In 1934, Orson Welles directed his first film and made his debut as an American theater director. And he did it in the suburb of Woodstock.
Now, 80 years later, the town of Woodstock is celebrating the legacy of Welles and its own unique role in helping to develop the filmmaking legend's creative genius.
Welles in WoodstockWhat: A festival honoring film icon Orson Welles' roots in Woodstock. Features films, a panel discussion, music, a pub crawl and more.
When: Events begin at 7 p.m. on Friday, May 16, at the Stage Left Café and continue through Saturday, May 17. For a full schedule of events and locations, visit welleswoodstock.com.
Tickets: Prices are $15 for adults and $10 for students for individual sessions on May 17; all-day passes are $40 and $25, respectively. No tickets are needed for the Friday night event; a donation of $15 at the door is suggested. Tickets are on on sale at the Woodstock Opera House, 121 W. Van Buren St., or by calling (815) 338-5300.
On Friday and Saturday, May 16 and 17, the nonprofit Woodstock Celebrates is hosting Welles in Woodstock, a celebration honoring Welles as a world-class figure in 20th century culture and a major force who excelled in film, live theater, radio and TV. He is perhaps best known for directing "Citizen Kane," considered by many critics to be the greatest film ever made. He was only 25 years old at the time.
"He's a multimedia giant," says festival spokesman Peter Gill. "Woodstock is proud to say he is one of our own. He wasn't born here, but he was educated here, and his artistic talent was formulated in Woodstock."
A year ago, Woodstock named the Woodstock Opera House stage in honor of Welles. Next year, Woodstock Celebrates, the grass-roots organization created to celebrate the town's heritage, will commemorate what would have been Welles' 100th birthday.
Born in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Welles considered Woodstock his home. He went to school at the now-closed Todd School for Boys in town, where he met one of his greatest inspirations and lifelong friend, Roger Hill, a teacher and the school's headmaster.
The festival commemorates the 80th anniversary of the Todd Theatre Festival at the Woodstock Opera House orchestrated by Welles, then 19, and paid for by Hill. Welles directed the theater production of "Trilby," in which he played Svengali. Also in Woodstock in 1934, he directed his first film "The Hearts of Age."
During his career, Welles directed classics including "The Lady from Shanghai," "Macbeth," "Othello" and "Touch of Evil." Besides excelling as a director and actor, he was a big force in live theater, directing stage plays including "Around the World in Eighty Days." He also was a radio director and actor and creator of TV programs, with his most famous radio broadcast being the notorious "The War of the Worlds" program in 1938.
At 7 p.m. on Friday, May 16, the festival begins at the Stage Left Café, with Todd Tarbox, the grandson of Hill, opening, and musicians playing period music from the 1920s and 1930s. On Saturday at the Woodstock Opera House, a panel of six international experts will address the early life and career of Welles in Wisconsin, Illinois, Ireland and New York. That evening, a radio theater group will perform selections from Welles' radio dramas.
Other organizations and businesses in town are participating as well. The Woodstock Classic Cinema is hosting an Orson Welles film festival with showings of "Citizen Kane," "The Lady From Shanghai," "Macbeth" and "The Stranger." In addition, the Woodstock Public Library has an exhibit on the Todd School, the Woodstock Historic Preservation Commission is offering walking tours, bookstore Read Between the Lynes has author signings and the Old Court House Arts Center has a multimedia and photo tribute to Welles.
Bars and restaurants in town also are offering special period-style drinks as part of a 30-day "pub-crawl."
"There are a lot of different things going on; hopefully there is something for everyone in Woodstock," Gill says. "It's a fun way to celebrate Orson and get the whole community involved."