Oldcastle Theatre Company: After one door closes, another door opens
BENNINGTON, Vt. -- When Bennington Center for the Arts on the edge of town closed its doors on Oldcastle Theatre Company after 17 years in residence there, producing artistic director Eric Peterson wasn't sure where, or even if, other doors would open.
They have -- smack in the center of town.
Nearly two years after the curtain went down, some feared for good, at the end of Oldcastle's 40th season in 2011, the curtain went up Friday on the company's 41st season -- the first in its permanent new home at 331 Main St., a two-story brick building that has been gifted to the theater company by the Greenberg family.
Oldcastle actually launched its new space in December with "Northern Boulevard," a new musical by Carleton Carpenter (music and lyrics) and Kevin Brofsky (book) that will be returning to Oldcastle July 11 through 21 with a revised book and some new songs. But Oldcastle's first full season in its new home begins in earnest this weekend with an inventive stage adaptation of Jules Verne's "Around the World in 80 Days" featuring a cast of only five. The show is running through April 7.
In addition to "Around the World " and "Northern Boulevard," Oldcastle's 2013 season includes a new farce by "Lend Me a Tenor's" Ken Ludwig, "The Fox on the Fairway" (Aug. 9-25); a world premiere co-production with the Bickford Theatre in Morristown, N.J., "Sherlock Holmes: Knight's Gambit" (Sept. 27-Oct. 13), written by Oldcastle veteran Paul Falzone and starring Shakespeare & Company veteran Nigel Gore as Holmes; Stephen L. Pouliot's "Grandma Moses: An American Primitive" (Nov. 1-17), produced in conjunction with Bennington Museum, which houses a substantial Grandma Moses collection; "A Strange Disappear-ance of Bees" by Elena Hartwell (May 17- June 2); and "Other People's Money (June 21-30), Jerry Sterner's lacerating comedy-drama about the cutthroat world of conglomerates and takeovers.
It's a season that should appeal, Peterson says, "to a wide variety of tastes."
Founded in Bennington in 1972, Oldcastle spent its first five years primarily touring Vermont until it settled down at Southern Vermont College, also in Bennington, in 1977, where it produced plays during the summer and toured schools in the fall, winter and spring. In 1994, the by-then professional Actors Equity company moved to Bennington Center for the Arts on Route 9 on the western edge of town and remained in residence there until Peterson was informed by the arts center board that Oldcastle's 2011 40th season would be its last there.
"We were very close to not celebrating our 41st," Peterson said during an interview in his spacious new second floor office. "Our board was determined to keep us alive.
"You know what they say about one door closing (and another one opening). This was literally true for us."
While the two-story building was essentially gifted to Oldcastle, Peterson and his board had to raise the money -- roughly $1.1 million, nearly all of which is in hand either through donations or in-kind service -- to renovate the interior to accommodate on its two floors and finished basement a complement of fully equipped dressing rooms, a lobby, restrooms, prop and costume storage, a spacious rehearsal room, a box office, administrative offices and, of course, the theater -- a flexible space whose capacity varies depending upon the configuration which, in all likelihood, will change from one production to the next.
"This is a very intimate theater," Peterson said in an email. "Everyone is very close to the actors and that lends itself particularly well to ('Around the World in 80 Days') because it is fast moving and actors play many roles."
Peterson says one of his designers suggested "it will take us two years to truly learn how best to use our new space."
Meanwhile, Peterson says he is looking for ideas from people in the community "as to how they most enjoy the space. This is all experimental and will continue to be an ongoing process as we learn more ."
For all the fresh challenges Oldcastle faces, Peterson is grateful that his theater company has come through its fortysomething midlife crisis alive and well and living in downtown Bennington.
"I think theaters should be downtown," he said in his office. "I have a real love and affection for downtown.
"People really want there to be that feeling of a downtown center. It's the difference between living in a town and living in a community. Most people want to live in a community."
Season at Glance ...
-- "Around the World in 80 Days." Adapted for the stage by Mark Brown. Now through April 7.
-- "A Strange Disappearance of Bees" by Elena Hartwell. May 17-June 2.
-- "Other People's Money" by Jerry Sterner. June 21-30.
-- "Northern Boulevard" Music and lyrics by Carleton Carpenter. Book by Kevin Brofsky. July 11-21.
-- "The Fox on the Fairway" by Ken Ludwig. Aug. 9-25.
-- "Sherlock Holmes: Knight's Gambit" by Paul Falzone. Sept. 27-Oct. 13.
-- "Grandma Moses: An American Primitive" by Stephen L. Pouliot. Nov. 1-17.
Evenings -- Thurday-Saturday 8; Matinees -- Saturday, Sunday 2
Adults -- $37; Students -- $10
How: (802) 447-0564; www.oldcastletheatre.org; in person at the box office -- 331 Main St., Bennington, Vt.