National Parks Present Historical Play “Sanctuary: A Bird Masque”

The National Parks of Vermont and New Hampshire: Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site and Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park Present Conservation Plays… One will be performed in Woodstock tomorrow (Saturday) and another performance in Cornish on Sunday: 


Cornish, NH and Woodstock, VT – On August 24 and 25 at 2:00pm, the National Parks of Vermont and New Hampshire will be hosting centennial performances of the play Sanctuary: A Bird Masque, a play about bird protection. 

Sanctuary was first performed at the opening of the Meridan Bird Sanctuary in Meridan, New Hampshire, on September 12, 1913, with President of the United States Woodrow Wilson in attendance.

These upcoming centennial performances will be held at Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park in Woodstock, Vermont, on August 24 and at Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornish, New Hampshire, on August 25.


Starting at noon, on both days, performances will be preceded by exhibits and demonstrations by the Vermont Institute of Natural Science (VINS), the Vermont Center of Ecostudies, Change the World Kids, and Vermont Audubon.

Cast-member Hamilton Gillett of Woodstock describes the play as a “fun, celebratory, and very visual piece.” After its first 1913 performance, Sanctuary was performed with author and Cornish Colonist Percy MacKaye’s encouragement by amateur theatre troupes across the country. Its popularity arose not only from its colorful bird costumes and lively verse dialogue, but from an underlying social and environmental message about the rampant hunting of wild birds for their feathers, which were used by the fashion industry in popular women’s hats.

In writing Sanctuary, MacKaye’s goal was to promote bird conservation through popular, non-commercial theatre. Sanctuary resonated with the dawning environmental consciousness of the time, coinciding with the growing popularity of Audubon Bird Societies and the movement to create a National Park system.

Sanctuary’s cause ultimately triumphed: in 1918, President Wilson would sign the Migratory Bird Act, putting an end to the “millinery murder” of wild birds.birdflock_performance (1)

“The message of this play is just as relevant today as it was 100 years ago,” says director Kevin Fitzpatrick. “Then it was solely about bird slaughter, but now it is about larger environmental concerns. Beneath the overt message, it speaks to the ways people have of living with nature.”

Having been a resident of Upper Valley for the past 20 years, Fitzpatrick believes that the citizens of local communities are an ideal audience for the play.  “Vermont and New Hampshire are synonymous with natural beauty and defense of the environment. Ecological goals are very important to this region,” Fitzpatrick said.

The play’s costume designer, prop master, and music director Fern Meyers also stresses Sanctuary‘s connection to the Upper Valley community, speaking of its historical as well as environmental roots. “I think it’s important for Americans to know about our cultural history,” says Meyers, who is also the director of Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site’s long-running concert series.

Historical re-creation is Meyers’ goal in both the design and the music of the play. The costumes are based on photographs of the original cast taken by Arnold Genthe at the 1913 performance. In preparing the music, Meyers discovered manuscripts in the Dartmouth archives of the four songs written for Sanctuary by Cornish composer Frederic Shepherd Converse. She’s also arranged incidental music using other contemporary pieces composed by musicians associated with the Cornish Colony, a group Meyers calls “a generation of forgotten American composers.” Much of this music has never been recorded and has been virtually unheard since the early 1900s.

The performance and exhibition are sponsored and supported by a variety of organizations in the Upper Valley including the Byrne Foundation, Meriden Bird Club, Putnam Foundation, Saint-Gaudens Memorial, James Tasker Covered Bridges Fund, Mascoma Savings Bank Foundation, Coop Food Stores, Four Seasons Sotheby’s International Realty, Pentangle Arts Council, Michael Sacca Productions, Woodstock History Center, Hood Museum of Art, Cornish Historical Society, Plainfield Historical Society among others.

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4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Suz Crosby on August 23, 2013 at 22:06

    Big event at Billings tomorrow and you email out info at 8:30pm the night before….we get on the spot vehicle accident reports and reports of people not wanting “noise” in downtown Woodstock, and information about a really nice event on Saturday reported late Friday night. Bad newspaper coverage….something like this should be written about early on in the week.


    • Newsflash Suz: This isn’t a newspaper. It is also not an events calendar.

      If you were at all familiar with this blog , which you clearly are not, it is for breaking news, mobile news alerts, last minute information of relevance NOW –not three or four days from now. You would know that NO event is ever posted sooner than 24 hours before the event so it is fresh in peoples’ minds. Sorry, but that’s just how we roll here.

      This is the internet. This is a blog for those who appreciate local news of relevance within a brief up to the minute 24 hour period. We cater to last-minute, check-my-phone, on-the-go, moving fast, thinking fast, make decisions with short bursts of information smart people who use their smart phones to stay smart and stay connected.

      We support our National Park (which does not have local advertising budgets) and as a “one-off” are mentioning it out of many good events this weekend.

      If the Billings Farm wants to advertise in advance they have money to do so.

      But you clearly don’t really mean the Billings Farm unless you are still confused that they are separate entities. We would note this event is NOT at the Billings Farm but at our National Parks.

      There are plenty of other sources for event listings. That’s not what we do here.

      To have any event listed at all is only because Woodstock Early Bird finds it worthy of note and interesting. Period.

      We will say it again. Those who want to write about other issues or present other events are free to do so: Start your own blog! That’s the beauty of this technological age. Have it YOUR way!

      Here at Woodstock Early Bird this is OUR way!

      We find it kind of ridiculous that those who are reading and benefitting from our work for free should be telling us how to go about our business.

      Please don’t whine that we aren’t keeping you informed in the manner you prefer. That isn’t our responsibility. We have zero requirement to promote or advertise anything, let alone do it on your timetable. That we share any information at all news, events or otherwise should be appreciated as an added source of information and/or opinion. Yes, you are subject to the vagaries of this editor. That said, Woodstock Early Bird should NEVER be your only source of information. WEB

      (For the record, we know our friends at Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Park DO appreciate our work and our acknowledgment of their efforts. However, they never, ever demand coverage and they never, ever demand when their events will be featured. They are pleased simply to be included — when possible — as a relevant part of Woodstock life.)


  2. Posted by Cathy on August 24, 2013 at 06:59

    Social media is an interesting bird (ha!). At its best it is great information and communication, at its worst is just a vehicle for people to be passive aggressive. I guess if it keeps people from kicking their dogs than so be it.


  3. Posted by Julia Carlisle on August 26, 2013 at 13:23

    Hello Ms. Carlisle–

    Thank you for publishing our story about the Bird Masque centennial at the National Parks. The two performances were a success, with high attendance and a lot of enthusiasm for the play. Thank you once again for your part in publicizing the event.

    –Ben Boettger
    Ranger, Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park.


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