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Chewing the Scenery 

State of the Arts

Attention, Burlington foodies: The Golden Carousel Restaurant is about to open at the University of Vermont. But don't get too excited: You won't be able to eat there. You'll only be able to drool.

The Golden Carousel is the setting for The Art of Dining, a comedy by Tina Howe in which a married couple decides to turn their New Jersey brownstone into a gourmet restaurant. Opening Feb. 25 at Royall Tyler, the play requires a working kitchen, small dining room and, in the role of wife/chef Ellen, an actor who can mix a mean Hollandaise.

Junior Melissa Quine got that assignment at UVM. In order to look at home in the kitchen she's taking lessons from Chef Dean Thomas of the New England Culinary Institute. "He's going to coach our young lady in how to chop without cutting a finger off," says Jeff Modereger, theater department chair and Dining set designer.

Quine's not the only one getting on-the-job training. "The props people have to learn how to be prep chefs," says Modereger, because, as in a TV cooking show, finished versions of the dishes Ellen works on in the first act have to be prepped ahead of time so they're ready to be pulled from the oven in the second act.

The "customers" in this faux restaurant provide another challenge. The script calls for a menu of duck, salmon and veal, but of the seven actors who are supposed to eat during the show, three are vegetarians -- one a vegan. Thomas is devising substitutes, says Modereger.

But all the food will be real, with the real smells of frying garlic and simmering sauces. In addition to the entrees, Ellen will toss together "three soup dishes, a rice dish, a stuffing, desserts, salad, bread… If our audience doesn't walk away with growling stomachs, I'll be surprised," Modereger says.

And what's the difference between creating a stage kitchen and building one for, say, a Church Street boîte?

"Everything is just so much bigger," says Modereger. "This kitchen is about 25 x 16 -- and it also goes up 18 feet. But at the same time my job is to not make the actor look lost in this gargantuan space." The accoutrements come from 15 different stores, including Recycle North (cabinets for $250) and Linens 'N Things (kitchenwares on loan).

Another difference: "No decent chef is going to be using an electric stove." But gas would require a new ventilation system for the theater, so (don't tell Julia Child) he went with electric.

And then there's the flaming dessert. Besides making sure it doesn't violate any fire laws, and the challenge of making a blue flame visible to the audience, there's the fact that such a dessert requires alcohol -- so the person eating it has to be 21 years old.

No one ever said opening a restaurant was easy.

*****

I don't know about you, but whenever politicians try to scare me with the bugbear of "special interests," I have to resist the impulse to heave a blunt object at the TV screen. Loosely translated, the phrase means nothing more than "lobbyists for whatever side you disagree with," but as a propaganda tool it's always used to conjure up shadowy puppeteers yanking the strings of elected officials.

It's not just oil companies and overpaid CEOs who have the right to lobby legislators, however. This Thursday, Feb. 12, the Vermont Arts Council is sending an "Arts Delegation" to the Statehouse to take part in Non Profit Visibility Day, sponsored by the Vermont Alliance of Non Profit Organizations (VANPO). In addition to Arts Council head Alex Aldrich and staff, arts "lobbyists" slated to attend include Joan Harrison of River Arts in Morrisville, Doug Anderson of Middlebury's Town Hall Theater and Addy Smith from the Northeast Kingdom Arts Council.

Billed as "a primer on citizen advocacy for those who are new to it and a brush-up for those who are experienced," the day will include lobbying lessons, policy briefings and a meet-and-greet with legislators.

The Council has held its own lobbying days in the past, VAC spokeperson Andrea Stander says, but in this instance it is teaming up with VANPO "to increase cross-pollination" with other nonprofits, such as those in the social and health-service sectors. Sixteen percent of Vermont's nonprofits are arts and culture organizations.

A major issue for the arts delegation this year is the impact of No Child Left Behind on school arts programs, says Stander. "We've seen a significant drop-off in applications for [artists'] residencies… Teachers are so completely swamped with standardized testing that they're not able to devote any time or resources to enrichment programs." Even though, as Stander points out, such programs have been shown to boost academic performance -- and test scores.

Visibility Day activities begin with a continental breakfast with legislators in the Statehouse cafeteria from 8 to 9:30 a.m. Anyone who'd like to join the arts delegation is invited to attend; look for VANPO's display in the Card Room.

For more info, contact Andrea Stander at 828-5422 or astander@vermontartscoun cil.org.

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