WRJ's Gatherwool Theater Company Hits Reset
White River Junction's Gatherwool Theater Company may be temporarily down, but not out. Founding artistic director and Lebanon NH native Jonathan Verge remains enthusiastic about the company's future, and there is one. Last February, its inaugural production, Songs from an Unmade Bed, garnered critical acclaim. Unfortunately, ticket sales did not follow, causing Gatherwool to postpone its previously scheduled production of John and Jen. and more recently, a revue that it had planned for the end of April. Verge acknowledges in hindsight that the company underestimated the difficulty of putting people in the audience seats, and that an unknown theater company starting its season with a less than well-known play may have contributed to trouble at the box office. And maybe it was too soon and too fast--two months from the company's creation to a full-blown production of Unmade Bed. Growing pains, hurtful but instructive. Verge thinks of the experience as somewhat "reassuring," as it proved that this idea of bringing more musical theater to the Upper Valley is possible, that his artistic vision is sound.Rather than continue with its previous, ambitious schedule, Gatherwool is taking a pause. Verge and the company's other founding members--Interim Executive Director Clint Carter, Erin Kukla, Stuart Williams, Denise Dennis Shibles, Steven Besic, and Taylor Hooper--are using the next few months to reexamine and refine their business plan. They are working with SCORE, arranging meetings with potential investors, and shaping their next productions. Verge realizes that a central task is simply acquainting the Upper Valley with Gatherwool. Toward that end, some small pop-up performances may be in the offing this summer and early fall. Verge will be putting forth his own name and face by returning to his acting roots in the role of Archibald Craven in North Country Community Theater's July production of The Secret Garden at the Lebanon Opera House. All Gatherwool eyes are on the fall, when Little Shop of Horrors--a new version (think of Seymour as a little more James Dean, says Verge) of the iconic play--is scheduled to open in October. John and Jen will follow in November. For the winter holiday season, Verge hopes to loosely collaborate with the town's annual Polar Express by including a theater piece for children, and for adults, maybe a short run of David Sedaris's Santaland Diaries. The Drowsy Chaperone, originally on the bill for this summer, has been postponed until 2017. Verge, 33, brings optimism to the project, and more. After graduating from Lebanon High School in 2000, he obtained a degree in theater from Syracuse University. As part of his university studies, he had the unforgettable experience of playing Richard III (first and last Shakespeare, as it happened, he says) at London's Globe Theater. Work in New York City and Chicago established relationships with theater royalty like Hal and Daisy Prince, Audra MacDonald, and Patti LuPone. He helped to reinvigorate the Bailiwick Chicago Theater before detouring into advertising. Then he realized that he missed theater and New England. Voila! Gatherwool in White River Junction is the result. Can there be too much theater in a town of just over 2200 people? Verge thinks not. Upon Gatherwool's arrival, people were already describing White River Junction as not just a town with a theater (Northern Stage) but now, with a theater district. (Don't you love the sound of that?) Verge sees Gatherwool as a venue to bring more musical theater to the area, but also, as it gains more of a foothold, as an incubator that can develop new works and productions that could make the voyage to other destinations. Verge hopes that with a retooled business plan and Little Shop of Horrors in the fall, Upper Valley residents will support this new venture. "All we are asking," he says, "is for people to buy a ticket and give us a chance." You don't want to miss anything, do you? You can sign up to receive an email notification every time I post something new to this blog, ArtfulEdge, by clicking here. For a short link to all of my previous blog posts, click here. (Photographs by Taylor Hooper; used with permission of Gatherwool Theater Company. Top photo is a scene from Songs from an Unmade Bed).