Sanctuary A Bird Masque

The National Parks of Vermont and New Hampshire are hosting centennial performances Sanctuary: A Bird Masque, a play about bird protection.Written by Cornish Colonist, Percy MacKaye and first performed in 1913 at the Meriden, N.H. Bird Sanctuary. President Woodrow Wilson was in attendance and both of his daughters had roles.The play quickly became a national hit and helped to inspire the creation of more than 100 bird clubs and contributing to the passage of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (1918) and NPS Organic Act (1916).

100th Anniversary performances. Admission is free.
The play will be preceded by exhibits and demonstrations by the Vermont Institute of Natural Science (VINS), the Vermont Center of Ecostudies, Change the World Kids, and Vermont Audubon.

August 24
Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park, Woodstock, VT

2:00 pm - Performance of Sanctuary: A Bird Masque

Performance is outdoors at the Forest Center

12:00 pm - For the Birds: exhibits and family-friendly activities exploring bird conservation today

August 25
Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, Cornish, NH

2:00 pm - Performance of Sanctuary: A Bird Masque

Performance is outdoors near the Birch Allee. Bring lawn chairs or a blanket
12:00 pm - For the Birds: exhibits and family-friendly activities exploring bird conservation today

Special Exhibition:

Service to the Birds: Meriden's Bird Story
Aidron Duckworth Art Museum in Meriden, NH

Opening Saturday, August 24 at 3:00 pm through September 15

About the Masque:

After its first 1913 performance, Sanctuary was performed with author and Cornish Colonist Percy MacKaye's encouragement by amateur theatre troupes across the country. Its popularity arose not only from its colorful bird costumes and lively verse dialogue, but from an underlying social and environmental message about the rampant hunting of wild birds for their feathers, which were used by the fashion industry in popular women's hats.

In writing Sanctuary, MacKaye's goal was to promote bird conservation through popular, non-commercial theatre. Sanctuary resonated with the dawning environmental consciousness of the time, coinciding with the growing popularity of Audubon Bird Societies and the movement to create a National Park system. Sanctuary's cause ultimately triumphed: in 1918, President Wilson would sign the Migratory Bird Act, putting an end to the "millinery murder" of wild birds.

"The message of this play is just as relevant today as it was 100 years ago," says director Kevin Fitzpatrick. "Then it was solely about bird slaughter, but now it is about larger environmental concerns. Beneath the overt message, it speaks to the ways people have of living with nature." Having been a resident of Upper Valley for the past 20 years, Fitzpatrick believes that the citizens of local communities are an ideal audience for the play. "Vermont and New Hampshire are synonymous with natural beauty and defense of the environment. Ecological goals are very important to this region," Fitzpatrick said.

The play's costume designer, prop master, and music director Fern Meyers also stresses Sanctuary's connection to the Upper Valley community, speaking of its historical as well as environmental roots. "I think it's important for Americans to know about our cultural history," says Meyers, who is also the director of Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site's long-running concert series.

Historical recreation is Meyers' goal in both the design and the music of the play. The costumes are based on photographs of the original cast taken by Arnold Genthe at the 1913 performance. In preparing the music, Meyers discovered manuscripts in the Dartmouth archives of the four songs written for Sanctuary by Cornish composer Frederic Shepherd Converse. She's also arranged incidental music using other contemporary pieces composed by musicians associated with the Cornish Colony, a group Meyers calls "a generation of forgotten American composers." Much of this music has never been recorded and has been virtually unheard since the early 1900s.

The performance and exhibition are sponsored and supported by a variety of organizations in the Upper Valley including the Byrne Foundation, Meriden Bird Club, Putnam Foundation, Saint-Gaudens Memorial, James Tasker Covered Bridges Fund, Mascoma Savings Bank Foundation, Coop Food Stores, Four Seasons Sotheby's International Realty, Pentangle Arts Council, Michael Sacca Productions, Woodstock History Center, Hood Museum of Art, Cornish Historical Society, Plainfield Historical Society among others. .

Last updated: February 26, 2015

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

139 Saint Gaudens Road
Cornish, NH 03745


(603) 675-2175

Contact Us