Vermont Arts Council

Dividing Conquests

The power of three is a principle used in writing and speaking. The idea is that things are funnier, more satisfying, or more effective when grouped in threes. If this holds true for plays, three Vermont theaters have come up with a winning idea.

Through the spring and summer of 2016, Northern Stage will present “Living Together,” Dorset Theatre Festival “Table Manners,” and the Weston Playhouse Theatre Company “Round and Round in the Garden.” Each of these works are part of a trilogy — “The Norman Conquests” — written by Alan Ayckbourn in 1973. Each production portrays the same weekend. “Living Together” takes place in the living room, “Table Manners” in the dining room, and “Round and Round in the Garden” outside the house.

My colleague Sarah Mutrux says marketing and effective collaborations are two of the biggest challenges of arts organizations in Vermont. But she doesn’t think solutions are easy. When she said, “Collaboration is the number one thing arts organizations point to as a catalyst for growing audiences and reaching more people,” she was quick to add, “It is also one of the most difficult things to do effectively.”

Producing three plays collectively is a bold experiment; one that requires creativity, hard work, and cooperation among the partners. The opening of “Living Together” at Northern Stage signaled success.

The Collaboration

Carol Dunne is the artistic at Northern Stage. She’s working with Dina Janis, Dorset Theatre Festival’s artistic director and Steve Stettler, the producing artistic director at the Weston Playhouse. The three directors started conversations last year about increasing engagement for all the theaters.

Irene Green, director of sales and marketing at Northern Stage outlined their reasoning. She said they considered how much crossover in each of their markets they share, and if they are pulling attendees from the same or different places. The directors looked at ways to overcome elitism in theater and create productions that were for everyone. Their hope is to share a core group in their audiences.

“Living Together” is full of inside jokes and references to the garden you see through these windows.

Irene said, “Even though the logistics have been something like a ‘Chinese puzzle,’” everyone involved is hopeful. The organizations have been able to share marketing costs. Strong outreach has gone to Albany, New York and into New Hampshire. There are ticketing incentives to see all three plays and arrangements for shared transportation between the theaters.

The Fun

All three plays are complete by themselves, but also invite intrigue. “Living Together” is full of moments that say, “There’s more to this story,” or “I would’ve liked to be a fly on the wall when…”  Who threw biscuits at whom? Why? How did Annie talk Norman into wearing an apron? Who is the old man in the garden, and why is an upset cat still in the tree?

There are enough unanswered questions that you’ll want to make the trip to the next play. And, why not?

Quality arts performances tucked away in small towns define Vermont as beautifully as our green summers. Touring the trilogy is an opportunity to support theater and Vermont downtowns. Venture to the new Barrette Center for the Arts in White River Junction, find the Dorset Playhouse amidst the town’s marble structures, and feel the classic small town vibe of Weston.

The Facts

“Living Together” opened last weekend and will run through May 8 at the Barrette Center for the Arts in White River Junction.
“Table Manners” opens June 16 and will run through July 2 at the Dorset Playhouse.
“Round and Round the Garden” Opens July 21 and will run through July 30 at the Weston Playhouse.

Each has the same cast: Caitlin Clouthier as Sarah, Richard Gallagher as Norman, Ashton Heyl as Ruth, David Mason as Tom, Mark Light-Orr as Reg, and Jenni Putney as Annie.

Find out more by contacting any of the theaters:

Northern Stage
Dorset Theatre Festival
Weston Playhouse Theatre Company

Photos by Rob Strong. Top left is Mark Light-Orr, David Mason, and Jenni Putney. Center left is Richard Gallagher, David Mason, and Jenni Putney.

Susan McDowell