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Saturday, September 17, 2016

Nashua Historical Society to host 'Kids Into Drama' theater group reunion

By DEAN SHALHOUP

Staff Writer

What does an old land deed agreement between a nomadic preacher and Seacoast-area Native American tribes have in common with Kids Into Drama, the 1980s Nashua youth dance and acting troupe made famous by venerable director Bob Haven?

As polar-opposite as these two entities appear, they enjoy one important common thread: the Nashua Historical Society, which in the coming week will host programs delving into their respective histories and celebrating their impact on two eras on the timeline of local and regional history. ...

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What does an old land deed agreement between a nomadic preacher and Seacoast-area Native American tribes have in common with Kids Into Drama, the 1980s Nashua youth dance and acting troupe made famous by venerable director Bob Haven?

As polar-opposite as these two entities appear, they enjoy one important common thread: the Nashua Historical Society, which in the coming week will host programs delving into their respective histories and celebrating their impact on two eras on the timeline of local and regional history.

The programs are two of four on the Historical Society’s fall schedule, which opens Tuesday, Sept. 20, when Richard P. Howe Jr., a register of deeds in Massachusetts, examines the history of that 17th-century agreement known as the Wheelwright Deed.

More details on each of the programs appear in an accompanying information box.

Let’s take the second one first, given that it’s local. And few people I’ve met are as local – most importantly, very busily local – as longtime Nashua teacher Bob Haven.

It was some 40 years ago now that Haven, a city native and Keene State College grad, fell in love with local theater – specifically kids’ theater – after being “immensely impressed” by a show put on by drama students at Elm Street Junior High (now Elm Street Middle School).

In the late ’70s, Haven broadened his theater

horizons by taking a post-grad course at Boston’s Emerson College. For his graduate project, he recruited a group of seventh- to 12th-graders whom he would hone into budding actors and actresses for a stage production that he would write, direct and design costumes and sets for.

According to a feature story by former Telegraph reporter Stacy Milbouer, the project came to fruition in summer 1981, when the kids – under Haven’s direction – wowed audiences at two shows and laid the foundation for what would become the self-supporting teen acting troupe Kids Into Drama – or simply KID.

For the next seven years, hundreds of middle and high school students – from the confident and naturally talented to the shy, self-conscious youngsters who needed a dose of encouragement and coaxing – found their way onto the stage and into the spotlight thanks to Haven and his associates, including music director Michele Laliberte.

Historical Society curator Beth McCarthy said she expects somewhere around 200 KID alumni at the Sept. 24 open house, during which a whole bunch of photos, posters, costumes, notebooks, scripts and other KID memorabilia will be on display.

Now mostly in their 40s, many KID alumni are still involved in theater, McCarthy said – some as a hobby, others professionally. Whatever their path, all were shaped to some degree by Haven and his team.

As for this curious Wheelwright deed thing, I imagine anyone with even a passing interest in local and regional Colonial-era history would enjoy learning more about it from someone who makes a living handling and researching land deeds.

McCarthy showed me a certified copy of the original deed, which lives behind glass in an ornate frame at the society. Although it was quite faded and difficult to read, I got the gist of it thanks to a transcription that must have left a very dedicated and determined transcriptionist bleary-eyed and exhausted – but, I bet, fascinated.

The society has a copy of the transcription for inspection – and, I found, if you take it slow and read a little bit at a time, you’ll also come away fascinated.

Dean Shalhoup’s column appears Saturdays in The Telegraph. He can be reached at 594-6443, dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com or @Telegraph_DeanS.