Oldcastle's annual gala the arts event of the coming weekend

Theater company event supports multiple programs

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BENNINGTON — Excellent food and drink. Live performances from local luminaries. Silent and lives auctions with prizes that include the same dinner served more than a century ago in France by the great Impressionist Monet. All this, and more, right on Main Street in Bennington.

Welcome to Oldcastle Theatre Company's second annual fall gala, "Raise the Curtain! Light the Lights!" which takes place this Saturday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m at the venerable theater company's home at 331 Main St.

Artistic director Eric Peterson said the event "was a hit last year," and emphasized that all the fun and entertainment all had a purposeful aim: fundraising for an arts organization which aspires to full and ever-emerging year-round programming.

"When people think of Oldcastle, they know, of course, the professional Equity company which has been in operation for 47 seasons," Peterson said. "But since we made the move downtown to a building we can now call our own, we've had our eyes on expanding our cultural and education offerings past just the traditional summer theater season."

In fact, Peterson continued, year-round programming is the goal. But he said that to achieve it takes more than just the gate from theater season.

"Most all arts organizations bring in about half of what they need to operate from things like ticket sales," Peterson said. "Comprehensive fundraising, along with grants and other means, is a major factor in our being able to pursue our mission. The gala is one of those key fundraising events. That, and it's a really fun evening."

Oldcastle's programming — as well as other fundraising initiatives — is growing by the year. Upcoming events, for example, will include three performances of "The Curious Savage" by the Bennington Community Theatre (BCT), which is separate from Oldcastle's Equity company, but operating under the same board of directors.

Also ahead is the annual holiday show, which takes the form of an old-time live radio broadcast. The BCT play, which is directed by longtime professional actor and Oldcastle education director Christine Decker, and has a cast that includes Sue McIntosh, D. Mark Blank, Phyllis Chapman, Patricia Gardner, Mindy Border, Oldcastle house manager Jana Lillie, Jennifer Marcoux, Mike Cutler, Leslie Bremner and Oldcastle marketing director Erika Floriani, will be held on Dec. 7 and 8. The holiday show will be staged Dec. 15.

Lillie said that the gala is a critical fundraiser along with grants and other endeavors to help buttress the amateur theater group sponsored by Oldcastle, and other offerings.

"The gala is important not just as a fundraiser, but also as a chance for people to be in the space of Oldcastle, and walk on the stage a little, move around a lot more than you can while watching a show, Lillie said." So often I think people treat theater as if it's just something that entertains you and makes you think, but not something they can play an important part of."

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Lillie added that theater survives on the participation of audiences, and by backing events like the gala, and "having fun, and bidding on auction items, as all this goes into the play, the performance."

The auction is one of the gala's most fun centerpieces, with a variety of items up for bid. But this year, perhaps no other auction prize has piqued the interest of prospective attendees as the five-course Claude Monet dinner for eight at the home of Oldcastle board president Tony Marro and Jackie Marro — with recipes from dinner parties that Monet gave at his farmhouse in Giverny.

"Like everyone, [Jackie and I] have more cook books than we need," Marro said. "Two of our more interesting ones are `The Art of Cuisine' by Henri Toulouse-Lautrec and `Monet's Table,' which is based on the cooking journals and recipes that Claude Monet kept at his farmhouse at Giverny."

Toulouse Lautrec liked to give small dinner parties for no more than eight or ten, Marro explained. Also, the table at Monet's dining room seated a maximum of twelve, and was often full of guests.

"Some of the recipes are not for the more cautious diners of today, with their heavy use of butter, cream, and duck fat," Marro said. "And all the meals involved much wine and often absinthe. But many have survived the years very well and make for interesting dinner parties."

The evening's entertainment will also include dancing to the music of Matt Edwards and his Buck2Fifty band, and cabaret theater with performances by talented locals including Lynn Sweet, Oldcastle associate artistic director Rick Howe, and students from the cast of the Mount Anthony Union High School musical "Les Mis."

MAUHS musical director Sweet, who along with supervising the high school musical act said she has yet to choose her own cabaret number. She summed up the fun evening as a worthwhile community-focused endeavor.

"Oldcastle's success is heavily dependent upon the generosity of donors who support the arts in our community," Sweet said. "Events like the gala provides the audience an opportunity to celebrate and be entertained while giving back in small and large ways to provide the funds necessary to maintain quality and varied programming throughout the year. They also bring together the youth and professional members of the arts community to collaborate and mutually inspire."

Tickets for the gala are $100 each and can be purchased by phoning Oldcastle Theatre at 447-0564 or bought at the door.

Telly Halkias is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) and a longtime regional journalist and drama critic. E-mail: tchalkias@aol.com, Twitter: @TellyHalkias


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