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Town Hall Theater plans July opening; teens prepare time capsule

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WINDOWS RECEIVE A scrubbing on the side of the Town Hall Theater in downtown Middlebury Monday afternoon. The final phase of the $5 million renovation of the historic building will be complete in July.<br /> Independent photo/Trent Campbell

By JOHN FLOWERS

MIDDLEBURY — Gailer School students on Monday officially made plans to take in a show at Middlebury’s Town Hall Theater (THT) during the spring of 2058.

The students don’t even know what will be playing 50 years from now at the newly resurrected venue at 68 South Pleasant St. But they are certain that the performance will be preceded by a special attraction — the opening of a time capsule containing local images, memorabilia and other keepsakes they assembled this week.

“When they open (the time capsule) up, I’m not sure this will even work,” Gailer School student Tina Friml said of the iPod she deposited into a milk crate containing all the time capsule items.

“At least they’ll see what (an iPod) looked like and how ‘huge’ it was,” she said, speculating that technological advances may ultimately dwarf the wafer-thin portable media player.

It was Douglas Anderson, THT executive director, who last fall approached Erik Remsen — teacher of the Gailer School’s Davinci 8 Humanities class — to see if he and his students would be interested in compiling artifacts for a time capsule that will be settled into a nook of the theater building on July 26. That nook will be secured as part of extensive interior renovations to the THT, work that is expected to be completed within five weeks and in time for a full week of grand opening events slated for July 20-30.

Remsen’s students embraced the project, and on Monday presented Anderson with around a dozen artifacts-to-be. They included a small bottle of maple syrup; a Middlebury Co-op shopping bag; a book by local author Julia Alvarez; a cell phone; a compact disc; two Vermont quarters; a Middlebury town report; menus from Middlebury restaurants; brochures from state and local businesses; numerous pictures of Gailer School students, local stores, buildings and monuments; and copies of recent area newspapers, including the Addison Independent.

Each item carried special significance for the student who chose it. For Caroline Taylor, the co-op shopping bag signified society’s growing support for renewable resources and organic food. Austin Kinkaid said he believed the cell phone represented the current generation.

Students made sure to depict, in their artifact offerings, the cost of many day-to-day items. Current menus reflect the cost of meals; while pictures made note of the cost of gasoline and groceries. The town report will let Middlebury residents of 2058 see how much it cost to run the community 50 years earlier.

“I think their choices are really good ones; very clever,” Anderson said after viewing the submissions.

All of the participating students, given their youth, have a great chance of revisiting the time capsule contents when they are unveiled in 2058. The students would be in their mid-60s — perhaps collecting Social Security. They would be part of the second time capsule to be deposited in the building, but just the first to be officially opened.

An initial time capsule was placed in the then-town hall building when the venerable structure was dedicated in early June of 1883. That capsule contained, among other things, a copy of Swift’s “History of Middlebury,” the acts of incorporation for the town of Middlebury, copies of the Middlebury Register newspaper, a Confederate bank bill, a photo of Middlebury College founder Gamaliel Painter, and an impressive assortment of coins and historic letters/archives.

Original plans called for the time capsule to be opened in 1963, on the 100th birthday of the town hall building. But those plans fell apart when town hall changed locations and the 1883 structure fell into private ownership. The building was sold in 1960, leading to the renovations that turned it into the Belmont Diner.

“There were a lot or workers running around (the building) in 1960, and that’s when it’s thought that the time capsule was discovered,” Anderson said. “It was essentially looted. Everything was taken out of it.”

Douglas noted there continue to be rumors that some of those 1883 capsule artifacts are still floating around town; if so, THT officials would love to have them to put into the new capsule.

Meanwhile, Bread Loaf Corp. workers and subcontractors are busily working on the interior of the THT. Monday saw them working in all areas of the building, including the balcony, theater hall, lobby and basement level, which will feature and art gallery, multi-purpose room, spacious restrooms, ticket booth and other amenities.

Marble steps, using stone from the recently demolished former college library, will lead up to 49 fixed seats in the balcony. Additional seating below — for a total of 225 — will mechanically retract from the theater floor to make way for weddings, dances and other events.

Anderson and other THT boosters will show the building to the public on July 19 at an open house. Ensuing days in July will feature more celebratory events, the details of which are still being finalized. The “grand opening” and time capsule placement are slated for July 26, a day that will feature entertainment, state and local luminaries and a lot of pomp and circumstance.

Nancy Cartwright — best known as the voice for Bart Simpson of the animated Fox TV show “The Simpsons” — is scheduled to perform her one-women show titled “My Life as a 10-Year Old Boy” in late July. The Vermont Mozart Festival will also perform at the THT.

Anderson said tentative plans call for a “soft opening” of the theater on July 10, with a production of Cyrano de Bergerac staged by the Middlebury Actors’ Workshop — provided the building is ready.

As of Monday, the THT was still getting its box office in order for an anticipated run on tickets for upcoming events. Ultimately, THT wants to be able to offer customers the option of ordering tickets on-line and printing them off at home.

Right now, all eyes are focused on next month and the work that needs to be dome before then.

“We expect it will be,” Anderson said. “We seem to be on schedule.”

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