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Middlebury Theater Aims for Close Encounters of the Donor Kind

State of the Arts


Published June 15, 2011 at 10:09 a.m.


When Deb Tier of Shoreham visited the Middlebury Farmers Market last Saturday, she “did a double take” when she saw the Town Hall Theater building. A shiny silver flying saucer had crashed into its bell tower. Descending the craft’s escape ladder was a small alien ostensibly heading inside for a show.

Clearly, this scene marked another Town Hall Theater membership drive. For the first one, two years ago, executive director Doug Anderson kicked off the season by marching in the town’s Memorial Day parade in a King Kong outfit. The costume was then stuffed and attached to the side of the theater, and the gorilla climbed higher as donations rolled in. The next year, Anderson paraded in his old tie-dyes and parked a Volkswagen bus painted in 1960s psychedelic style outside the theater.

For this year’s theme — 1950s sci-fi — he donned a green alien bodysuit. “By now, I’ve pretty much promised the community that I’ll make a fool out of myself every year,” Anderson jokes.

A block away, graphic designer Jory Raphael at Sensible World put together a commemorative poster. A designer of iPhone apps, podcast cover art and the like, Raphael says he “mined vintage photo books” for the poster’s droll collage, and cribbed the font from the ’50s pulp magazine Amazing Stories. The theater’s technical director, Matthew Stone, devised the spacecraft installation.

“The notion is that we’re so famous throughout the galaxy that aliens are traveling from light-years away to come to our shows,” Anderson explains with a chuckle.

News of Town Hall Theater may not have reached that far quite yet; the small nonprofit has 560 members and is hoping to add another 40 during the drive. But in the three years since its historic 1884 venue was restored, THT has endeared itself to residents.

“It brings a lot of people together,” affirms Tier, a Shoreham Elementary paraprofessional who sings in the theater’s annual musical revues. “There’s a great diversity [in age]. It definitely filled a void for a lot of people.”

TNT’s summer programming mixes culturally significant shows with pure fun. The season opened with a rarely produced opera, and all performances of Puccini’s La Rondine, put on by the resident Opera Company of Middlebury, sold out. Now the theater is preparing for its musical revue, “Middlebury Does Soul,” performed entirely by local talent. Tier, who sang in a band for six years, will be performing as Tina Turner. Says Anderson of the classroom aide, “She’s the most diminutive, mild-mannered little woman — but when you close your eyes, she is Tina Turner.”

If last year’s “Middlebury Does Woodstock” is any indication, the community will pull out its Motown mojo.

On the more serious end, the theater’s high-definition broadcasting equipment, used during the winter for Metropolitan Opera broadcasts, will transmit a performance from the National Theatre of Great Britain of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard.

And THT’s standing partnership with Middlebury College makes possible some free cultural events, including a concert of contemporary classical music composed by visiting faculty at New Music on the Point, a program of the summer music camp Point CounterPoint on nearby Lake Dunmore.

Then there’s the mini-film series to match the membership drive theme: Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial and the 1953 classic It Came from Outer Space. Each screening will begin with shorts, such as Georges Méliès’ 1902 A Trip to the Moon. Community-minded Anderson priced tickets at $3.

Before too long, the summer — and that alien ship — will be gone, and the staff will have to don their creative thinking caps again. Says Anderson about the membership drives, “We start thinking in November, How are we going to top ourselves next year?"

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