The pandemic triggered anguish, anxiety, as well as remarkable resilience in our community. Thus Reimagine Addison County, an initiative coordinated by UWAC, interviewed individuals from businesses, service providers, educators, and more to learn about the strategies and adaptations they developed that are enhancing the well-being and future of Addison County. In this series, we highlight some of the creative and resourceful pivots that emerged from the pandemic and are continuing to lead the way.
Today, we’re profiling the arts community. We spoke with Lisa Mitchell, Executive Director of the Town Hall Theatre in Middlebury, Doug Anderson, Artistic Director of the Town Hall Theatre, and Kelly Hickey, Addison and Rutland Zone Representative Vermont Creative Network. The Middlebury Town Hall Theatre is a nonprofit regional theater and live arts venue located in the historic town hall building in downtown Middlebury, featuring music, theatre, dance, cinema, and educational experiences. The Vermont Creative Network is a broad collective of organizations, businesses, and individuals working to advance Vermont’s creative sector. We asked Lisa, Doug, and Kelly about their pandemic experiences as arts professionals and what the future looks like for the arts in Addison County.
An Inauspicious Beginning
Lisa Mitchell started her position as the Town Hall Theater (THT) Executive Director just three weeks before the pandemic hit. Almost immediately, the theatre was forced to close and lay off most of its staff and remained closed for 16 months. Their revenue was, in her words, decimated. But rather than be paralyzed by what they couldn’t do, Lisa and Artistic Director Doug Anderson decided to focus on what they could do.
Lisa, Doug, and their staff were determined to fulfill their theater’s mission to entertain, inspire, and challenge the community, so they took their creativity online and outside. They developed The Quarantine Sessions, a series featuring THT actors and musicians performing in short videos from home, which has had more than 100,000 online views. They also started outdoor performances that would sell out in one day and outdoor art markets with live performances from musicians and artists, a popular phenomenon that quickly spread to other outdoor markets around the county.
To support their work, the theater wrote and won over a dozen grants, which not only kept THT solvent but also helped pay artists and provide free arts access to all. In addition, community financial support remained strong throughout the pandemic; according to Doug, donors told him, “We want to make sure the theater is here when this is all over.”
One major silver lining for THT was learning the value of having an online presence; it was a powerful way to expand their audience and reach new people. They plan to keep some online programming for the foreseeable future. The pandemic inspired THT’s inaugural outdoor performance season, which they also plan to continue. And they are expanding their education program to appeal to a broader age spectrum and cover a wider variety of topical themes, bolstering their reach. Investing in outdoor and online opportunities will ensure they can better weather pandemics and other challenges. A focus on outdoor seasonal events continues their commitment to building downtown foot traffic and inclusive experiences. As Kelly said, “The greatest thing we’ve seen is the capability to use outdoor spaces and green spaces in our towns, and that will continue.”
Overall, THT was able to forge new partnerships, deepen existing ones, and share knowledge and resources with other arts organizations, nonprofits, businesses, and community entities to help keep and create vibrancy downtown despite the pandemic.
Here’s a short clip from our interview with Lisa, Doug, and Kelly:
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