The Hippo


May 26, 2020








The Alchemists’ Workshop presents Georgia O’Keeffe Paints Paradise. Courtesy photo.

Georgia O’Keeffe Paints Paradise

When: Saturday, Jan. 6, 1 p.m. 
Where: Manchester City Library, 405 Pine St., Manchester 
Cost: Donations accepted 
More info:
Other performances: 
Saturday, Jan. 6, 7 p.m., at Keene Public Library, 60 Winter St., Keene 
Sunday, Jan. 7, 3 p.m., at Holy Cross Episcopal Church Event Center, 118 Center Road, Weare

Painting the pineapples
Original musical portrays Georgia O’Keeffe in Hawaii

By Angie Sykeny

 Despite her being one of the most iconic American artists of the 20th century, much of Georgia O’Keeffe’s life remains a mystery. 

The Alchemists’ Workshop, a theater company based in Henniker, is offering a glimpse at one of the few documented periods of O’Keeffe’s life with its touring musical, Georgia O’Keeffe Paints Paradise, which makes its next stop at the Manchester City Library on Saturday, Jan. 6. The musical is based on the 2011 book Georgia O’Keeffe’s Hawai’i. The book was co-authored by Patricia Jennings, who, as the 12-year-old daughter of a pineapple planter, served as O’Keeffe’s guide for 10 days during O’Keeffe’s nine-week stay in Hawaii in 1938 to produce paintings for a Dole Pineapple Co. national advertising campaign. The two developed an unlikely friendship and corresponded through letters for many years. 
“It was the perfect subject for a playwright to work with because there isn’t any other record of this time in Georgia’s life,” said The Alchemists’ Workshop founder and artistic director Tom Dunn, who wrote the musical with composer Will Ogmundson. “The mystery allowed us more freedom. We could take what was in these letters and build our own story around them.” 
Georgia O’Keeffe Paints Paradise stars just two actors: 12-year-old Rose Kosciuszek as Patricia Jennings, and Mary Armstrong as O’Keeffe. The story of Jennings’ and O’Keeffe’s time together is told through music, thought-provoking dialogue and scene projections, which include around a dozen photographs of real locations in Hawaii that the two visited, followed by O’Keeffe’s paintings of those locations, which are used with permission from O’Keeffe’s estate. 
“The projected scenery is a lovely visual to have happening behind the actors,” Dunn said. “It’s a subtle way of giving the audience a chance to get inside the painter’s head.” 
The songs are performed with musical accompaniment played on a sophisticated electric keyboard, featuring the stylings of various instruments. 
A musical was the best format in which to tell this story, Dunn said, because of the way music conveys emotion. 
“Music makes it easier to get the message across about how Georgia sees things and what’s going on for her emotionally and artistically,” he said. “In this case, music expresses more than just a monologue or a dialogue.” 
Armstrong said she did copious amounts of research about O’Keeffe to help her develop O’Keeffe’s character in a historically accurate way. 
“Sometimes Georgia is presented to the public as being very serious, but the truth is, she loved to laugh and was enthralled by nature and Hawaii,” she said. “That’s what I try to bring out when I’m playing her character. I try to channel the power of her soul.” 
Georgia O’Keeffe Paints Paradise opened in New Hampshire in October of 2016 and has since been performed 22 times at libraries, schools, senior centers and theater spaces in 20 different communities. Last August, it had a three-show run at the Jewel Box Theatre in New York City and won several Midtown International Theater Festival Off-Off-Broadway awards, including Best Supporting Actress for Kosciuszek and Best Lyricist for Ogmundson. 
“That was a big deal for us, a little theater company out of Henniker,” Dunn said. “We thought the New York audience would be more critical, but it was actually the opposite. Everyone who sees it loves it and wants us to keep doing it.” 

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