February 12, 2003 1 min read

Island Story

“On This Island,” a documentary about students at a tiny Maine school who worked with a Broadway producer, the controversy that caused, and how a musical helped bind the community back together, will air Feb. 18 at 10 p.m. on most pbs stations.

The island of North Haven is an hour’s ferry ride off the Maine coast and has 350 year-round residents. In summer, though, the island’s population swells to 1,000. Many of the summer occupants are well-heeled, in contrast with the island’s mostly working-class permanent residents.

It’s one of the few places, one islander says in the documentary, where children grow up without the “three M’s"—"movies, malls, and McDonald’s.”

It’s also the place where 74- year-old John Wulp, an award-winning Broadway producer, decided to retire, away from the often-cutthroat politics of show business.

When the principal of the North Haven Community School asked him to work with his 78 students on a theater project, Mr. Wulp accepted the challenge and found a renewed interest and joy in his work.

But some islanders weren’t happy. They saw Mr. Wulp as an intruder, and accused the principal of turning away from the “three R’s” of education in favor of the theater project. The dispute split the community, and the school board fired the principal.

In response, Mr. Wulp worked with a Grammy-nominated songwriter who’s also a part-time islander to create a musical that told the lives of North Haven’s residents, and cast citizens as themselves. The project helped begin the slow process of uniting the island.

The documentary was nominated for a New England Emmy Award, which recognizes outstanding achievement in cultural, educational and news television. It is awarded by the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.

“On This Island” is the third in a series of American profiles and nonfiction dramas from the San Francisco-based Independent Television Service.

—Rhea R. Borja