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Community groups bring education, theater to Colton

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COLTON — Hushed whispers and excited laughter could be heard as actors young and old peered through the stage door just before their final performance of the “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” at Colton-Pierrepont Central School on Sunday.

“We’re all excited to go on,” said actor William G. “Bill” Riehl, who plays Panch, a few minutes before he went on stage. “The show is a lot of fun. The best part is working with the audience and inviting them on the stage.”

Mr. Riehl’s mother, Evelyn, produced in 1992 the Sunday Rock – The Folk Musical, about logging on the river in the early 20th century. Ten years later, Mr. Riehl was inspired to reproduce the show with help from a team of fellow history and theater lovers.

“In the process of doing this show and selling tickets, it became really obvious to us that this community would support summer theater,” Mr. Riehl said. “We formed a relationship with Grasse River Players — they provide the theatrical expertise — and the Colton Historical Society, and soon the Colton-Pierrepont Central School became involved.”

The three organizations then formed the Sunday Rock Legacy Project. Its goal is to pursue community-based projects of historical, educational and theatrical interest.

Grass River Players Liaison Elaine M. Kuracina said it’s a genius pairing that benefits Colton.

“Not only do we combine our talents and expertise, but we bring the community together,” Ms. Kuracina said.

Now in its third year, the historical part of the venture is highlighting education in local one-room small schoolhouses. The organization has collected more than 20 oral histories and over 75 stories about schoolhouse experiences in the area.

“There were 22 or maybe more in what is now the Colton-Pierrepont central school district,” Mr. Riehl said.

This season’s musical comedy, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” hitches on this year’s theme of education. Proceeds from the show will support the Sunday Rock Legacy Project.

But the show also allows local actors, musicians and singers to showcase their talent.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for local residents,” said the night’s piano player and Sunday Rock Legacy steering committee member Lorie L. Gruneisen. “There are a lot of people here that can’t afford to drive down to New York City and pay $200 to see a show. You don’t have to be held back by not having money. You can still enjoy really good experiences thanks to community organizations like this. I think that is one really big plus and we’re all very fortunate to live here.”

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