- Luke Awtry
- Don Wright, executive director, Very Merry Theatre
There's nothing quite like being part of a theater production: the anticipation of opening night, the reaction of the audience, the camaraderie among the cast and crew.
Very Merry Theatre makes it happen for kids in northwestern Vermont. The organization runs camps, partners with schools to offer performing arts education and stages original productions inside Burlington's Old North End Community Center. A diverse array of kids from all kinds of backgrounds gets in on the acting.
The troupe's colorful theater wagon — its mobile stage — is a familiar site at outdoor venues all summer and "I'm the guy pulling it," says executive director Don Wright.
Wright started the youth theater program 20 years ago while his three sons were at Edmunds Elementary School in Burlington. Today, Very Merry Theatre produces about 40 shows annually — from abridged Shakespearean classics to original musicals Wright creates based on characters from children's books.
The one thing they all have in common: Everyone who wants a role gets a turn in the spotlight. Nobody gets cut after auditions. That approach enables Wright and his part-time theater pros to work with roughly 1,000 students a year in grades 1 through 12.
Toiling backstage is an army of volunteers that includes board president Colby Kervick. Over the years her younger son has taken part in 59 Very Merry Theatre productions; she knows firsthand how enriching they can be.
While searching for funding in 2020, Kervick discovered a grant opportunity through Mascoma Bank, which had recently opened an Old North End branch. She applied for and received funding— and the bank asked for a meeting. Two Mascoma reps sat down with Wright and Kervick to find out how else they could support the group. "That was my first sign that this was potentially an exciting partnership," Kervick recalls.
Since then, Mascoma has come through with more funds, including a grant to enhance the mobile, aka "wagon" stage. "Last summer, Mascoma employees came to every one of our wagon shows," Kervick reports. Community Relationship Banker Bill Goldwyn also joined her on the board of directors. Area Manager Joy Hastings now sits on the development committee, helping the group connect with local businesses.
As a Certified B Corporation, Mascoma looks for ways to have a positive impact on the neighborhoods it serves. Kervick points out that's also a goal for Very Merry Theatre, which accepts donations for all of its shows but never charges admission. "We really see ourselves as serving the community, too," she says.