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Happy to Be Here: A repertory theater is born

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Christopher Canaan is a California guy, born and raised in Santa Monica, an Emmy-Award winning screenwriter and producer in Los Angeles.

But for the past six years, he’s been a Bucks County guy, living in New Hope with his wife, Kathy.

“When we landed in New Hope from Los Angeles, I had no idea how much talent there was in the area,” Canaan said in a Herald story last September. “I feel so lucky to have met so many wonderful actors and writers and to be part of a thriving artistic community. It is my hope to eventually put together a formal theater repertory group in New Hope so we can produce a variety of plays by local and regional writers in a less ad hoc manner.”

That repertory group is taking shape.

The New Hope Repertory has been steadily going about the business of bringing its first season to life.

“When Kathy, and I arrived by accident in New Hope, it was love at first sight. Standing on the bridge looking at the Bucks County Playhouse we realized we had found our new home.”

Canaan has thrown himself into the theater community and started working with what he calls, “some of the most remarkably talented people I have ever worked with,” which is saying a lot considering he was worked with Charlton Heston, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Michael Mann, Barry Gordy, Pierce Brosnan, and scores of others over more than 30 years in the entertainment industry. Forsaking screenwriting, he has returned to his first love – theater.

Canaan’s Bucks County-based plays and readings have been staged at Actors Net in Morrisville, Phillips’ Mill, the James Lorah Home in Doylestown, Solebury School and The New Hope Arts Center.

“We are all proud of the Bucks County Playhouse and what it brings to the area but it occurred to me that there is room in our community for the considerable amount of nonprofessional theater talent that thrives here,” Canaan said speaking from his new home. “There are so many people I have worked with here that would have made it in Hollywood, but just never got on the bus.”

The repertory company is committed to projects ranging from classical theater to new works. Part of its mandate is to produce plays that celebrate the New Hope and Bucks County culture and emphasize the small-town experience. It is also committed to bringing local students together with veteran actors.

The company’s first project took place in February – a co-production of Canaan’s “Reckonings at New Hope,” with Actors Net. The director, Rick Goodwin said, “It is a serio-comic play about three childhood friends who reunite for their 50th high school reunion at the most haunted hotel in New Hope. “It was one of the most satisfying projects of my career,” Canaan said.

He’s proud of one critic’s comment. Mort Patterson, a veteran theater person with a Ph.D from Yale said, “… I was delightfully surprised – astounded actually – by this charming love-letter of a play with some of the funniest and sharpest dialogue I have heard on stage.”

In April, The Rep staged a reading of a new play, “Last Call at Odette’s,” at New Hope Arts. It is another ghostly saga that celebrates the memory of Odette’s and the people who frequented the establishment over many years.

In July, The Rep will revive Thornton Wilder’s 1938 classic “Our Town” in a Bucks County setting. Nona Niedert, a professional actor and director on stage and screen for over 40 years will direct the repertory cast at New Hope-Solebury High School.

In September the Rep will present “Sprinkles & Glaze,” a love story about a young couple who grow up in New Hope to be performed at the Solebury School. A staged reading of the play premiered at Solebury School in 2019.

Don MacLeod of Paramount Studios said of “Sprinkles and Glaze,” “This is a uniquely beautiful piece that I think people are craving at this time. ... I know that it is the kind of show that audiences will leave and not be unable to stop talking about because it will hit home on so many levels.”

“What’s remarkable about this new venture,” said Canaan, “is the warm reception we have received from community leaders.” New Hope Mayor Laurence Keller wrote, “This will be a wonderful experience for the students and community alike …What an asset to the New Hope community at large, but particularly to our younger constituency.”

And Dr. Charles Lenz, New Hope-Solebury School District superintendent, wrote, “We are excited about the opportunities this initiative may provide for our students and families. We look forward to seeing Mr. Canaan continue to develop this program, and to bring to New Hope-Solebury an additional performing arts opportunity and avenue to support local art and culture.”

Founding members of the New Hope Repertory Company, include Joey Perillo, George Hartpence, Nona Niedert, Rick Goodwin and Drucie MacDaniel, all veterans of the Bucks County community theater.

The nonprofit Rep plans to bring classes and workshops to the community. For information about contributions, auditions and workshops contact: newhoperep.org or Cccanaan731@gmail.com.


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