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Northern Stage to Break Ground on Housing for Staff, Artists


Published June 25, 2024 at 10:29 p.m.

Apartment buildings planned by Northern Stage - COURTESY
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  • Apartment buildings planned by Northern Stage
Northern Stage, a theater company in White River Junction, is breaking ground next month on a small housing development near its headquarters for its staff and visiting artists.

Northern Stage has been in the housing business for years. It owns some homes where staff and artists stay and rents other units in order to provide 34 beds for staff as well as for artists who travel to Vermont for stays of up to 11 weeks. Actors who travel to work in theater are guaranteed free housing within walking distance, or housing with a car provided, under their union contracts, managing director Jason Smoller said.
Like most of the region, White River Junction, a village in the town of Hartford, is short of housing. For years, Northern Stage has struggled to find enough apartments, and it has sometimes rented ski condos in the nearby town of Quechee.

“In our overflow periods, when we do a big musical, we have more people than beds,” Smoller said on Tuesday. "Housing is absolutely crucial to the theater's future."

In 2021, Northern Stage launched a capital campaign for construction, and it has raised about $8.2 million — roughly the price of the coming project. The company also received a $420,000 grant from the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development.

Northern Stage bought two small lots in 2019 and 2022 and started planning to build. But while it was raising money, costs were rising steeply. The estimate for a five-story apartment building with an education center that the company envisioned for the two downtown parcels came in at more than $13 million in 2022.
Last year, Smoller and the company’s producing artistic director, Carol Dunne, changed course, opting instead to create a series of smaller buildings with the traditional New England look of pitched roof and clapboard.

“It has more of a village or campus feel than a high-rise,” Smoller said. The project, managed by Bread Loaf Construction of Middlebury, will include three two-story structures with 18 apartments. Bread Loaf had earlier designed Northern Stage’s 240-seat theater, a $7.5 million project that was finished in 2015.

Smoller estimated that about 150 people move in and out of the homes and apartments Northern Stage owns and rents in the course of a year. Some are choreographers who are in town for a week or less; some are actors who have settled in for 11 weeks of rehearsals and the run of a longer show. A full-time staff member called the company manager is in charge of the housing.

Smoller said designing the new project had shown the theater’s board and staff why it’s so difficult to find housing in the area. Construction is just too expensive, he said.

“Without private capital donated by our generous patrons, we would not be able to do this," he said. He hopes the community can benefit from the additional housing, too. “We’ll offer it when it’s vacant to local organizations, especially arts organizations, when possible."

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