BWW Previews: Behind the Scenes in Vermont Summer Theater
Summer in Vermont provides a multitude of theater opportunities for performers and audience members alike, and Broadway World got a behind-the-scenes look at a few of the state's companies and productions. This is by no means a complete list of all the extraordinary summer theater that occurs in Vermont, and should be used as a starting point for further exploration.
Chandler Center for the Arts, Randolph, VT
On a Wednesday afternoon in Randolph, something extraordinary is happening. More than 100 children gather at Chandler Music Hall for their third rehearsal of Bock and Harnick's FIDDLER ON THE ROOF. The youngest actors are seven years old, and the oldest are 2014 high school graduates. Despite the sheer number of kids involved, this rehearsal runs like a well-oiled machine. Co-directors Charlie McMeekin and Kim Nowlan Hathaway work with the principals on the stage, while Music Director Marjorie Drysdale takes the ensemble into a neighboring room to dig into the large group numbers. Strains of "Tradition" filter into the hall, creating a fitting atmosphere as McMeekin and Nowlan Hathaway stage a scene where Perchik (Amos Byrne) attempts to convince Hodel (Kelty Edraney) that it's time to change traditional matchmaking practices.
Managing such a large group of young people doesn't seem to pose a challenge for this production team. "The kids are here because they want to be here," McMeekin remarks. Behavior issues are rare, in part because the older kids set an example for the younger ones. In fact, he and Drysdale considered breaking the 100-plus children into two groups a number of years ago - one production for the young ones and a separate production for the older ones. "It turned out that the parents didn't want us to do that," says McMeekin. Parents of the younger children liked it that their kids got to spend time around focused, creative middle school and high school role models.
McMeekin and Drysdale launched these annual youth musicals 16 years ago with a production of THE WIZARD OF OZ. They were joined by Nowlan Hathaway in year three, and the team's musical theater productions have become a staple of the area's Independence Day celebration. FIDDLER ON THE ROOF runs July 3-6 at Chandler Music Hall in Randolph. Visit chandler-arts.org for more information.
QuarryWorks Theater, Adamant, VT
Quarry Road winds away from the center of Adamant towards an old granite quarry. No longer in use, the quarry is now the picturesque site of QuarryWorks Theater. On a sunny Saturday afternoon, the cast of the Harvey Schmidt/Tom Jones musical 110 IN THE SHADE takes a lunch break after a full morning of rehearsal. This group of actors is putting in a lot of hours in a short period of time - all of QuarryWorks' productions are created from start to finish in about three weeks. Director Michael Suchomel thinks of his cast as family, and there's a palpable sense of camaraderie as actors, crew, and production team share pizza and salad.
After their break, the cast heads back inside the intimate 50-seat theater for a rehearsal with Choreographer Sarah Venooker. Venooker, Suchomel, and Music Director Mark Violette elicit remarkable focus from the mixture of theater veterans and brand new actors. This mix is no accident, Suchomel says. Part of QuarryWorks' mission is to provide a "mentoring, supportive, noncompetitive environment for actors and designers of all experience levels." The success of this mission is evident even in rehearsal. Music, staging, and choreography come together quickly under the direction of what's clearly a skilled production team.
Thanks to sponsorship from the Adamant Community Cultural Foundation, all QuarryWorks performances are free. 110 IN THE SHADE opens on July 10, and the season continues through mid-August with JACK AND THE BEANSTALK and COME BACK, LITTLE SHEBA. Visit adamant.org/quarryworks.htm for more information.
Stowe Theatre Guild, Stowe, VT
Stowe Theatre Guild (STG) has long been an active force in the Vermont summer theater scene, with a consistent presence in Stowe's charming Town Hall Theatre since 1995. STG's 2014 season launched on June 19 with a production of [TITLE OF SHOW], the four-character Hunter Bell/Jeff Bowen brainchild that nabbed Bell a 2009 Tony nomination for best book of a musical.
Director Nicholas Caycedo is a testament to the powerful effect theater can have on young people, and he credits his love of theater to his early years with STG. "Thanks to this fixture of the Vermont theater community, I was able to witness some of my very first precious moments in the theater as a young boy: Pippin's Grand Finale, Emcee's gorilla ballet, Eliza Doolittle's first breakthrough." Caycedo makes his directorial debut with this production. "[TITLE OF SHOW] could not have been a more suitable work for me to find my stride as a director," Caycedo says. "I know all of these characters on a very personal level. I identify with them. Their story is about dreaming big, taking chances, and ultimately realizing that sometimes your own story is the one worth telling."
Stowe Theatre Guild's production of [TITLE OF SHOW] runs through July 5, and Caycedo directs Kyle Bennett as Hunter, Jayden Choquette as Jeff, Kim Anderson as Heidi, and Sabrina Sydnor as Susan. STG's season continues through mid-October with ON THE TOWN, THE SECRET GARDEN, and KISS ME, KATE. Visit stowetheatre.com for more information.
Lamoille County Players, Hyde Park, VT
The Lamoille County Players (LCP) are blessed with one of the most beautiful, historic venues in the state. "One of the most unique things about the Lamoille County Players," says LCP President Perry Burnell, "is our performance space. We have a special relationship with the Hyde Park Opera House." The opera house, built over 100 years ago, was falling into disrepair in the early 1950s when a group of theater enthusiasts (which later became the Lamoille County Players) put on a show there. LCP became stewards of the Opera House; their mission is to not only put on high quality theater productions but also to maintain and care for the crown jewel of Lamoille County's performance spaces. The latest improvement is the installation of air conditioning in the Opera House. "Audiences can enjoy this summer's shows in air-conditioned comfort," boasts Burnell.
DAMN YANKEES, directed by Dean Burnell, opens at the Hyde Park Opera House on July 24. The LCP season continues through mid-November with THE MUSIC MAN and THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST. Visit lcplayers.com for more information.
Lost Nation Theater, Montpelier, VT
Highlights of Central Vermont's summer theater scene wouldn't be complete without mention of Lost Nation Theater (LNT), Montpelier's year-round professional theater company. DURANG BANG, the company's current production, was custom-designed for Central Vermont audiences from the works of Christopher Durang, says Producing Artistic Director Kathleen Keenan. The evening of comedic shorts parodies some of the greatest theater of all time. "The in joke for us is that we've done most of the shows that are parodied," Keenan remarks. "When you see the spoof of HAMLET, that's our Hamlet's costume! And our Gertrude's and our Horatio's!" The actors in the show all play multiple characters and make many quick changes, and the designers were challenged to create a world that serves six different comedies. The cast includes many LNT favorites, including Maura O'Brien, Emme Erdossy, and Bob Nuner.
DURANG BANG, directed by Margo Whitcomb, continues through June 29 at Montpelier's City Hall Arts Center, followed by BLUES IN THE NIGHT and two musicals for kids by kids: RED! and PETER PAN, JR. Visit lostnationtheater.org for more information.