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Legends, myths and memories to form basis of original play about history of New London

Jeff Vetch holds a memory map that shows locations in New London that are significant to residents’ lives. The locations and stories will be incorporated into a play depicting the 150-year history of New London. (TRIBUNE/Carolyn Lange)

NEW LONDON — As the story goes, New London’s notorious prankster lit the fuse on an empty — and totally harmless — stick of dynamite and threw it into the crowded pool hall.

The previously lounging players madly dove under the billiard tables and screamed profanities, only to realize they’d been had when the dynamite stick fizzled and went out.

Anecdotes like this 1960s-era tale could find their way into a script for a one-of-a-kind play about the 150-year history of New London that will be performed on the Mill Pond in July, at the peak of the town’s sesquicentennial celebration and community celebration of Water Days.

Script writers Ashley Hanson and Andrew Gaylord, of PlaceBase Productions, have been gathering stories from residents through one-on-one interviews and community “story swap” workshops.

The fourth and final story swap will be 2-4 p.m. Saturday at the New London Senior Center.

Even people who don’t consider themselves storytellers find they have stories to tell when they come to the workshops and hear comments from participants that trigger memories, Hanson said.

A “memory map” of New London was created at a previous story swap when people were invited to mark up the map with stories and locations that are significant in peoples’ lives.

“We believe everyone has a story and a story connected to place,” Hanson said. “We want to find the sentiments behind the place.”

New London Mayor Bill Gossman said the first story swap that was held in November “produced some good recollections of residents about people and places from New London’s yesteryears.”

On top of the “text book” stories about the start of New London in 1865, the play will include the myths, legends and everyday tidbits of the people living together in a community over 150 years, Hanson said.

She said, for example, when the Swedish and Norwegian Lutheran churches merged the bells from both were hung in the new steeple and intended to ring together.

When it was discovered the bells sounded terrible together a decision was made to ring just one bell, with no disclosure whether it’s the Norwegian bell or the Swedish bell that’s rung.

“We love to look at these little dramas,” Hanson said.

The stories that people have of their hometown can show how people “live together in a small geographic community,” Hanson said, and how “we work together to celebrate our cultural history.”

She said the tidbits of humor, angst and neighborhood interactions may be “sprinkled in the script.”

Hanson and Gaylord will also go to the New London-Spicer High School and Glen Oaks care facility to get stories that span multiple generations to use in the script.

When it’s completed, Hanson said the play will show “what drew people to this place initially, what keeps them here and what will keep them coming back for the next 150 years.”

Theater on the pond

NEW LONDON –– A play depicting the 150-year history of New London will be presented on the Mill Pond during the Water Days celebration.

The drama will unfold July 19 on the banks of the Mill Pond, with the audience able to watch either from the shore or in a canoe in the water.

Local residents will be cast in the original, community-based theater production.

Auditions will be held in May.

Organizers say 50-100 performers, musicians, artists and volunteers are needed to fill the roles.

Auditions will be open to all ages. No previous experience or preparation is necessary.