- Courtesy Of Laura Roald
- Laura Roald
At the end of 2017, Off Center for the Dramatic Arts announced that Paul Schnabel was handing over the reins. One of four founders, in 2010, of the 65-seat black-box space in Burlington's Old North End, he had held those reins almost single-handedly for the past five years.
Over the past year or so, however, a collective of theater artists gradually formed itself into a board, taking on some of the work of maintaining the space, booking rentals, and planning shows and special events such as the Burlington Fringe Festival.
With that group in place to carry on the center's mission — providing an affordable rehearsal and performance space to local artists — Schnabel could finally step down as president. (He remains on the board.) The next generation of Off Center management has named Laura Roald to his former position.
A lifelong theater artist from Vancouver, B.C., Roald, 43, earned an MFA in directing from the University of Alberta. She moved to Vermont in 2013 with her husband and two children, now 7 and 9. She's since founded, with Mary Beth McNulty, a theater enterprise called Complications Company. Its mission is to nurture "the creation, development and production of new plays," according to its website.
Toward that end, Complications will present short readings of works by local female dramatists as part of International Women's Voices Day, a January 21 event initiated by the Washington, D.C., Women's Voices Theater Festival. Held at Off Center, the local event will also feature a potluck supper.
Between starting a family and moving to a different country, Roald "fell off the grid a bit," she says, referring to her theatrical aspirations. But she'd only been in Vermont a short time before she was "trolling Facebook," as she puts it, looking for local thespians. "Then I fell in with the bad boys at Green Candle Theatre," she says with a grin.
Before long, Roald was taking on tasks at Off Center, from handling the venue's social media to managing the stage and technical aspects for "a lot of shows." She officially joined the board last year. Along with fellow member and actor Alex Dostie, Roald is "shepherding online stuff and marketing," she says. "But we're a small, volunteer team, so everyone is involved with everything."
The tasks that lie ahead range from maintenance — upgrading the fireproofing on the curtains, keeping the venue clean — to mission-critical. "Our priority is to invite new groups to use the space," Roald says. "We have great renters — Vermont Stage [for rehearsals], Green Candle, Saints and Poets [Production Company] — those are our pillars," she continues. "But we have pockets of space and want to make sure everyone knows we're available."
To encourage new solo artists or theater groups, the Off Center board is developing a space grant "to honor Paul," Roald reveals. "We would offer a 'make cool shit' grant to new people. We don't have money, but we have space.
"We want to continue to support the incubation of [local] artists," Roald adds. "That's what Paul has nurtured. Off Center is a space, but it's also become a community."