Three of Vermont's professional theater companies – Weston Playhouse, Dorset Theater and Northern Stage – announced this week that they will join forces to stage British playwright Alan Ayckbourn's comedic trilogy, The Norman Conquests, in their 2016 seasons.
Dina Janis, artistic director of the Dorset Theater Festival, joined VPR to talk about the new collaboration and its importance in Vermont’s growing art community.
The three theaters have collaborated in the past, but for the 2016 season they will be sharing a story, cast and set designers. Janis explains that each play stands on its own, but that the entire plot of The Norman Chronicles takes place over one weekend in a country house. "It's kind of a theatrical happening," Janis says. "We thought it would be a great way to start a collaboration that we might continue forward."
Janis says that it's fairly easy for theaters to collaborate in big cities like New York or Boston, but there are certain challenges to collaborating in Vermont. “For us, in a rural area like Vermont, the challenge is the distance. If you look at White River Junction to Dorset, there’s a mountain in between us, so it presents certain challenges. But it’s also such a great opportunity to try to really cross that mountain and get people to do the same thing,” says Janis.
The theater director notes that it’s not really that far of a distance, and that there is something to be said for creating this regional sense of the arts and culture that builds upon itself.
The goal of the collaboration, Janis says, is to help expose Vermonters to theater – and theaters – they may not have known about, or traveled to see, in the past. “We’re going to kind of create a whole package around [the three play series], which will allow some of the people who are used to our individual theaters to actually get out and explore some of the other theater that is available in this part of the state,” says Janis. “Vermont, of course, is just an amazing state for the art.”
The experience is also a joy for the actors, says Janis. They get to create their characters and play them in three different shows over the span of several months, instead of just a few weeks. “There’s something so wonderful for the team that comes in to be able to really live with these characters for several months and experience different versions of what happens to them in each play,” says Janis. She adds that the designers also have a wonderful challenge. “They need to design a set and design elements that will work in all three theaters. We have different kinds of stages and really [have to] tell the story of the whole house.”
Despite its challenges, Janis says this collaboration has really opened doors for all three theaters. “The idea of collaborating with people, combining forces, sometimes commiserating – we share a lot of the same challenges and aspirations,” she says. “It lets us envision a future that includes more collaboration. For everyone, it becomes kind of an interesting, well-orchestrated mission impossible. But it's fun, it’s what we love to do.”
The Norman Chronicles will open in all three theaters in 2016.