‘Night Fires’ to be rekindled

MIDDLEBURY — Abigail Nessen Bengsen, 27, recalled with glee her long involvement with “Night Fires,” a winter solstice celebration in which since 1982 local performers had pierced the year’s darkest night with a creative cornucopia of music, dance, poems and stories from throughout the world.
“My family was involved before I was born,” Bengsen said. “I grew up in it.”
But Night Fires went dark in 2007 when its creator, Lincoln’s Marianne Lust, needed a break from the arduous tasks of staging what was then a traveling performance.
“I was tired,” Lust, now 63, said on Monday. “It was an incredible effort.”
Now Nessen Bengsen and her sister, Annie Nessen Voorhees, are returning to the area to help fan the embers of Night Fires for a series of upcoming performances at Middlebury’s Town Hall Theater.
The new edition, aptly titled “Rekindling the Night Fires,” will feature some members of the former cast who will offer a sampling of familiar Night Fires performances from years past.
“I got a call from Marianne asking if I would want to help with Night Fires again,” Nessen Bengsen, now a traveling performer in her own right, said during a telephone interview. “It seemed like a fabulous excuse to come back.”
She’s returning with her husband and fellow performer Shaun McClain Bengsen, who will also play a part in the show. Sister Annie Bengsen Voorhees is coming in from Maine, and they will help form a cast of 10 who will take “Rekindling the Night Fires” to the stage. Back as an organizer will be Lust, who now feels able to work behind the scenes on her beloved show.
She’s thrilled that Night Fires is getting another shot.
“I ended it with no knowledge it would continue,” Lust said. “I guess I had a fantasy that some younger folks would take it over. They have.”
The show is being described as “a contemporary winter solstice celebration with ancient roots, a tapestry of music, poetry and dance. This year’s story takes the audience on a journey through the darkest night of the year and of the soul, back through to the light again.”
As has been the tradition, Rekindling the Night Fires will weave music, poems, and stories from Ireland, Finland, Russia, Ukraine, Germany, India and the Americas.
“It is a hymn to fresh water, a prayer for the healing of the earth, and praise for all living things from the toad, to the whale, to the night sky,” reads a press release about the show.
The cast also features veteran Night Fires performers Mary Barnett, Stephanie Gallas, Clarke Jordan, Nate Wallace-Gusakov, Jim and Clara Carroll, and Sara Granstrom, with lighting design by Lynne Reed with assistance from Zac Young.
Organizers noted the show might be a little too vivid for young children, who might be frightened by the elaborate masks designed by Ellen Graf.
There are no traveling plans for the show at this point, but performers aren’t ruling out hitting the road in the future.
“Who knows?” Nessen Bengsen said. “I figure we’ll take it one year at a time.”
Rekindling the Night Fires will be performed at THT Dec. 16-18, at 8 p.m., with a Saturday matinee at 4 p.m. Tickets are available through the THT Box Office by calling 802-382-9222, online at www.townhalltheater.org, or in person Monday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m., or at the door if available.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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