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Calling all Swampscott electricity users! You may be helping the planet in more ways than you think. 

That is if you are using Swampscott Community Power, a community-based program under National Grid, created to meet the town’s sustainability goals, and also hopefully help you save a few bucks.

Investor-owned utilities (IOUs) rates (such as National Grid) fluctuate in the summer and winter, because of the difference in electricity needs during each time of the year.  

With Swampscott Community Power’s long-term (28-month) pricing, compared to National Grid’s short-term (six-month or three-month) pricing and fluctuating rates, Swampscott Community Power offers stable, predictable rates for customers.

Although savings can’t necessarily be guaranteed because of National Grid’s unknown future costs, savings do come with the program.

“Looking at the published rates, I’m saving about 10 percent at the moment compared to current National Grid rates,” said Swampscott resident Eric Nothnagel, who would recommend the program to anyone not currently using it.

Vice President of Communications & Program Management Marlana Patton from Peregrine Energy Group who runs Swampscott Community Power encourages people to check out the program this winter, because the prices will be competitive with National Grid.

Swampscott Community Power is not only aimed at giving customers more stable rates, but is also being used to meet the town’s sustainability goals. And not to fear! Although residents are automatically enrolled into the program, they can leave or join whenever they please. 

Participants are automatically signed up to receive 100-percent renewable energy with the Standard Green Plan. Under this plan, the energy is provided by wind power outside of New England.

“The best-kept secret in Swampscott is that individual residents are reducing the carbon footprint,” said Ryan Hale, chair of the Renewable Energy Commission. 

Hale said customers can ignore all that “you-have-dirty-electricity” junk mail, because the electricity being provided by the program is far from it. Especially if you upgrade to the New England Green Plan, which also provides 100-percent renewable energy, but right from your own backyard — maybe not literally. 

The New England Green Plan provides energy from, you guessed it: New England!

Although a bit pricier, the perk of this plan is that it creates a market demand for energy suppliers in the area, which will in turn create more sustainable energy providers in New England.

More than half of Massachusetts towns use a community-power program, also known as a community-choice program. Swampscott Community Power currently serves 4,397 community members. 

“I think it’s great,” said Nothnagel. “It saves us a little bit of money and it’s a great way for the town to engage in public policies to help curb climate change.” 

So when you’re pumping that window air-conditioning unit this summer, you can feel a little bit better about yourself, knowing the power is coming from an environmentally-friendly source, and that it will keep an extra dollar or two in your pocket. 

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Amber O’Shea and Tim Oviatt have come a long way as owners of Ocean House Surf and Skate.

The surf-and-skate shop had humble beginnings. The business started in Salem in 2011, with Oviatt selling gear out of his truck and garage. One year later, Oviatt moved his base of operations to Beverly Port Marina, and in 2013, moved the shop to Swampscott where he stayed until 2021. 

The shop in Swampscott also had a café, which is where O’Shea and Oviatt connected because O’Shea was a frequent customer. Eventually, with her experience working in the food industry, she helped him run the café. O’Shea became more involved in the business as it grew by doing some buying for Oviatt, who also makes custom boards at the shop.

Ocean House made its way to Nahant just before Christmas of last year, as the business moved into its new location at 2A Wilson Road, with construction taking longer than expected.

O’Shea said the Nahant community has been great in supporting the shop.

“Everybody has been really cool,” she said. “Two days before Christmas, all of our branded gear and T-shirts — everybody bought them so we ran out. Everybody seems really stoked.”

O’Shea said that Long Beach in Nahant is a great spot for surfing due to its long waves and shallow and sandy makeup. This also makes it a suitable surf spot for beginners, as well as more advanced surfers.

The pandemic has helped people step out of their comfort zones and try some new hobbies, especially ones that can get them outdoors. O’Shea said that in the past two years, surfing and skating have really blown up.

“Everybody just wants to be outside,” she said. “We’ve really seen the sport blow up lately and we have a ton of beginners coming into the shop that are super excited.”

O’Shea also mentioned the technological advances that have helped the sport grow in colder areas of the planet. 

“I don’t think a lot of people realized you can surf in Massachusetts,” she said. “The wetsuit technology wasn’t really up to par 20 years ago, so if you lived in a cold-weather place or somewhere where the waves are best in the cold weather, you wouldn’t (have) seen a lot of surfers in the water decades ago because the technology wasn’t there.”

O’Shea compared hitting the beaches of Massachusetts to going skiing or snowboarding.

“If you have the right gear, you can surf on a 20-degree day and be fine,” she said.

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As she looks back on the last year, Vinnin Liquors President Angela Ansara said the business is recovering from the pandemic, but there is still a need for quality employees.

“We’re still recovering a little bit, but it’s still hard to find the employees who want to work because of the pandemic,” she said. “A good employee would be someone self-motivated, eager to learn, ask questions and show up on time. What we ask for is pretty simple.”

During the early period of the pandemic, Ansara said alcohol demands were high, leading to more deliveries in Swampscott and other communities such as Salem, Beverly and even Boston.  

“We have delivery to go anywhere in Massachusetts,” Ansara said. “If it’s too far out, we will ship it. If it’s a big event, we will ship it. We go to places like Gloucester, Boxford and Boston all the time.”

Vinnin Liquors was established in the early 1970s by Ansara’s mother, Marge, who also commissioned the building’s construction. The store was originally on Humphrey Street before relocating to its current location at 371 Paradise Road in 1975. Before starting Vinnin Liquors, she built and founded Lynnway Liquors in Lynn in 1964.

“Her dad — my grandfather — sold perishables,” Ansara said. “The one piece of advice he gave her is: ‘Don’t go into business for things that expire.’”

Ansara said her mother broke ground by being one of the few female owners of a liquor store at that time, and that she faced challenges when getting signatures to start her business.

“It was hard times because women owners weren’t looked at very friendly,” Ansara said. “I remember my mother telling me she had a petition around Swampscott to get the dream she wanted.”

As for Ansara, she said she had been interested in business since she was a child.  

“I was always a very business-minded person,” Ansara said. “I would always take a cart to King’s Beach and sell lemonade.”

Ansara started working at the store in sales after graduating from college in 1994. She then climbed the ranks to become president in 2012. At the age of 93, her mother is still helping out at the store, albeit less frequently.

She’s a minority owner and she does pop in a little bit less these days,” she said. “She still tries to rule the roost the best she can.”

Ansara said business follows her wherever she goes, and she someday hopes her children will follow in her footsteps.

“It comes naturally to me,” she said. “Maybe if it was more of a mental challenge it would be more of a stress. I want to share what I know and teach others and do business and marketing.”

For those pursuing entrepreneurship, Ansara has a piece of advice: “Anything is possible.”

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Ranging from ham-and-swiss hand pies, rosemary-and-lemon cookies, all the way to chartreuse cocktails and pomegranate martinis, there is something delicious for just about anyone at Zestfriendz, a bakery/small-bites bar in Swampscott. 

Owned and operated by two “zest friendz,” Margie Peterson and Trudi Fagerlund, this bakery by day and small-bites bar by night prides itself on unique flavor pairings and a focus on bringing people together. Zestfriendz coined its name from the pair’s zest for life, powerful flavors in the kitchen, and their 23-year-long friendship. 

“She’s (Peterson) had a lifelong dream to have the bakery side, and I always just wanted a bar. So we thought let’s just form the concepts into one business rather than separating them, and let’s leverage the upside of both,” said Fagerlund. 

Peterson runs the bakery side, and about 90 percent of the baked goods are from her own recipes. She crafted the idea for the Zestfriendz signature rosemary-lemon cookie during her time running an at-home bakery business, Delicious Designs. Although the rosemary-lemon cookie is a staple for the bakery, Peterson’s scones are pushing for front-runner.

“You’re never going to taste a better scone,” Fagerlund added. “I would throw anyone down on a scone,” said Peterson. 

Peterson scratch bakes a batch of citrus scones every morning. 

“I always have a citrus scone, and that’s the whole lemon-lime thing; it goes with the zest again,” she said. 

Rumor has it, Gov. Charlie Baker is “infatuated” with the scone as well.

“People on social media are like ‘I was fighting over the last citrus scone today,’ or they’re like, ‘am I too late for the citrus scones?” said Peterson.

Her other flavors of scones change daily, ranging from cheddar-scallion, honey-lavender, maple-oatmeal, orange-cranberry and cinnamon raisin. 

Another crowd favorite is their hand pies. Due to their small kitchen and inventory space, Peterson didn’t want to have sandwiches on the menu, but needed a savory grab-and-go option — hence the creation of a hand pie, a pastry creatively named because of its pie-dough crust and it’s hand-holdability. These delectable treats have people coming back for more than just one handful.

“People come in and are like ‘oh, can I have five of the ham-and-cheese hand pies?’” Peterson said, and explained they are the most surprising success of the bakery. Along with the ham-and-cheese hand pie, they offer a tomato-and-dill-havarti hand pie as well.

The two friends are really excited for what’s to come in the warmer months — in particular the outdoor dining right on the water which will seat up to 20 customers on a shaded painted patio. 

“You can come in in your flip flops and you don’t have to care that you have sand,” said Peterson. 

Some menu ideas for the warmer seasons include an outdoor oyster bar, gourmet ice-cream sandwiches with unique flavor pairings, and to-go items for people to pick up and take out onto their boat or to the beach. 

“And obviously we want to have some fun, light cocktails,” said Peterson. 

Speaking of cocktails, Fagerlund is shaking up some absolutely delicious drinks on the bar side. 

Fagerlund recommends trying the “Hair of the Frog” cocktail — a 110-percent proof, green french-liquor gin, and lime. 

“It’s (chartreuse) a green, expensive, herbal, high-octane alcohol. None of us had tried it. So I bought a bottle, we sat around and we were like, what do we put with this? We looked up a few recipes that were with chartreuse and we were like OK, let’s do a little of this, a little of this, a little of this, and then we wrote it down somewhere,” said Fagerlund. 

Another popular drink the two love is their pomegranate martini. 

“We actually started drinking (pomegranate martinis) in Boston, and they have many, many stories, but we’ve brought that with us here,” said Fagerlund. Although many Zestfriendz-goers fear the sweetness of the drink, once they take a sip they’re already ordering the next one. 

Along with cocktails, an eclectic small-plates menu is offered, prepared in the kitchen by Chef Ryan McGovern. His favorite menu item to make is the mussels, flavored with a thai green curry for some heat, and garnished with thai basil, cilantro, and grilled bread.

With many gluten-free and vegetarian options, Zestfriendz wants to be inclusive for everyone, and Fagerlund said that if you take the bread out of most dishes, it’ll be gluten free. 

McGovern has been working as a chef since the late 1990s, and worked in restaurants in Martha’s Vineyard, Florida and throughout the North Shore.

He is looking forward to the new flavors the warmer seasons bring as well. 

“We try to cook and flow with the seasons and what’s available. As spring hopefully comes sooner than later, peas will be around the corner, asparagus, greens hopefully, so you’ll start to see a shift in the menu from heavier comfort food to lighter foods,” McGovern said. 

The owners have a few hopes for the future of their restaurant, one of them being for the bakery. Peterson hopes to one day have dessert cakes in the evenings that customers can stop by to pick up on their way to dinner or for someone’s birthday. They also hope to be able to expand their team and bring in more help.

For those of you interested in opening up your own restaurant, these friends have a few words of advice: “Sleep ahead of time. You probably should be prepared to sleep your whole life ahead of doing it.”

Zestfriendz is located at 286 Humphrey St. in Swampscott. For more information, visit their website at https://www.zestfriendz.com/.

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Can you imagine a boy who wants to attend high school at 11 years old being told that he has to wait until he is 13? Can you imagine that boy being told he is not allowed to have books for two years? Imagine that 11-year-old boy saying, “If you do that, you might as well kill me now, cause I’ve got to have my books!”

This was Elihu Thomson, future great American inventor and prominent resident of Swampscott. He used those two years free of formal schooling to study “The Magician’s Own” book, which contained tricks and puzzles, but also experiments in electricity and chemistry.

“The electrical chapter was what struck me at once,” recalled Thomson.

The book explained how to make an electrical machine out of a wine bottle. Young Thomson made the machine and was able to get his first electrical sparks out of it.

“My father rather poo-pooed the magnitude of my efforts and I thought I had to get even with him somehow,” said Thomson in a 1932 interview with Edwin W. Rice Jr., his student, assistant, and ultimately the president of the General Electric (GE) Company. 

Thomson made a bigger battery for his wine-bottle device, which shocked his father when Elihu prompted him to touch it. 

Thomson was born on March 29, 1853, in Manchester, England. He was the second-eldest child of a Scottish father, Daniel, and an English mother, Mary Rhodes, who had 11 children, six boys and five girls. Four of the children died in their early youth.

In 1858, his parents decided to emigrate to America due to scarcity of work. They settled in Philadelphia, the second-largest industrial center in the U.S. at the time. Thomson’s father was a skillful mechanic, who traveled to Cuba and other places to set up sugar-refining machinery. However, he struggled to support such a large family. When Thomson finished high school, the family could not afford to send him to college.

Thomson showed curiosity and extraordinary abilities for a child from a young age. His mother discovered that he knew the alphabet and could recite it both forwards and backwards at 5 years old. Young Thomson taught himself.

He was highly influenced by his father’s work as an engineer and machinist as well. By his own account, he was able to visit various industrial establishments and witness the industrial processes going on, both in chemical work and also in mechanical constructions. He actively studied the two volumes of the “Imperial Journal of Arts, Sciences and Engineering,” which his family had at home.

“I was always interested in what was going on around me, such as the laying of water pipes and gas pipes in the streets, the building of sewers, etc., and spending hours watching the operations,” said Thomson. 

When he was 10 or 11 years old, he constructed a small model of cupola furnaces with fan blowers and succeeded in melting cast iron; however, the iron that was melted was not sufficient enough to run into a mold, which was Thomson’s ultimate goal.

He also had a great interest in astronomy. In the summer of 1858, when he was 5 years old, Thomson saw the Donati’s comet, and in 1867 he witnessed spectacular meteor showers. In 1878, he published an account of a method of grinding and polishing glass specula, and in 1899 he began the construction of a telescope for his private observatory, including making the optical parts for the 10-inch reflector. The observatory was located on the lawn near his house, which is now the Swampscott Town Hall, but was later removed and donated to the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia. 

Thomson attended the boys’ Central High School in Philadelphia. He graduated with honors and accepted employment in a commercial laboratory which analyzed iron ore and other minerals. After about six months he returned to Central High School with a title of adjunct professor to the Department of Chemistry and a salary of $500 per year (about $10,730 in today’s money).

Student Edwin Rice was 14 when he met 23-year-old professor Thomson at Central High School, who was keen to teach the eager student. 

“To me he has been ‘my professor’ ever since I first met him,” Rice said. “It is my recollection that there was no question that I asked to which I failed to obtain a satisfactory reply, expressed in language that I could understand.” 

One of the senior professors whom Thomson assisted at Central High School was Edwin J. Houston, who held the chair of Physical Geography and Natural Philosophy. The two soon started to collaborate in the evenings on investigations and formed a long partnership,   inventing devices, especially in electricity. 

“Not infrequently I would leave home after breakfast and not eat or drink anything until I got home again at 11 in the evening,” wrote Thomson. “I’ve always believed in long hours. It’s the only way to get things done.”

In 1876-77, Thomson gave lectures on electricity at the Franklin Institute, an important center of American science and technology in the 19th century. The following year, he and Houston tested dynamos of different types at the institute, which prompted Thomson to design and build a dynamo for a single-arc light. 

That formed the basis of the later development of the Thomson-Houston arc-light system that involved several unique features, including three-phase winding and the automatic regulating system, which kept the current in the light circuit at an even value, no matter how many lights were on that circuit.  

Next, they invented an air-blast method to extinguish an arc, the magnetic blowout which employs a magnetic field to extinguish an arc and a lightning arrester.

Thomson and Houston were able to get business backers to market their lighting system. They have created a lighting system for a bakery that was open all night long and for a brewery. 

In 1880, Thomson was approached by Frederick Churchill, a young lawyer from New Britain, Conn., who had just organized the American Electric Company. The American Electric Company bought control over the Thomson-Houston patents and Thomson resigned from Central High School to become an “electrician” at the company.

When leaving Philadelphia for Connecticut, Thomson took Rice with him. In New Britain, Thomson focused on improving the arc-lighting system but since the market for commercial electric-lighting systems didn’t exist yet, the company was struggling.

Meanwhile, in Lynn, a group of investors, including Silas Barton, Henry Pevear, and shoe-manufacturer Charles Coffin, were looking to invest. Electrical lighting looked like a promising new industry for them. 

In 1882, Barton and Pevear went to Boston to examine an electric-lighting system that had been installed in a shop on Tremont Street. They slipped down the back stairs to the dynamo that was powering the system and located a brass plate that read “American Electric, New Britain, Connecticut.”

The next day, they traveled to New Britain, where they met Thomson and his associates. They convinced Thomson to let them buy the American Electric Company, leave New Britain and form a new company with them in Lynn. 

Coffin became the president of the new company. With Coffin assuming the burden of finance and management, Thomson was free to give undivided attention to research and technical development, and for the first time he was able to surround himself with competent assistants. 

The Thomson-Houston Electric Company installed street lighting at 166 Market St. in Lynn, and the merchants in the area began to subscribe to their service. Market Street became the first street with commercial lighting in New England.

The Thomson-Houston Company grew rapidly. In 1884, it employed 184 workers. By 1892, when it merged with its competitor, the Edison GE Company of Schenectady, N.Y., the number had grown to 4,000 employees. The result of the merger was the GE Company, with Coffin as president and Rice, who had been manager of the Lynn plant, as vice president and technical director. 

Thomson’s contributions to the success of this great industrial organization was in industrial research.

Thomson married his first wife, Miss Mary Louise Peck, in 1884. Together they had four sons — Stuart, Roland, Malcolm and Donald. They lived in Lynn until 1889, when Thomson purchased a prime piece of land overlooking the Atlantic Ocean from the Swampscott Land Trust.

The Thomson house was designed by architect James T. Kelly in the Georgia revival style and was built in 1889. Thomson designed and built a steam boiler to heat the house, installed his electric-lighting system, but also included eight fireplaces in the house.

The second floor of the carriage house was designed and built to accommodate a laboratory for his work. 

He also installed a pipe organ — the one that he built as a teenager, which he had brought to Swampscott from Philadelphia.The pipes were installed in a grid above the second-floor ceiling. 

He also built a miniature railroad of about 100 yards for his sons.

He donated the land next to his home to the Town of Swampscott for a town library to be built. 

One might think that a scientist of his intellect and intense work ethics would be reserved and strict. But Thomson lived a rich family life, actively engaged with his sons, and went camping and hiking in the Adirondacks and Catskills.  

There is old video footage showing him playing with his grandchildren in the large front yard of his Swampscott home and reading to them. 

The Thomson’s house was always open to visitors, including other outstanding scientists of the time, including Nikola Tesla. 

Thomson’s friend and MIT president from 1909-20, Dr. Richard C. Maclaurin, said that Thomson showed an intense desire to help all who were struggling earnestly with scientific problems. Many engineers came to him with their secret projects.

“They have done this, knowing that they had only to ask in order to get the full benefit of his imagination and his power, and that they need have no misgivings that he would take any advantage of their confidence or any credit for their work, for he has no touch of selfishness,” Maclaurin said.

Thomson was asked to become the MIT president as well, but declined the offer because he felt that the research he wanted to do would be hindered by the administrative work the position would require. Still, in 1920-23, he was convinced to assume the obligations of the acting president because the president of MIT at the time became ill.

After 32 years of a happy marriage, Thomson’s wife died in 1916. In 1923, at 70 years old, Thomson married again to Clarissa Hovey of Boston. Together they began to travel a lot.

The prominence of Thomson is indisputable. He took a prominent place among the brilliant group of scientists who worked on solving the problem of generating adequate current, including Brush, Edison, Siemens, Stanley, Tesla, Van Depoele, Weston, and others.

Over his inventor’s career, Thomson patented almost 700 inventions. He is still one of the leading patent holders in America.

His awards include the Franklin Medal, the Faraday Medal, the Hughes Medal of the Royal Society, the Edison Medal from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the Rumford Medal, and the 1889 Great Prize from the Paris Exposition.

Thomson died at 84 on March 13, 1937. His home was partially donated to the town by his heirs in 1944.An ongoing exhibition of the artifacts of the inventor’s career and life, “Elihu Thomson’s Inventive Life,” can be viewed until April at the Swampscott’s Town Hall during normal business hours.

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Two years ago in pre-COVID times, many of us didn’t even know about Zoom — a cloud-based communications app. Although it provided convenience and changed the way we work and connect, some say that they are tired of virtual meetings.

Still, it is undeniable that Zoom has been instrumental over these two years, not only in supporting 9-to-5 jobs and our personal lives, but also in furthering the reach of the arts. One such example is a Jane Eyre play that was adopted by a local actress and writer Julie Butters and produced by Connecticut-based nonprofit Flock Theater.

Butters, who works as a part-time circulation aid at the Swampscott Public Library, has been acting since she was little, primarily on a volunteer basis. She was involved with children’s theater when she was younger and participated in a lot of plays while studying English at Harvard in her college years.

In 2019, Butters adopted the “Jane Eyre” novel by English writer Charlotte Brontë into a script for a theater play. She worked with a nonprofit Flock Theater in New London, Conn., for many years in the past and they were interested in staging the play. 

“Jane Eyre was actually sort of my re-entry into theater after a long time,” said Butters. “The first major project I had done in quite a few years.”

The theater began rehearsing “Jane Eyre” with Butters in the main role in March 2020. However, they managed to hold only a few in-person rehearsals in Connecticut before everyone’s lives got halted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“And so at first, I remember those rehearsals; we had some hand sanitizer on the tables. And we were careful to use that before interacting with each other,” Butters said. “None of us really anticipated it would become the huge pandemic that it is now.”

Soon the schools started to shut down. As things with COVID-19 got worse, the director of the play, Derron Wood, made a decision to continue the production online over Zoom.

“Initially, I was skeptical of the idea of doing a Zoom presentation of this play. It was a new thing, and I wasn’t sure how it would work,” said Butters. “Our director took a leap of faith with it. And I am so grateful to him for that because it was amazing to still find a way to act and be creative and connect with other artists and performers to create something to share with the community.”

The production involved 18 people playing various roles. To create a more consistent look, all actors were asked to use a black background and wear light clothes.

Butters used a spare room in her condo. Her husband helped her set up some wooden boards propped up against chairs with a black material draped over them. She put her iPad against shoe boxes and books stacked on a desk.

“I really had only a little more than maybe a foot of playing space between the backdrop and my desk,” said Butters. 

To light the scene, she blocked the window light with some fabric and put shading over lamps to soften the fluorescent light. For some of the night scenes, they decided to use handheld electric candles to create the ambience and atmosphere of a gothic novel. 

“You obviously can’t tell from watching the program that that’s what the setup was. But it was definitely a challenge I had not experienced in acting before,” Butters said.

All the actors were used to performing in the same space with each other and having a very personal interaction. Instead, they found themselves isolated in their own locations, performing via the screens of their devices. 

“That was very different for us,” Butters said. “But there were some advantages to that as well.”

She found the fact that she wasn’t worried about a sudden block or the physical movements or dealing too much with props interesting and rewarding. Without an audience in the room, Butters was able to focus solely on the face on the other side of the screen — her scene partner. She looked at their face and saw what they were expressing, focused on their eyes and what they were saying in a very intense way. 

“I tried to use the challenges of the medium as an opportunity to enjoy that intimacy between performers,” said Butters.

The director and assistant director were recording over Zoom, as the actors were giving their performances from their homes.

However, filming over the internet had its technical challenges. Not everyone in the cast was familiar with Zoom at that point in time. Sometimes the internet connection would lag and people would freeze on screen.

“If someone’s screen froze, we would have to stop and then do another take,” said Butters. 

She believes that the production turned into a wonderful project and a wonderful experience for everybody.

“It was not something that we had traditionally done, but I give (the director) credit for being forward thinking,” Butters said.

The filming was finished in the spring of 2020. The Flock Theater staff moved on to editing and recording the shadow-puppetry scenes, which formed a big part of the project and took quite a bit of effort, time and ingenuity, Butters said. To film the shadow puppetry, give it depth and create different effects, the crew used a DIY multiplane-camera setup.

The film was released on Nov. 6, 2020, on YouTube.

“In person, we would have, of course, reached the local community,” Butters said. “But because the pandemic forced us to find another creative way (to make) and present the film, we ended up having a much larger audience than we would have had.”

To date, the almost two-hour video has been watched more than 4,200 times. Butters reached out to a lot of Brontë appreciation associations around the world. The Brontë Society in England posted a note about the project on its blog. The Italian Brontë Society posted about it on its Facebook page. The Australian Brontë Society shared information with its members and posted a review in one of its newsletters.

There were also a few virtual screenings and a presentation for a group of international scholars who are members of the International Gothic Association. 

“We are still hoping and planning to perform the actual stage production at some point,” said Butters. “Theaters are still struggling with COVID right now. Some of them have done in-person performances, but it is always risky.”

Even though the pandemic continues to be a challenge, Butters said, it has also offered new ways to come together and her experience with “Jane Eyre” is an example of that.

“This project has been, and continues to be, for me, very joyful, fun, creative and just a soul-filling project,” Butters said. “I love the story so much and playing Jane and being involved with this project has been a dream come true.” 

Since finishing the project, Butters has participated in other theatrical projects over Zoom. She continues to write for Flock Theater and is looking forward to finding more ways to act, whether over Zoom or in person.

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The political spectrum is broader than ever with conservatives on one end and liberab Democrats like Bob Scheier on the other. Scheier wants both ends to meet in the middle. 

Scheier thinks he has a way to soar above the social and mainstream media storm swirling around former president Donald Trump and fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Swampscott resident is co-chair of the New England chapter of Braver Angels, a national group consisting of more than 11,000 members that was formed after Trump’s 2016 election as a way for people in opposing parties to learn to hear each other out and respect each other’s differing views in a civil way. 

Scheier’s co-chair is state Rep. Lenny Mirra, a Georgetown Republican, who stands at the other end of the political spectrum from Scheier. Braver Angels strives for an equal liberal and conservative membership, as well as leadership structure, to offer views and opinions from both sides of the political spectrum. 

“Many Braver Angels groups around the country are predominantly blue, or liberal leaning, and we really need many more strong conservatives so that we can have the genuinely challenging but rewarding conversations that we need,” Scheier said. 

The Angels’ mission is to reach out to groups that are more conservative, with a promise their members won’t be shouted down, shamed, or attacked during political discourse.

The group’s monthly meetings commence with a reaffirmation by participants to confirm that they will engage in respectful, curious listening. The penalty for noncompliance? A polite request to leave the meeting. 

“We guarantee everyone a respectful hearing if they come in and we encourage them to live up to the Braver Angels name,” Scheier said. “It’s called Braver Angels because it takes courage to reach out to the other side and to take the risk of being heard by the other side, but it’s very rewarding.” 

As co-chair, Scheier is responsible for helping volunteers create, schedule, and run the monthly meetings, which occur on the third Monday of each month. 

Each monthly meeting features a different topic. Prior to the meeting, news articles are sent out for people to review and be prepared to discuss in the meeting. 

Braver Angels was founded by a family therapist and uses therapeutic-like techniques to facilitate respectful conversations with both political sides. 

“We don’t try to convince each other; there is no interruption; there is no attempt to convince allowed,” Scheier said. “The idea is that we form human relationships with people on the other side and we listen and be curious about how they think and the same in return.”

Of course, COVID-19 restrictions, vaccinations, and masking occupied a meeting discussion. Scheier is pro-vaccine and pro-masking, but other discussion participants voiced strong, opposing views. 

“I found that by listening and trying to understand their views, I was able to see that these folks weren’t living in some other reality from me,” Scheier said. “They had some very heartfelt concerns, not concerns that I shared, but were coming from a different perspective and were skeptical about what the government and drug companies were trying to do and the quality of the vaccines.” 

Scheier said his views were welcomed and respectfully listened to by meeting participants. 

“How often do you have a conversation like that about a heated topic, and the other side asks you to tell you what you think?” Scheier said. “I felt like him and I could sit down and come to a mutual solution on something like the COVID issue after that.” 

In an effort to broaden their conversations, the New England chapter of Braver Angels has reached out to local colleges in an effort to provide information and awareness of the group. 

“They’re the ones who will have to live in the society that we are hoping to improve,” Scheier said. 

Scheier said he has one overriding reason for taking part in Braver Angels: This isn’t the country that he grew up in, and it isn’t the country he wants to leave to his children and grandchildren. 

He wants to be more involved in changing the trajectory of the country’s political divide, and he wants to understand how people on the other side – Republicans — think the way they do, and to see if there was a way to have a respectful conversation with them.

“I don’t know exactly how I stumbled across Braver Angels but when I saw their approach, I was very impressed with it,” Scheier said. “It works… It’s one small step towards healing the divides in our country.”

Engaging in these kinds of civil conversations has led Scheier to having more respect and understanding in similar political conversations with friends and family outside of the group. 

“I became more involved in the past year as I became concerned about the breakdown of civility in society and the very sharp splits between the quote ‘red and blue sides,’” Scheier said. “I feel like our democracy is really in danger if we can’t at least speak respectfully to each other, if we can’t even agree on the same set of facts, and if people on both sides of the political divide are dehumanizing each other.” 

Braver Angels is open to everyone regardless of age, sex, race, religion, culture and sexual identification. 

To learn more or to join the New England Chapter of Braver Angels, visit https://mailchi.mp/braverangels/greater-boston-email-list

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