Woodstock festival to mark Welles’ debut

Woodstock group plans 2014 event

WOODSTOCK – In 1934, three years after he’d set off from the Todd School for Boys to start a multifaceted career in the arts, Orson Welles returned to make his directorial debut.

A local group will celebrate the pivotal point in the media giant’s career during a celebration in May, part two of a three-part series of events to honor Welles and Woodstock’s role in his life.

Woodstock Celebrates is planning the 80th anniversary festival for May 16-17 on the Woodstock Square.

The event will include discussions from scholars and biographers on Welles.

“They are world-renowned Welles scholars and biographers,” Woodstock Celebrates Vice President John Daab said. “We have a stellar lineup.”

A reconstruction of “War of the Worlds” and a film festival at the Woodstock Theater also have been planned, among other activities the group is working to confirm.

Organizers of the event say the area hasn’t yet fully understood the way Welles was shaped by his time at the Todd School, or by his return in 1934 at age 19.

“... Welles in 1934 made his debut as an American director of live theater at the Woodstock Opera House, made his first film in Woodstock and published ‘Everybody’s Shakespeare’ with Roger Hill on the Todd Press,” Kathleen Spaltro, Woodstock Celebrates event manager, wrote in an email to the Northwest Herald.

Welles would go on to become one of the largest figures in 20th-century film, radio and theater.

He’s most well-known for his 1938 radio production “The War of the Worlds” and for the 1941 classic “Citizen Kane.”

But locals haven’t always recognized the importance their hometown played in setting the foundation for those masterpieces, Woodstock Celebrates says.

“You can’t do that without having the background,” said RB Thompson, president of the organization. “He was prepared so well here in Woodstock.”

In February, Woodstock Celebrates organized a dedication of the Woodstock Opera House’s stage for Welles.

The organization also is planning an event for the week of what would have been Welles’ 100th birthday – May 6, 2015. Both that and May’s event are expected to draw an audience that extends well beyond Woodstock, Thompson said.