ELKINS - Davis & Elkins College is bringing back an original Mountain State Forest Festival event that became a decades-old tradition for visitors and the royal court. For the first time since 1966, the Forest Festival Pageant will be staged as part of the Coronation of Queen Silvia ceremonies.
With the production, the College is also paying tribute to the late Claire Fiorentino, a professor of theatre at D&E from 1944 to 1974 and a long time organizer of the pageant. The Claire Deiss Fiorentino Chair in Theatre at Davis & Elkins, established in 2005 and funded by Fiorentino’s son, Antony E. “Tony” Fiorentino, provides a permanently endowed professorship in theatre arts as well as an endowed theatre enrichment fund. Through the years, Fiorentino was recognized throughout West Virginia for her quality of theatrical productions and pageants. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the last Forest Festival Pageant she produced.
The theatrical performances, or pageants as they were called, featured a cast of local children and were presented for the royal court and those attending the coronation.
“The Festival office and its committees had the idea to bring back the pageant as a way to reignite community involvement,” Davis & Elkins College Theatre Program Director kb saine says. “And, the College administration wants to emphasize D&E’s ongoing commitment to the Forest Festival by showcasing the talents of the faculty and students.”
“The People Rejoice: A Historical Pageant for the Mountain State Forest Festival” will be presented at 1p.m. October 3 as a prelude to Coronation ceremonies at the Outdoor Amphitheatre on the College campus.
The original script by Fiorentino and the late Dale Wilson was adapted by saine. Presented in two parts, it tells the story of the birth of West Virginia and how it developed, and the founding of the Forest Festival.
“It reminds us of who we are and why we’re here,” saine says. “The most wonderful thing about a public performance is that it creates a common experience.”
The pageant features a performance by the College’s student string band and dance troupe Appalachian Ensemble and a cast of 17 students: Narrator 1, junior Sara Davenport of Spencer, W.Va.; Narrator 2, senior Michael Good of Elkins; Native American, alumnus Zach Snyder of Hambleton, W.Va.; Foyles’ son, freshman Eric Gordon of Bristow, Va.; Bailey Brown, freshman Troy Young of Parsons, W.Va.; Lincoln, sophomore Jacob Currence of Beverly, W.Va.; Henry Davis, adjunct instructor Vince Trimboli; C.W. Maxwell, freshman Josh Thompson of Parsons, W.Va.; G.H. Dornblazer, senior Andrew Carroll of Bunker Hill, W.Va.; Queen Silvia, D&E Dance Program Coordinator Emily Oleson; and chorus members, freshman Katie Varchetto of Elkins, sophomore Rachel White of Davis, W.Va., sophomore Jenny Armstrong of Kingwood, W.Va., senior Alex White of New Castle, Va., senior Ashley Collins of Independence, W.Va., freshman Tasha Fletcher of Kingwood, W.Va., and freshman Megan Walters of Charmco, W.Va. Serving as stage managers are freshman Hannah Lancaster of Kerens, W.Va., and freshman Shannen McClure of Marlinton, W.Va.
Mountain State Forest Festival Association Board of Directors President Cliff Marstiller, who graduated from D&E in 1980, says he’s excited to see the pageant return.
“I think this is going to be a great addition to the Coronation by bringing back to life something we did many, many years ago,” Marstiller says. “I know the D&E Theatre Department has been working hard on this and we’re looking forward to seeing it.”
The inaugural Forest Festival Pageant was presented in 1930. It was sponsored by the Woman’s Club of Elkins, for a few years by its Social Services Department Committee, and then later by its Junior Department. Fiorentino contributed her talents, first in 1934, when she wrote and directed “Rhapsody of the Seasons” and also served as the director and general chairman of the Pageant Committee. For the next 32 years, Fiorentino continued her work with the pageants, writing, directing and serving as a committee member. In 1936, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt presented an address at the Coronation, and Fiorentino directed and choreographed “Legend of Peace.” Among her subsequent productions were “The Bird of Flame” in 1937, “Cosmia, Mythology of the Planets” in 1940, and the 1950 presentation of “A Litany of the Nations,” which included dance groups from Davis & Elkins, Fairmont State College and West Virginia University. In 1955, Fiorentino and the Davis & Elkins College Drama Department presented “The Hill of Home.”
In preparation of the performance, saine researched the history of the Forest Festival Pageants and found that Fiorentino’s productions were “a very elaborate series.” For one pageant, costumes came from the renowned Dazian's Theatrical Emporium of New York City and 12 costumers assisted the cast.
Hoping to make this year’s presentation as equally visually appealing, saine teamed up with designer Andre Harrington, an associate professor at California State University at San Bernardino, who will be assisted by D&E senior Ashlen Wilson. However, the three are keeping the design of the costumes under wraps.
According to saine, the College hopes to continue the pageant performance annually as a celebration of West Virginia.
“I think there’s something very valuable in that,” she says. “It can be a new tradition to look forward to.”
Related to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Davis & Elkins College is located in Elkins, 2 hours east of Charleston, 3 hours south of Pittsburgh and 4 hours west of Washington, D.C. For more information, please visit the College website at www.dewv.edu or call 304-637-1243.