Girl From Quanset' Takes Audiences Back To Camp

By: Olivia Szymanski

Topics: Local History , Orleans news

The cast of “The Girl From Quanset.”

ORLEANS – “The Girl from Quanset,” an operetta written for the girls at Camp Quanset in 1908, has returned for another summer vacation at the Orleans Historical Society.

This staged reading of the musical features volunteer actors as playful campers, Life Savers from the Orleans Station and mischievous pirates who sing their way through jaunty and cheerful tunes. Costume changes are signaled cheekily by different hats and wigs, and the audience is invited to sing along. A charming and humorous tale about a summer town and its loyal residents, “The Girl from Quanset” is both an entertaining production and journey back to simpler times.

The musical was first performed at the Orleans Town Hall by the girls at Camp Quanset in 1908. The camp was built and run by the Hammatt family from 1905 to 1988, and was one of the first of 14 summer camps to operate in Orleans. Girls would play sports, sail, craft and – of course – put together an annual summer performance.

“The Girl from Quanset” returned to the stage at the historical society in 2015, boasting a full house for all four revival performances. This year, director Fran Lautenberger had new material to work with.

When the Hammatt family donated the script of “The Girl from Quanset” to the historical society, there were six pages missing – including a scene where one of the campers is kidnapped by a crew of pirates. Music director and pianist Sue Keller wrote her own original song to make up for the lost pages.

However, thanks to a recent second donation from the Hammatt family, the six pages (and the cover) of the operetta were restored. According to Lautenberger, they were amused to find that the missing pages mostly consisted of one character declaring his love for a pirate’s daughter, so they decided to keep Keller’s song.

“The thing we were missing the most was the kidnapping,” Lautenberger said. “It turned out to be just a giant monologue of Tom Scarehead.”

The preservation and performance of the musical provides a glimpse of what life was like in early 20th century Cape Cod. For the people of Orleans, the summer performances by the girls of Camp Quanset were looked forward to and attended by many of the residents. The music was written by Robert Matthews, but many of the lyrics were written by the girls themselves. While there might not have been many instances of pirate kidnappings back in the day, the musical does give insight into the imagination and spirits of young girls attending Camp Quanset.

Thanks to the efforts of volunteer actors, this spirit can be felt by audiences today. Each actor brings great enthusiasm to his or her roles, and the fun they have onstage is certainly noticeable. At 90 years old, volunteer actor John Burlingame plays a charismatic “Duke of Nantucket” alongside his valet Plunk, played by Irene Sherlock. Quirky locals “Cod Fish Bill” (Thom Dutton) and “Quahaug Hank” (John O’Brien) build up a humorous banter throughout the show. Fran Lautenberger herself is the jolly captain of the Life Savers crew, who falls for the lovely Edith (Mary Avellar). In addition, one of the campers is played by Leslie Prouty, an actual Camp Quanset alumnae.

This family-friendly comedic musical offers both entertainment and history, which can be explored through an exhibit about the original Camp Quanset.

“Everybody's volunteering their time, and it's all lot of fun,” Lautenberger said. “It's a bunch of silliness.”

Tickets are available for performances on July 13 and Aug. 10 and 11 at 7 p.m., and on Aug. 12 at 4 p.m. Tickets are $15, $10 for members, and children under 12 are free. Contact the Orleans Historical Society at 508-240-1329 for more information.