Macey Levin Interview
This is Jean McMillen. I am interviewing Macey Levin who is going to talk about the Holley-William House, staging a reading of Maria Holley’s Diary, the Aglet Theater, John Neufeld’s writing group, and the Northwest Jewish Community Group. Today’s date is March 10, 2022. This is file # 5 cycle 5
JM: What is your name?
ML: Macey Levin
JM: Your birthdate?
ML: Feb. 25, 1938 I just had a birthday.
JM: Happy Birthday!
ML: So where is my present?
JM: Well, I didn’t know or I would have brought you something wonderful!
JM: Belated will do, alright.
JM: You place of birth?
ML: Boston, Massachusetts, Roxbury is part of Boston.
JM: You came to this area because of retirement?
ML: Initially we just loved the area. We had visited up here a number of times. Then as we were approaching retirement, it became the place to research and obviously we decided to stay.
JM: And what an asset that you both are to the community. We are so grateful, truly.
ML: We just love being here.
JM: It is a wonderful spot. I am going to start with the Holley-Williams House. How did you get involved with that?
ML: One friend or two friends that I can think of Tom Schachtman and Dick Boyle. They were the chair people of the Holley Williams House Board. I came across them one way or another at an event, and they asked me to join the board, which I did gladly. I enjoyed it working with and for them.
JM: They are both wonderful men.
ML: Yes, they are.
JM: About when did you join the board?
ML: 2005 or 06 someplace.
JM: This is a memory test, who were on the board with you?
ML: Lou Bucceri, Gary Dykus, Barbara Collins, and Katherine Chilcoat I think that is it. (See interview of Lou, Barbara and Katherine)
JM; You passed.
ML: Thank you so much. I try so hard.
JM: I know you do. How many years were you on that board?
ML: When did they fold 2010?
ML: It would have been around there.
JM: Now in staging the Maria Holley diary, that had been staged before elsewhere.
JM: You were doing it where?
ML: We did it in the living room of the house. It was a conductive atmosphere. I believe it had been done at Hotchkiss before. Nice school, but it is institutional. The mood of the room underlined the contents of the diary.
JM: Who were your actors?
ML: The woman who played Maria Holley Williams was Deann Halper, Mr. Williams, I don’t remember his first name, was Dick Vreeland (See his interview) and there was a narrator who gave some stage directions and filled in the other content and that was Lori Belter (see her interview).
JM: About when did you stage this?
ML: Probably about 2008 as it was part of a celebration of some Salisbury Association important year?
JM: So it would be some anniversary? Now you mentioned to me that there were other activities that were held at the house.
ML: There were concerts outside if it was possible to be outside. There was a tent in the back. There were refreshments, including wine. If outside was a problem, we went inside which is a good choice. There were jazz concerts, classical concerts, there were also lectures: art lectures Dick Boyle did them particularly as a major art historian. There were other talks as well.
JM: This segues into the Aglet Theater. When did it begin?
ML: My wife Gloria (See Gloria Miller’s interview) and I went out for dinner one night. She had retired from teaching in 2004. We were both teachers. October 2004 we went out for dinner with our friends Bob and Renee Blank. Renee said to Gloria, “Now what are you going to do?” She said, “We want to start a theater.” I was surprised as I was included in that. There had been a series of concerts that a woman named Ann Huntstein had developed where the musicians would play in somebody’s home before an audience. There would be refreshments before, at the break and afterwards for social conversation. We found that to be a very powerful arts oriented situation. So we thought we would do the same thing with our plays. We did a one night reading. There would be a reading with refreshments as so on, a short while later we talked to Mary O’Brien at Chaiwalla…
JM: You are getting a little bit ahead on me on this. What type of plays were you doing?
ML: We did plays with a small cast, dramas, provocative plays with thematic content because we would have a discussion after the reading. Gloria led the discussion: she is a master at that. People looked forward to it. Actually before we did the reading Gloria would give the background of the author and what to look for while listening to the play.
JM: Maybe somebody is not aware of the difference between a reading and a performance. What is a reading?
ML: A reading is script in hand. A performance is without the script.
JM: Going back to various locations you started at Chaiwalla.
ML: Correct and we were not yet Aglet Theater. We called ourselves Chamber Theater Society. We thought that sounded good. We talked with Mary. She said, “I am closed Saturday nights. Do it here and I shall supply the refreshments!” Which she did and we also brought other things. We ran it there for a couple of years. We got to the point where we had built a good sized audience.
Actually we were doing a play called “Sin” about a Cardinal deposed. It was about Cardinal Law of Boston. I played the Cardinal. He was deposed because of sexual activities. Michael Baldwin who is the associate artistic director at Sharon Playhouse now and director of art education program was in it. We felt that the size of the audience and the space we needed to do the play, we had to find another venue. Deann who co-directed the play with Gloria was a member of the board at Tri-Arts. We contacted them and they said, “Use the Bok Gallery.” We were there for about 10 years. We would do 2 plays. These were staged readings which mean that it was scripted and full movement. It was not at a table or with music stands. It was a performance with script in hand. We would do one performance, 2 shows in the fall and 2 shows in the spring. We had a subscription audience. We were reviewed by the Lakeville Journal. We built up a terrific following. People looked forward to the kinds of plays that we did because they were not being done in the area or at any other place. While at Tri-Arts Sharon Playhouse, we also performed for a couple of years at the Unicorn Theater at Berkshire Theater Festival in Stockbridge. The following was not as great because they had other venues they could go to. We were there for 2 years. We were invited to work there again by Kate McGuire, the artistic director there. What we had done in Sharon, we would do up there. Another administration came in to Tri-Arts. They gave us a bit of a difficult time. They raised the rental rates. We felt that we could not afford it so we went to Dewey Hall in Sheffield, Mass. We were there for 5 years.
The way it got the name of Aglet was by going back to the beginning we had been in existence for a year. Deann Halper was a wonderful actress. She came to our house on Sunday morning and Gloria and I were talking: we showed Deann the books. She said, “You are doing this on a shoestring!” Gloria said, “No we are doing it on an aglet.” We decided it was a great name. For those of you who may not know an aglet is the tab at the end of a shoes lace. That is what our budget was.
JM: You used some local people. You mentioned Tom Gruenwald.
ML: He was from Sharon: he did a lot of directing for us and some acting. We used Donald Sossin, Joanna Seton, Geron Bayer, Pat Conlon..
JM: How about Paul dePaolo?
ML: Oh of course Paul dePaolo did lighting for us. There were others who are just not coming to mind.
JM: How long did Aglet Theater run?
ML: 14 years
JM: Who took it over from you?
ML: A new company was formed in Gt. Barrington. Deann was going to be the Executive director because we were closing down. Jim Frangione, the artistic director, asked if we could transfer our non-profit number to them which we did.
JM: They changed the name of it?
ML: It is the Gt. Barrington Public Theater.
JM: And they have changed the focus?
ML: They changed the focus: they do interesting plays- new plays. We had done some new plays. It is the kind of theater company that I would have liked to have worked for which I was supposed to have been doing, but have never been asked to.
JM: Where are they performing?
ML: At Simon’s Rock (a college located on Alford Road in Gt. Barrington, Mass. Ed.)
JM: Oh, I remember when that was a farm. Let’s move on to the writing group that you are in. Now that was started by John Neufeld.
ML: Yes John Neufeld was an author who is no longer with us. (He wrote Lisa Light & Dark and many other novels Ed.)
JM: He had written several books.
ML: Yes and some of them were on the New York Times Best Seller list. He was a sweet man. The workshop had been in existence for a number of years. Sometime in the later part of 2019 there was a blurb in the newspaper if you want to join so I joined. There were 8 or 10 people there including Peter Fitting, Susan McQuillan, Joan Turnure, Lenore Mallett and several others. John was sick with cancer, then Covid came along and because of that we no longer met. In January or February of 2019, I contacted the people whose addresses I had and that was Peter, Lenore and Susan to get together to share our work with guides, comments and suggestions. We meet every other week pretty much since then. We have done a lot of writing and a lot of sharing. We do a lot of talking, too. The writing actually motivates the conversation. We have a wonderful time together, a lot of laughter, and a lot of personal stories of people whom we love and don’t love.
JM: That is sharing: you need that. Do you meet in people’s homes?
ML: Oh yeah we rotate. We have refreshments: we always have to have refreshments!
JM: That makes it social.
ML: Again we have very interesting conversations. They are delightful people. Lenore writes really well, but she is a mother of young children and she is a real estate agent so she cannot come to us as consistently as she would like. She will write something and e-mail it to us and we will write comments back to her.
JM: That’s wonderful. Tell me about the Northwest Jewish Community Group. When did that start?
ML: Before my time. We did not get up here until permanently 2004. We had gone to some activities before that. We first arrived here looking in the 1995: we bought our house in 1996. We rented for 2 years at Lion’s Head. We were in the house and there was blurb in the newspaper, again the Lakeville Journal, about a Hanukkah party at Simmon’s Inn in Millerton, NY. That was the first event we went to. Lot of people, lots of food, very gregarious bunch of people so we started going to other activities. There would be lectures at various people’s houses, primarily at the home of Stewart and Edith Marks because they had the space. They were the founders along with Frank and Barbara Roth. Regrettably all of them are now gone. We had large group meetings, business meetings at Noble Horizons. After several years Stewart who was chairman of the group said that he wanted to retire because they were moving. “Is there anybody here who wants to take over?” No hands went up. Gloria, my wife sitting next to me said, “You handle the money for the theater, and for us, you could do that.” So my hand went up. I was volunteered. I ran the group for 5 or 6 years with a lot of help. We had gatherings near the holidays at either restaurants or at somebody’s house.
JM: What was the purpose of the group?
ML: To create a community for the Jewish population I guess if my history is correct the Jewish population became larger here starting somewhere in the1980s. There is a synagogue in Amenia (Beth David Ed.) but they felt we here in Salisbury, Lakeville and Sharon should have our own organization. It was not a “religious” organization, but it was a organization of co-religionists.
JM: That makes sense. Is it still in existence?
ML: No. We had a film series which we did at first at Noble Horizons and then at the Hotchkiss Science Center. Once again Gloria would lead the discussion: talk about the movie beforehand, what to look for…
JM: Were they art films?
ML: They were pretty much commercial, but not heavily so. You would probably find them more often in our houses. Again we had a lot of people who would come: they enjoyed the discussions, and the refreshments. Always it was the important part. It was on a Sunday morning.
JM: That left Saturday for religious services.
ML: Right there were a lot pf non-Jewish people who would come. We did this later in the day so if the church goers wanted to they could come. After about 5 years I retired from doing that. Someone else took it over and had ties with to Beth David in Amenia and created relationship with them which embraces the Jewish Community Group.
JM: Before we close is there something you would like to add that we haven’t discussed?
ML: I find that after having lived in various places, this corner of the world is as homey a place as I have had. I loved being with my birth family, but we lived in places of large suburbs, impersonal. I lived on Long Island for a number of years: most of my adult life was spent on Long Island. Again it was comfortable because I and my families (2 different wives) made it comfortable, but Gloria and I came up here and we almost immediately fell in love with it.
We fell in love first with the library. We just loved the library: it was warm, it was welcoming, but it has changed.
JM: Thank you
ML: You are welcome.