In August, the Vermont Shakespeare Company will return for its seventh summer season with a half-dozen shows of A Midsummer Night's Dream, a perennial favorite of outdoor theater fests. Two of those shows will be staged at Knight Point State Park in North Hero, where the company has performed each season. This summer, the company will also Dream in two new locations: the Circus Lawn at the Shelburne Museum and the Royall Tyler Theatre at the University of Vermont.
That indoor venue — VSC's first — also represents a new partnership with UVM's theater department. "The company is really poised for huge growth right now," says artistic director Jena Necrason, who recently moved to South Burlington with John Nagle, her spouse and the company's executive director.
That growth includes access not only to the Royall Tyler's black-box theater but to the school's theater majors — five of whom will perform in Midsummer. Necrason says the opportunity, and the challenge, presented by the indoor location is "really exciting" for both designers and actors.
As VSC and UVM are "testing the waters" this year, Necrason and theater department chair Gregory Ramos will check out other models of collaboration between professional theater companies and universities, in hopes of developing a long-term partnership.
Nagle and Necrason cofounded VSC in 2005, when the couple was living and working in professional theater in New York City. Their outdoor summer shows, with casts of professional actors from New York and Vermont, proved hugely successful. The Burlington public, Necrason recalls, had gotten a taste for Shakespeare in the Park-style shows with the Champlain Shakespeare Festival, which folded in 1980. When VSC arrived on the scene, it found an audience eager for more.
Necrason says she and Nagle plan to amp up the festival even further. Their 10-year dream is to turn the company into "a nationally recognized and financially sustainable Shakespeare festival," she says, envisioning a destination event that would serve northern Vermont and pull in regional audiences.
As for this year? "Midsummer is such a huge extravaganza," Necrason says. "We're really hoping people can come and help build the festival."
The Dorset Theatre Festival has offered its Jean E. Miller Young Playwrights Competition for the past three years, but this time there's an added incentive for teens to participate: a cash prize and a staged reading. DTF provides free playwriting instruction to local middle and high school students, then invites them to submit their work to a panel of nationally recognized playwrights. Staged public readings of the winners will be performed at the Dorset Playhouse.
For adults, DTF offers an annual playwriting retreat hosted by Brooklyn-based, Pulitzer-nominated playwright Theresa Rebeck, who's penned hits including Mauritius, Seminar and The Understudy, as well as NBC's "Smash." That program requires participants to be slightly more qualified than the kids, though — the summer retreat is aimed at "top playwrights" who have already written and produced shows. "It is exciting how many of our writers began plays at the retreat that have gone on to productions at some of the top theaters across the country," writes DTF artistic director Dina Janis.
Got a "strong, healthy belt"? Burlington's Girls Nite Out wants you. The semi-professional theater company, founded in 2010 to create more roles for female actors, has put out a call for singers to perform in its October production, The Prima Donnettes. The musical revue explores changing female roles from the 1950s through the '70s via the songs of those eras. "Think Dusty Springfield meets Tina Turner!" suggests GNO's website. Auditions are this Thursday through Saturday, June 12 to 14.
The Flynn Center for the Performing Arts' education director, Christina Weakland, has headed up the FlynnArts Summer Youth Theater program since 2008. Along with codirectors and artistic team Piero Bonamico, Gina Fearn and Danielle Sertz, Weakland has worked with Vermont teens aged 13 to 19 to produce one or two musicals each summer.
What started modestly — with a single production of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown that attracted fewer than two dozen students to the audition — has "just exploded, and exploded very quickly," says Weakland. "Interest doubled the second year and tripled the third year."
This year, the kids will perform two works aimed at a slightly older teen and adult audience: Carrie and The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
Since 2010, the program has put on two musicals each summer and attracts dozens of students to audition for a limited number of roles. Many return each year and win back their roles anew. It's rare, Weakland observes, that an older newcomer enters; this year, only one of the high schoolers in the program is a first-timer.
"They're getting to work at sort of an elevated level," she says. "Here, every kid is one of the kids that gets all the leads in their high school. The whole ensemble is made up of kids that work at that caliber, which means that they push each other and inspire each other and cheer each other on."
If the program's audition process seems extreme for summer camp, that's part of the point. "If they're going into the real world, I want them not to be shocked," Weakland explains. "In the real world, an entire successful professional career might be as an ensemble member — and you would feel grateful for it."
Many Summer Youth Theater alums go on to conservatory or university theater programs, and most return after their freshman years for a final season at the Flynn before they reach the 19-year-old cutoff, Weakland says.
The bonds that students form in the summers last throughout the year. "The kids are finding their people," Weakland says, noting the program has an active, year-round Facebook page. And the teens show up at each other's school performances for support. "They might be the odd ones out in their school — theater kids are often the odd ones out," Weakland adds. "But they come here and they've created such a community, and that's actually what I'm most proud of in this program."
Don Loeb: WTG, Lesley! Standing up for all of us!
Peg Tassey: Yay Lesley! <3