Monday, June 23, 2008

Here is a little back story of the theatre I am working for all summer in Dorset, VT:

First of all, we have to start this out right, by explaining a little about Dorset, VT. Dorset is a fairly old New England town known for one thing: the oldest marble quarry in the country. There is marble all over this teeny town; sidewalks, curbs, houses, patios, everything. The quarry is no longer used, however, because as it was being mined an underground spring was hit and the quarry filled up. It is now an awesome swimming spot for locals, and those of us part of DTF.

Dorset is so tiny, it has no grocery store, just a general market. There is one gas pump, one post office, one bank and a library. There is no cell phone tower, and thus, no cell reception. It is also the home of three upscale inns, The Dorset Inn, The Barrows House, and The Dovetail Inn. Dorset relies mostly on tourism, but due to the economy, it hasn't been doing so well. Luckily, everyone who lives here is pretty much loaded. Including our wonderful board members, who adore the fact that the population of young people in this town doubles over the summer when DTF is in full swing.

The theatre itself has an amazing story, which our artistic director, Carl Forsman, loves to tell. The Dorset Theatre Festival was founded in 1970 by Jill Charles and John Nassivera, who were married at that time. The theatre was made up of two historic barns pushed together. One held the audience, and the other was the stage. Jill served as the artistic director and John was the associate Artistic Director and it stayed that way for years, even after their marriage ended. The festival was wildly successful.

I'm guessing it was about 7 years ago that they decided to start a huge renovation to update the theatre. While the renovation was in progress they ran into a major groundwater problem which doubled the cost of the renovations. DTF needed to take out a 1 million dollar loan to cover this cost. Jill Charles was then diagnosed with very advanced breast cancer and given only a few months to live. The new theatre was completed that spring and Jill directed the first show that summer. She was taken to the opening night in an ambulance. She did not live through the summer season.

After Jill died John took over as the artistic director of the theatre. As the economy struggled, so did the theatre and productions started to go downhill. The theatre now had a multi million dollar debt and had lost half of it's subscribers. In order to try and save the festival the board asked John Nassivera to step down as artistic director of the theatre.

Last year Carl Forsman, the artistic director of the New York based Off-Broadway Keen Company, which I have worked for in the past, was asked to come in and head DTF. He brought in all his own people from NY, including myself and several other Keen Company regulars. We ran the entire season with 8 regular staff members and 7 interns. Our job was simple: Save the theatre. That's it. We came in, worked our asses off and pulled off an amazing season. We broke even last summer, which was the only goal. If we had not been able to operate in the black, the theatre probably would have ended.

This year we have increased the staff and intern count considerably. We earned back many of the theatre's subscriber numbers and have started the long process of earning the trust of this community. The people of Vermont are nice people, but they keep an eye on us and keep track of what we do. I think with every year, they will begin to trust us more and more.

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