MAPSO Family Follies; family acts, done in under 3 minutes

Maplewood and South Orange are known for their arts and culture. But something was missing…A talent show!

Lara Tomlin, professional artist, and director of programming for the Maplewood Memorial Park Conservancy, suggested a talent show to Sally Unsworth, manager of the Division of Arts & Culture for Maplewood. The idea was given an immediate green light.

Photo Courtesy of Lara Tomlin
From left, Mary Amato and Maggie Axelrod-Calister auditioning for the Old Timey MAPSO Family Follies.

Tomlin contacted Tori Chickering, who has an extensive producing background in live theater, film, and television.

Chickering was interested, but she had a request before she committed. All acts had to be under three minutes. And no solo acts. She wanted the acts to be of a collaborative nature. With many years as an experienced emcee, Chickering will keep the show moving.

She also said, “Let’s not do electric. A drummer can play on a bongo or upside-down paint bucket. It’s a way of encouraging and forcing the hands of creativity.”

By going acoustic, Chickering felt it would give the show more of a sense of an old-fashioned tent revival; amateur as opposed to professional.

It was decided that the MAPSO Family Follies should reflect the character of the community and be low-key and relaxed—definitely not a contest.

Auditions were held because there was room for only 15 acts. Local judges voted. The show will run an hour and 20 minutes with no intermission.

“We ended up with a really professional show with heart-stopping acts,” said Chickering. “A much better show than we anticipated. All these people can perform. So many in the community that can sing and dance. We have a lot of Broadway caliber talent.”

The all-ages family show will include dance numbers, comedy acts, musical acts with parents and kids. The youngest performer is 14 and the oldest is in her 70s.

Chickering began producing shows at a young age. She was just 12 when she was hired to run a recreation dance program in her community. “I taught classes of kids in the summer, put on a show…I never stopped,” she said.

Throughout her career Chickering worked as an emcee, created, and choreographed. She’s produced, directed, and curated a performing arts series in Tribecca in the 1990s. She also co-produced a show with 100 comedy acts, 45 seconds each at Luna Lounge on the Lower East Side in Manhattan. She started a band called Tori Erstwhile & The Montys when she was 40 and wrote all the music.

During her lifetime, Chickering produced 90 live events and believes MAPSO Family Follies is going to be, “Charming and adorable; full of small-town heart that we need so dearly.”

Working with Unsworth and Tomlin was great for Chickering.

“Collaborating with them has been a dream,” she said. “They’ve both been so hard working. They really put their trust in me. I’m very grateful for their support.”

The Old-Timey MAPSO Family Follies Talent Show is open to all ages and will be held on Thursday, Nov. 16, at 7:30 p.m. at The Woodland, 60 Woodland Road, Maplewood.

To purchase $5 tickets, visit: