Our Town: Warren
Warren County residents have been waiting their turn to tell their stories, and on Saturday they had their chance. Whitney Chirdon and Jessica Peters of WPSU public broadcasting stationed themselves at the Crary Art Gallery and let the county’s culture come to them during filming of “Our Town: Warren.”
“Inevitably when this show airs, we’ll have people that’ll say, ‘I’ve lived here my whole life and I never knew this about my town,'” Peters, an “Our Town” producer, said. “That’s really cool.”
The revelations began on Saturday during production day. Many who were featured on camera shared their stories with one another during their downtime between their pre-interview and the actual filming, and their stories were far from dry.
“Without spilling too many secrets, we learned about William Shakespeare’s connection to Warren which was interesting,” Peters said. Other stories included the Library Theater, the Conewango Club and Warren County Summer Music School among many others.
“We put the story-telling in the hands of the people,” Chirdon said.
Warren set a record for the number of stories included on the show. “We had everybody decide what stories we were going to tell,” said Chirdon, the producer/director for the special. “We had 32 people sign up which is more stories than we’ve ever had commited. We even had people on a wait list and people have told us they’re going to be bonus features as well.”
Bill Hill Jr., a life-long Warren resident, used his interview slot to showcase the public library. Hill hopes that in contributing to the project he can help others see what he sees in the community. “If you have any pride in a town – and I have a great deal of pride in this town – then I feel that doing this only lets others see why Warren is so important to me and to many others,” said Hill.
“I think Warren’s a great little community. I know people have said that Kinzua dam is a well kept secret. I think it would just be nice for people who aren’t familiar with this area to know what we have to offer and what a great little community we have here,” said Judy Williams. Williams hopes to see Founder’s Day grow through the sharing of stories about the celebration.
The wealth of opportunities available in Warren and the surrounding communities is a large part of what those contributing to the project hope to spotlight through their interviews. From skate parks to tourism to various clubs, “Our Town: Warren” hopes to bring them all to the forefront for both natives and those farther away.
“There’s not too many places around the area that have skate parks and a fitness park,” said Dennis Crandall. “Hopefully we can get more out of it.”
Peters is impressed with the “thriving arts culture” that she’s seen through the interview process. “That’s something that we haven’t really seen very much. This is a community that is very much alive.”
As the education director at Struthers Library Theater, Jen Koebley knows exactly what Peters is talking about? “There’s so much for kids and performace,” Koebley said. “It’s a great way to build confidence.” Koeble said that besides the Allegheny Regional Theater Experience, Youth Connection, and children’s shows at the theater, the Warren County School District All-County Musical also brings culture to the kids of Warren County. “There are kids who started on the stage here and went on to study theater. I have classmates who are in Hollywood.”
“I want more people to realize that this commuity has the oldest, continuously running theater company in the country in the Warren Players,” Koebley added.
The documentary also looks to the future instead of simply telling the past. “We used to be full of industries, but now we’re down to five or six,” said John Beard of Northwest Savings Bank. “As the industry shrinks, we need to replace that with new stuff. The new stuff seems to be our tourism industry. We’re now a destination. We’ve got the dam, we’ve got the river and all these events like the Kinzua Classic Bike Race, the Tango, the River Cleanup and Rib Fest. They’re designed to get people here so they’ll come back. That’s what we hope this documentary does: shows a different face of Warren. Not our industrial past, but our tourism future.”
The documentary will premier Oct. 10 on WPSU and live at wpsu.org at 8 p.m.