“Mizz Edna Drives On Main” is the latest production at Elm Street Cultural Arts Village and the play has its roots deep in the city’s past.
For years, Juanita Hughes and G. Lora Grooms have chatted about creating a play based in Woodstock’s history.
Hughes works part-time at the Woodstock Visitors Center at Dean’s Store, writes for the Tribune and is the city’s historian. Grooms is an accomplished playwright and the artistic/education director at Elm Street Cultural Arts Village.
“I liked the idea of writing a local historical piece,” Grooms said, “but, wasn’t certain how to go about turning Woodstock’s past into a stage play. There is so much information to consider, so many important figures. Then, about a year ago, Juanita mentioned Edna McCleskey Haney, the first woman driver in town. I knew immediately this was something I could use to create some wonderful theater.”
And that is how “Mizz Edna Drives On Main” began.
Hughes handed Grooms a notebook and a thick red folder containing letters, stories, census data, copies of photos and Haney family reunion handouts — much of it donated by Preservation Woodstock and Haney family members.
Local writer Patti Brady was also able to provide some information about Mizz Edna and her family.
“It was challenging deciding which stories to use in the script, but we’ve picked some great ones we believe audiences will enjoy. Some are funny and some are very tender and sweet. A single sentence from the files; ‘Dave Haney told the salesman he’d only buy the Model T Ford if Edna was taught how to drive as well,’ I was able to turn an entire scene building up to Edna taking off on her first driving lesson with a skeptical car salesman at her side holding on for dear life.”
There is reason to believe Edna was the first woman driver in the state, Grooms said.
For the production there will be a “car” on stage, designed and built by Ted Scott, an experienced set designer and private airline pilot in his mid-70s.
In fact, the cast and crew are made up mainly of members ages 50 and older, Grooms said.
Besides the Haneys and their neighbors, other characters include a Woodstock Visitors Center volunteer (modeled after Hughes and Kyle Bennett), a WVC “regular” and two descendants who are seeking information about Dave and Edna Haney.
The play takes place between the present and the past as the characters learn more about their ancestors.
Grooms selected Irving Berlin songs from corresponding decades to intersperse between some of the scenes to bridge set changes.
“The songs we’re using are for the most part rather obscure except for ‘Always.’ It seems out of the hundreds and hundreds of songs he wrote, not all have made it into easy to obtain sheet music,” Grooms said. “Our Music Director, Amy Noel Welch, had to do some serious searching and there were a couple of songs I wanted to use because the lyrics worked with the previous scene, but the music to go with them could not be located.”
“Mizz Edna” is a part of an Arts Education in American Communities Grant funded by the National Endowment for the Arts.
“When the NEA contacted me to apply for this invitation-only grant, one of the things I put into the grant proposal for Elm Street was a special production by and for senior citizens,” Grooms said. “This grant also provided scholarship funds for summer campers and equipment for advancing our Visual Arts programming. Elm Street is now the proud owners of three pottery wheels and a state-of-the-art kiln.”
There will be an open house after the closing performance from 5 to 7 p.m. on Sunday for audience members who would like to tour the Haney House at 8256 Main St. and meet the cast.
“We took our publicity photos on location at the Haney House and Dean’s Store because we felt that would more completely ‘place’ the show in Woodstock,” Grooms said.
Performances are Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $10 online in advance or $12 at the door and include sales tax. Group sales are available.
The theater is located at 8534 Main St. in Woodstock — the old Woodstock Community Church building— at the corner of Main and Towne Lake Parkway.