Regular readers of this blog know my love for RedBird RedOak Writing in Milwaukee, but may not know of my adoration for Red Oak Young Writers Camp. For something like seven summers, I’ve been one of the writing coaches for these week-long camps in southeastern WI. Previously, I had spent weeks with campers at the Milwaukee site (Marian Center for Non-profits) and the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center in Brookfield, both lovely spaces for writers to find a great spot to curl up and dive in to their words. This year, thanks to scheduling, I was able for my first time to work with campers at Ten Chimneys in Genesee Depot, WI.
Ten Chimneys was the estate of Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, the great couple of American Theater in the 1920s-1950s. Their home has rooms often used by and therefore named for Noel Coward, Helen Hayes and Laurence Olivier. Every detail in every nook and cranny of the estate shows a set designer’s attention to detail. But, in this case, the actors were the set designers. Alfred and Lynn brought in artists to paint walls and ceilings with murals and decorative touches. Others were sought to build ornate tile fireplaces. Occasionally, when Alfred and Lynn would finish a show, they might rescue a prop destined for nowhere that would add the right touch to a lonely corner at Ten Chimneys. Most rooms show the signs of their times – meaning many had a writing desk near a window with a lamp. Televisions, computers, cell phones – none of the screen-clutter invaded the creative space.
I toured the estate with eight young women, high schoolers, all dedicated writers. When we entered the library, it was tough to keep our group moving. We wanted to sit down, curl up with a good book, then another and maybe daydream about our books joining others on the shelves. Our docent emphasized that Alfred and Lynn loved acting, loved actors, loved everything about theater, but held a special regard for authors. To them, authors were the most deserving of respect, creating the words for actors to interpret.
Ten Chimneys hosts master classes for actors through the Lunt-Fontanne Fellowship program. In 2011, Olympia Dukakis was the master teacher. Maybe someday, a writing master class, perhaps for playwrights or screenwriters could be held here too? The creative energy of Alfred and Lynn remains in their lovely oasis. Check out some pix below of us at writing camp – we found fantastic places to write, workshop and share. If you get a chance to visit and tour, don’t miss it! I had the good fortune of being able to write their and to mentor young writers there – a happy, happy time. I wish the same for you.
#Happy writing. Where were your special writing places this summer?