It is not often that you get the chance to watch a theater being built from the ground up, in a small Vermont town that barely appears on most maps. You imagine that the project would be preceded by differences of opinion about the location, design, and whether the very idea to build it was a stroke of genius or consummate folly. It could be last year's story of Northern Stage and the Barrette Center in White River Junction VT. This is a different but similar story, one about the Highland Center for the Arts in tiny (pop. 800) Greensboro VT. Is that adage from the film Field of Dreams--"If you build it, they will come"--true? We are about to find out. And our own Upper Valley Northern Stage has a role to play.
Greensboro is a small town in the Northeast Kingdom that sits on Caspian Lake. It has a long history of summer tourism. Many families (including my husband's) have seasonal cottages there where they have been spending summers for generations. A few decades ago, Greensboro had become famous as the summer retreat of the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist. Now it is known as a town that produces world-class cheeses (Jasper Hill Farm) and The Best Beer in the World (RateBeer, in 2016 and for 4 of the past 5 years) at Hill Farmstead, where the lines to purchase growlers of their glorious brews stretch into forever.
Highland Center for the Arts, inside view, work in progress
After some wrangling and delay, the new theater, named The Highland Center for the Arts (HCA), is about to open. It has a seating capacity of 275, and a smaller 100-seat performance space; a café and art gallery are in the offing. Performers in productions at the new theater are expected to be a mix of Equity actors and community members.
Northern Stage has an interim arrangement with the HCA to shepherd it through its fledgling days, beginning now until the end of the 2017 summer. HCA Board chair Melanie Clark commented: "What impresses me most about Northern Stage is their history of success serving their audiences and connecting with their community through artistically excellent productions and innovative programs." (I can attest to that.) Similar to its school outreach programs in the Upper Valley, Northern Stage's Director of Education Eric Love will be helping the HCA with a program on Shakespeare for students at the Hazen Union High School in Hardwick VT. It will result in a performance at the theater in April. Eric Bunge, Managing Director at Northern Stage, said "It is thrilling to know that Hazen Union students will be the very first performers on the HCA stage." The first fully-staged production at the theater will be A Midsummer Night's Dream, tentatively scheduled to open in early August.
Just under a hundred miles from the Upper Valley may be a long haul for a night at the theater. If you are inclined to make a weekend of it, the Highland Lodge has new owners and is open for business. Willey's is the Dan and Whit's of Greensboro and the commercial and social center of the town. Circus Smirkus lives and trains in Greensboro. There are pottery and glass blowing studios and The Miller's Thumb where local artists sell their wares. And there is that World's Best Beer, right at the source.
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Susan B. Apel, writer, ArtfulEdge