February 10, 2013 • 07:36:35 p.m.

Woodstock Opera House stage to be dedicated to Welles

By JAMI KUNZER – jkunzer@shawmedia.com

Orson Welles (Photo provided)

When future performers take the stage at the Woodstock Opera House, they'll be doing so on the Orson Welles Stage.

The stage where the filmmaker first directed in 1934 at the age of 19 officially will be dedicated in his honor at 2 p.m. Sunday during a public ceremony at the Opera House, 121 E. Van Buren St.

The ceremony is part of an ongoing effort to remember and honor Welles, who attended the former Todd School for Boys in Woodstock and considered his headmaster and teacher Roger Hill as one of his biggest influences.

"He's a hometown boy. This is his hometown, and we've never honored him, and I think it's overdue," said RB Thompson, president of Woodstock Celebrates Inc., a newly formed group that has spearheaded the dedication and looks to host future events over the next couple years.

The name of the stage and the dedication was suggested by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Chuck Workman, who is making a documentary about Welles called "The Magician" expected to debut later this year, Thompson said. Workman won a 1986 Oscar for Live Action Short Film.

Workman contacted Woodstock Celebrates with plans to film part of his documentary in Woodstock and explore Welles' ties to the area.

He is expected to film at the dedication.

Welles actually created his first film, an 8-minute short shot on 16 millimeter film featuring his first wife Virginia Nicholson called "The Hearts of Age," in Woodstock in 1934. That film will be shown during the dedication, and a reception will follow.

Seven years after that first film, Welles went on to make and star in "Citizen Kane," a film consistently ranked as one of the all-time greatest films.

He'd come back to both stay in and visit Woodstock throughout his career as an actor, film and theater director, screenwriter, playwright and film producer.

Having lost both of his parents at a young age, Welles thought of Hill and his wife as his mentors, Thompson said.

"They were basically his parents," he said.

Woodstock Celebrates also plans events in honor of a couple of Welles' anniversaries over the next two years. His directorial debut was 80 years ago in 2014. And May 6, 2015, would have been his 100th birthday.

Fans of the filmmaker, the group's members also would like to see Woodstock recognized on a broader scale for its historic significance in many areas, Thompson said.

Along with the Opera House dedication, a dedication of the large bell that plays a supporting role in Welles' "The Hearts of Age," will take place at 11:30 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 10, at the First Presbyterian Church, 2018 N. Route 47, in Woodstock.

Located at the entrance of the church, the bell is believed to be at least 170 years old.

It is featured prominently in "The Hearts of Age," a film Welles himself described as a result of simply "having some fun."

Though some have analyzed it more closely looking for Welles' trademark hidden meanings, said Michael Dawson, a producer who created the documentary film, "Citzen Welles." That was the filmaker's allure, he said, a deeper meaning behind his aesthetic content.

Dawson restored "The Hearts of Age" to show during Sunday's dedication. And the short film, which Welles created with a friend, William Vance, was included as an extra in his documentary.

"It has kind of a Midwest gothic look to it and it seems to deal with the themes of life and death, which kind of prevailed through Welles' life in terms of his other films," Dawson said.

"The reality was some kids getting together and have some fun. If one wants to draw certain visual effects from it, have at it."

WHEN: Stage dedication at 2 p.m. Feb. 10. Bell dedication at 11:30 a.m. Feb. 10
WHERE: Stage dedication at Woodstock Opera House, 121 E. Van Buren St. Bell dedication at First Presbyterian Church, 2018 N. Route 47.
COST & INFO: Woodstock Opera House stage is dedicated in honor of Orson Welles, who made his professional debut as an American director of live theater there in the summer of 1934. A large bell at the First Presbyterian Church in Woodstock also will be dedicated in his honor. The bell plays a supporting part in Welles’ first film, “Hearts of Age,” filmed in Woodstock in 1934. For information on the stage dedication, call the Opera House at 815-338-4212.

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