Arts & Entertainment

North Salem Arts Center Has a Highland Fling

The Highland Divas interact with the crowd between songs. Credits: All Photos by Gabrielle Bilik
Comedian Don MacArthur Credits: All Photos by Gabrielle Bilik
Dance instructors James "Fergie" Ferguson and Susan Ferguson demonstrate a traditional Scottish dance. Credits: All Photos by Gabrielle Bilik

NORTH SALEM, N.Y.--Every year some of the world’s best military performers gather in Edinburgh, Scotland, for an extravagant summer celebration called the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. For those who couldn’t make it to Edinburgh this year, the party came to them, courtesy of North Salem’s Schoolhouse Theater and Arts Center.

For the first event of its kind at the venue, board members and other benefactors of the non-profit theater and cultural center brought Celtic performers, a comedian, dancers and community members to the center Saturday, Aug. 5, for an almost four-hour “party.”

With a 100 person capacity, the former Croton Elementary School that serves as the center could not accommodate the crowd Edinburgh typically draws (upwards of 217,000 each year). Still, it drew some 80 people for what Joan Gilbert called Edinburgh’s “modified version” of the iconic event, which this year began Aug. 4 and runs through Aug. 26. Not only did guests show up, they actively participated.

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Bram Lewis, the center’s artistic director, and Francis Corcoran, a Westchester County legislator, came in traditional kilts and kilt socks. Others participated in the traditional dances led by local Royal Scottish Country Dance Society instructors Susan and James “Fergie” Ferguson.

Lewis and Gilbert stressed that the event, which had a $100 ticket price, was unique in that it wasn’t a straight-up performance or fundraiser, which are typical to the center’s schedule, but rather a party. 

Local performers played Scottish music on such traditional instruments as the drums and bagpipes. The Highland Divas, a trio that tours the world singing everything from Celtic folk songs to harmonized, rock-opera interpretations, headlined the event with an intimate hour-long performance in the venue’s 99-seat theater, during which they sang songs based on Celtic poems by the likes of Robert Burns, including “Auld Lang Syne,” and a powerful rendition of Evanescence’s “Bring Me to Life.”

John Henken, a regional bagpiper who’s frequently spotted with his pipers at other area events, including Westchester’s annual Run the Farm 5K, at Muscoot Farm in Somers, was among the local performers. He and the others played in the gallery against a backdrop of large, colorful acrylic paintings.

Comedian Don MacArthur followed the divas, with an interactive one-hour set in the theater. After, dessert, flights of whiskey and whatever Scottish-themed hors d’oeuvres were left from the cocktail hour were offered to guests. Gilbert said the food was in good hands, as it was prepared by chef Jensina Olsen, who Gilbert said is familiar with preparing Scottish-themed dishes.

First-time visitors to the Schoolhouse Theater, Kevin and Katie Gallagher, were happy with their introductory experience of what the performance center has to offer, and said that although they are admittedly of Irish heritage, they thoroughly enjoyed the Scottish-themed event.

“It was our first time here and it won’t be the last,” Kevin Gallagher said.” It was really nice.”

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