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Kingswood Drama holds Premiere Gala and honors Ray Lord

RAY LORD (left), Drama Director for 25 years at Kingswood Regional High School listens as current Drama Director Scott Giessler grants him the first Ray Lord Award, an annual award for a person who generously gives time and talent to the program. A reception was held in Lord's honor prior to the presentation of the first plays on the Kingswood Arts Center stage, on March 12. (Elissa Paquette photo) (click for larger version)
March 17, 2011
WOLFEBORO — The Kingswood Regional High School Premiere Gala Event on March 12, orchestrated by Drama Director Scott Giessler, was a showcase of talent, dedication and love – a great launch from a longstanding drama tradition to the first plays acted on the new Kingswood Arts Center stage.

It began with a reception, including generous gifts of raffle items from the community to help raise money for theatrical equipment. It then moved into a tribute to Ray Lord, Drama Director for 25 years, and concluded with three student directed plays and the premiere of "Dispatches from Candor," co-written by Geissler and his wife, Phoebe Vanscoy-Giessler.

Geissler inaugurated the "Ray Lord Award" with a tribute to the man who inspired it.

He spoke of his first years as drama instructor as he faced an intimidating unseen but well remembered presence. "I think everyone had the name Ray Lord surgically implanted in their brains," he said in his introduction, continuing tongue in cheek, " 'We love Ray,' they'd say. 'Ray used to pack the house, he got football players to be dancers, he did grand musicals…he healed the sick and parted the waters of Lake Winnipesaukee, he beat Chuck Norris in a fight!'" It wasn't easy being his own person in the haunting presence of a legend.

Plans for the event began as the Kingswood Arts Center was nearing completion and included a visit with Lord in his home. Giesler's research unearthed teachers and alumni (Ruth Woodworth Criger came from as far away as Utah), some of whom participated in a humorous and lighthearted film reminiscence of their own participation in Lord's musicals and anecdotes of Lord's ability to engage the school community in drama. Interviewees included former Kingswood teachers Ernie Bainton, Fred Fernald, Phil Decelle, Ed Roundy and David Kinmond.

Lord's daughter Susan led the singing of "The Impossible Dream" from "Man of La Mancha" on stage, joined by Lord's former students and colleagues, among them, Ruth Woodworth Criger, Keli Douglass, Betty Coolidge, Larry Urda and Michael Freebern, Roundy and Fernald, and current students who asked to join in.

When Lord came to the podium, he turned the tables on those who paid him tribute, offering stories of their time on the Kingswood stage. He held up a comprehensive scrap book compiled by Woodworth Criger over a two-year span and remembered her performance as Helen Keller in the "Miracle Worker" and the time her petticoat fell off while performing in "The Music Man" and she kicked it off to the side in time with the music.

Lord remembered BG Hodges as a student who was having trouble learning his lines, but the directors had no cause to wring their hands, for "on opening night he nailed it. He was perfect, dominating every scene he was in…He'd had us." Years later, as Lord was getting out of his car, he heard a voice reciting the first lines of a speech in Brigadoon behind him and knew immediately it was Hodges. "Of course, I just kept walking," he joked.

Then there was "the kid who lipped everything the actors were singing. He knew the whole show," said Lord, so when the lead in "Oklahoma" was indisposed, Lord asked the kid, James Rines, a longtime and current member of the school board, to step in.

Laura Mello, who performed in "West Side Story" eventually became a dance captain of the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes.

Lord commended the people in the community for "backing up those kids" and recalled photographer Ned Bullock's donation of his services and his daughter Jane, who would act and work on costumes as well, whatever was needed.

Students opened the student showcase of one act plays with the stark "A Storm is Breaking," performed by Gabriella Ninconchuk and Kelly Wims and directed by Nicole Hanna.

In "Diary," performed by Chris Schulte and Victoria Cote, Jenny meets the Gene, the man of her dreams. The only problem is that he mysteriously appears in the flesh.

Directors of this play were Briana Gambell and Michael Allfrey.

"Lullaby," centering on family dynamics, was performed by Justin Bohmiller, Chris Campbell, Noah Demaio, Tori Dansereau, and Tiffany West and directed by Maddy Berry and West.

"Dispatches from Candor," co-written by Kingswood Drama Director Scott Giesler and his wife Phoebe Vanscoy-Giessler, is a poignant story of a young woman who died from breast cancer in her thirties, held the audience in its hands from start to finish. Briana Gambell played Polly, the central character. She was joined by Harry Corthell, Chris Schulte, Chris Campbell, Amanda Spiller, Nicole Hanna, Diana Aponte, Tiffany West, Joe Kurzawa and Miranda Dean.

Geisler directed the play. The Art Director was Norman Adjutant, who credited Ray Lord for getting the self-professed "troublemaker" into drama when he was a student at Kingswood.

A new era has begun with the advent of the Kingswood Arts Center.

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