A brilliant and passionate artist, Vincent van Gogh was not the irrational painter portrayed in history. Six months after his tragic death, his loving and supportive brother, Theo, also died. Both incidents urged Vincent’s sister-in-law Johanna van Gogh-Bonger to champion the earnest, misunderstood artist and bring his work to eventual fame. She also compiled, edited and published Vincent’s letters to Theo; there were approximately 800 of them.
On Friday, April 12 and Saturday, April 13, the Patchogue Arts Council and Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts are co-producing the one-man play, “Vincent,” written by Leonard Nimoy based on those letters. Nimoy based his production on Phillip Stevens’ play. James Schultz will emote as Theo.
Mary Powers is directing the production.
It’s a trifecta of firsts: the educational initiative between the two nonprofits debuting as “Live Edition,” with a special performance for students; an absinthe tasting, celebrating the liquor that artists imbibed before the play; and Patchogue Arts Council president John Cino’s talk after the production on Vincent’s oeuvre, “The Starry Night,” the mystical, captivating scene from his asylum room at Saint-Rémy-de Provence brushed with swirling, dreamy visions. Cino will provide a talkback for students and adults.
What make the production particularly poignant are the multimedia stage projections of Vincent’s work, paired with the musings on his life and how some of the paintings came to be.
Theo was heartbroken after Vincent’s death and they are buried next to each other in the hometown cemetery where Vincent last worked in Auvers-sur-Oise.
“The show takes place shortly after Vincent’s death,” explained PTPA executive director Gary Hygom. “He’s simply talking about his brother. If he’s addressing anyone, it’s the audience. There is an interjection of Vincent himself a bit, where James does a change of voice.”
The school groups bused in for the afternoon performances will be provided with materials on the artist to study in school.
“We have an educational chair this year and it was important to connect with this,” explained Patchogue Arts Council executive director Beth Giacummo. “Gary [Hygom] showed me the YouTube video of Leonard Nimoy’s play and he asked, ‘what about a co-production?’ We had been developing an educational program ourselves and it’s very unique to have art history combined with learning education and a performance.” In addition to the afternoon performances for students, the Patchogue-Medford Library will offer “Vincent” talks, films and other programs during the month of April.
“It’s a completely Vincent view than what you’re taught in school, unless you had access to the letters,” Giacummo said.
PTPA grants manager and marketing coordinator Meg Sexton created the teacher material, including background on van Gogh, a lesson plan, and resources, like helpful websites. PAC chair Jennifer Berotti, a Sayville art teacher, is aiding Sexton on the resources.
“About 200 students are coming so far,” Sexton said of the 10 middle schools and high schools that have currently signed up, including Sayville, Bay Shore and Port Jefferson school districts. Hygom is hoping 300 will come.
Hygom has wanted to do a “Vincent” production for 15 years. “There was an opportunity to do it at the Parrish Art Museum, but that fell apart,” he said. “So this piece was not only feasible, it was exciting to team up with PAC.” Hygom even created a small set for the play with various paintings hanging in the artist’s room and workplace.
The burgeoning metamorphosis of Patchogue Arts Council and Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts, both nonprofits, has especially skyrocketed over the last couple of years. And while “Vincent” is their first educational collaboration, it’s not their first partnership.
Giacummo’s group utilized the theatre lobby to introduce its first exhibit in 2008 and continued, ramping up to events like the third Patchogue Arts Festival in 2010 with a podcast download to phone or iPod, with a description of 40 artists and their works at the theatre.
The “Vincent” performance is a drumroll lead-in to PAC’s “Artful Antics” kickoff on April 27, including a parade down Roe Walkway, which will continue into October with various form offerings.