New England Scene: Albee, Nichols, Sarah Jones, Michael Chabon

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Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Sarah Jones, playwright and performer, welcomes guests to her cabin.

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Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Sarah Jones, playwright and performer, welcomes guests to her cabin. Close

Sarah Jones, playwright and performer, welcomes guests to her cabin.

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Edward Albee, recipient of the 2011 Edward MacDowell Medal. Close

Edward Albee, recipient of the 2011 Edward MacDowell Medal.

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Mike Nichols and Diane Sawyer. Nichols said he's working on a 2012 production of Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman" starring Philip Seymour Hoffman. Close

Mike Nichols and Diane Sawyer. Nichols said he's working on a 2012 production of Arthur Miller's "Death of a... Read More

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Michael Chabon, novelist ("The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay," "Wonder Boys"), comic-book lover and chairman of the MacDowell Colony. Close

Michael Chabon, novelist ("The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay," "Wonder Boys"), comic-book lover and chairman... Read More

Photographer: Amanda Gordon

On Medal Day at MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire, guests claimed their picnic spots before heading to the tent for the ceremony honoring Edward Albee. Close

On Medal Day at MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire, guests claimed their picnic spots before heading to... Read More

Photographer: Amanda Gordon

Cheryl Young, executive director of the MacDowell Colony. Close

Cheryl Young, executive director of the MacDowell Colony.

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Many guests brought their own picnic lunches. Others lined up to buy picnic baskets filled with Whole Foods sandwiches, cupcakes and a MacDowell pin. Close

Many guests brought their own picnic lunches. Others lined up to buy picnic baskets filled with Whole Foods... Read More

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

The artists' cabins are off dirt paths on the 450-acre campus. Close

The artists' cabins are off dirt paths on the 450-acre campus.

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

The Wood studio. Its past occupants include Thornton Wilder. Close

The Wood studio. Its past occupants include Thornton Wilder.

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Stephen Karam, playwright, in his colony cabin, "a gingerbread home fit for a hobbit," he said. Close

Stephen Karam, playwright, in his colony cabin, "a gingerbread home fit for a hobbit," he said.

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Paul Moravec, composer. Close

Paul Moravec, composer.

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Plaques in each cabin bear the names of the artists who have inhabited them. The colony calls them "tombstones." Some artists said they like to read them, others reported avoiding them so they would not be daunted by fame of predecessors. Close

Plaques in each cabin bear the names of the artists who have inhabited them. The colony calls them "tombstones." Some... Read More

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Performance artist John Kelly with walking sticks he plans to use in a performance of his piece "Find My Way Home," based on the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Close

Performance artist John Kelly with walking sticks he plans to use in a performance of his piece "Find My Way Home,"... Read More

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

The Star studio at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire. Close

The Star studio at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire.

One day a year, the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire -- usually a quiet place for artists to work -- becomes a cultural tourist trap.

Cars snake along the approach road. Long lines form for picnic baskets. Crowds gather around the best-known artists.

On Sunday, they included novelist Michael Chabon, chairman of the colony; playwright Edward Albee; Mike Nichols, who directed the film version of Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”; and Sarah Jones, who starred in her own show on Broadway, the Tony-winning “Bridge & Tunnel.”

The occasion is Medal Day, as the festivities include the presentation of the Edward MacDowell Medal, named for the composer whose wife, Marian, founded the colony on their property in 1907, shortly before he died. There are 28 artists currently in residence on the 450-acre campus for periods as long as eight weeks.

This year the medal went to Albee, who recalled his first visit to the colony 60 years ago.

“I spied a shortish, baldish man lurking in some pine trees,” he said, “and I asked him to read my poems.”

The man was playwright Thornton Wilder, and as Albee recalled, he went over the poems and then asked him if he had ever thought about writing plays.

“I took his advice,” Albee said.

After the ceremony, 1,500 visitors picnicked on the grounds and waited for the most fun part of the day: three hours to visit artists in their cabins.

The colony provided maps to help folks navigate the unmarked dirt roads that lead to rustic one-room structures tucked away in the woods.

‘Gingerbread Home’

Playwright Stephen Karam described his cabin as “a gingerbread home fit for a hobbit,” and noted that James Baldwin once occupied it. The view was better than that of his New York basement apartment, he said.

Karam is using his residency to rewrite two projects coming to New York this fall. The Roundabout Theatre Company is presenting his play “Sons of the Prophet,” and Gotham Chamber Opera will produce “Dark Sisters,” an opera about Mormons with a libretto by Karam and music by Nico Muhly.

Karam had attached to one wall an array of pink index cards on which he’d written things like “Wife No. 19” and “clothes trapped in a washing machine.”

“This is my dream wall,” he said, “Even I don’t understand what will come of it.”

‘Tempest Fantasy’

Composer Paul Moravec offered visitors a CD of his Pulitzer Prize-winning composition “Tempest Fantasy,” which he started at MacDowell. He is now working on a piece for wind ensemble.

Performance artist and Joni Mitchell impersonator John Kelly showed off the walking sticks he has collected and painted while at MacDowell. He said he will use some of them in his October performance at New York Live Arts of “Find My Way Home,” a retelling of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice set in the Great Depression.

The ebullient Jones said she does everything in her cabin, including yoga, dance and working on a commission for Lincoln Center Theater.

For Medal Day, she covered the walls of her studio with press clippings about her work.

“It’s not normally up there,” Jones said. “I’m not a narcissist or anything.”

Chabon applied for a residency to escape his brood of four kids, he said. “In your cabin, in February, you cannot hear your children crying to watch another episode of Sponge Bob.”

(Amanda Gordon is a writer and photographer for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are her own.)

To contact the writer on this story: Amanda Gordon in New York at agordon01@bloomberg.net or on Twitter at @amandagordon.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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