BELLOWS FALLS—The former factory building at 33 Bridge Street is about to get more artistic.
Beginning in April, the long-time home of community radio station WOOL-FM, Sherwin Art Glass, and Charlie Hunter Fine Art will count Stage 33 Live as a tenant.
Stage 33 Live, a radio-television-web variety show, features regional performers and presenters offering music, theater, performance, academic, and spoken-word events.
The organization is a registered nonprofit, and the Board of Directors consists of Gail Golec, Daniel Hartigan, and Mark Piepkorn.
This project is “not a one-person thing. It can’t be,” Piepkorn said. It’s supported by “an assemblage of helpers with vast wells of experience” in performance, recording, live sound, video, and “people skills,” said Piepkorn, who, in the mid-1990s, ran a small demo studio in Minneapolis, “in the days of The Replacements and Hüsker Dü.”
All presentations will take place on a small stage in the large main room of 33 Bridge St., and events will be recorded and mixed for broadcast on WOOL and Falls Area Community Television (FACT TV), and for on-demand viewing at stage33live.com — but none will get a live broadcast.
There’s seating for 50 — “because we have 50 folding chairs,” Piepkorn said — and beyond that, standing room. Although Piepkorn said he hopes to fill those seats, he noted “the live audience is secondary. We want to get good audio and video. These performances are not ephemeral. It’s meant to be recorded.” This, he said, “will help artists and academics build a calling card with [recorded] performances and presentations.”
“We can tweak and mix for broadcast. We’re not Guilford Sound or Next Stage. [Stage 33 Live] is funky, it’s a bootstrap-New England-post-industrial thing,” Piepkorn said.
This project “is a direct line of descent from WOOL,” said Piepkorn, who hosts a Wednesday evening radio program, “Monsters and Hamsters.” The radio station, Piepkorn said, “has rarely done live broadcasts from the stage. It’s underutilized!” Eventually, he said, Stage 33 Live’s events will end up on the regular WOOL schedule, but until they get up to speed, the shows will broadcast as special programming.
As a sort of dress rehearsal, Stage 33 Live has hosted “secret performances to work things out,” said Piepkorn, but the official opening occurs in April with a series of Sunday events.
On April 1 is an open mic, all-comers event. Noting the dual holidays of Easter and April Fools’ Day, Piepkorn said attendees will get “extra points for bunny ears and lampshades.” Piepkorn also noted performers who sign up ahead of time at stage33live.com “get first dibs.” The other Open Stage events are on April 8 and 22.
The April 15 edition stars a dual bill: The Break Maids and River HALO. The promotional poster describes the event: “Original rock-n-roll folk punk, plus homespun freedom songs of the luminous kind. Women in charge!” Piepkorn, explaining River HALO’s sound, first compared them to The Shaggs, but then reconsidered. “They’re more like the Roches at their quirkiest than like the Shaggs,” he noted.
On April 29, Gail Golec presents the latest installment of her series, “The Secret Life of Death,” where she finds a gravestone and researches the deceased and their time. This event will include a film and a question-and-answer period with Golec.
Infrastructure in place
When asked if there were anything particular to Bellows Falls that inspired the Stage 33 Live founders to put the project there, Piepkorn said, “I live in Bellows Falls. It’s lately kind of earning more ‘cool cred.’ Plus, the room and the stage are here, and half the infrastructure was already in place.”
Adding to that, Stage 33 Live has received encouragement and support from the community, including 33 Bridge Street’s landlords, Dorothy and Stewart Read, Piepkorn said.
Jan and Mike Sheehy, who perform as the Milkhouse Heaters, donated the PA speakers, and FACT TV gave the station a rolling rack for audio equipment. WOOL-FM signed on as an underwriter, and the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation gave Stage 33 Live $1,000 in unrestricted seed money.
Still, Piepkorn said, starting a new live music and performance project from scratch with only $2,000 in cash required organizers to “squeeze pennies ’til they screamed in agony.”
Piepkorn said it’s worth it. “There’s tons of potential for artists and intellectuals in the community, and for the community itself.”