We won’t soon forget them.

What is Ten Chimneys?

Ten Chimneys, the estate lovingly created by theatre legends Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, is open to the public as a world-class house museum with a progressive mission to serve the arts.

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