By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury College on Friday took center stage when the institution pledged to contribute $125,000 toward the $4 million project to renovate the Town Hall Theater.
The pledge, which will be paid over five years, will be used specifically for interior repairs to the 122-year-old building on Middlebury’s Merchants Row, according to THT Executive Director Doug Anderson.
College officials and THT boosters hailed the contribution as an affirmation of the many town-gown artistic collaborations that have occurred throughout the years.
“The college has long contributed to the vitality and well-being of the town, just as the town has always been an important part of the college’s 206-year history,” said Middlebury College President Ronald Liebowitz. “But supporting a cause like the town theater is especially important and rewarding today because we live in a time when it has become increasingly rare for members of a small town to come together and share experiences that inevitably and importantly strengthen the bonds within a community. We believe supporting the Town Hall Theater, with its visionary leadership, will inspire Middlebury residents to come together, share artistic performances, and strengthen the civic culture of our town.”
Anderson noted that many students have performed at the THT, while dozens of college faculty and staff have participated in THT events and classes. The building has provided space to the college’s theater department and student groups for construction of sets.
The Middlebury Community Players drama group has included many college-affiliated actors throughout the years.
“Already, there’s a great cross-fertilization going on,” said Anderson, who teaches part-time at the college, “and our connection with the college will expand enormously in the coming years. Students will intern with us over the summer, working on our productions and helping to run the organization. And throughout the school year, we plan to bring student concerts and entire musical theater productions down the hill to our theater.
“It’s a very old idea, really — students coming off the hill to entertain people in town,” he added. “It goes back to the 19th century.”
Thomas Beyer, a professor of Russian at the college, has been a member of the Middlebury Community Players for the past eight years. During that time, he has taken the bench as a judge in “Chicago”; climbed a telephone pole in his role in Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night”; donned a bathrobe as the character “Joe” in “Working”; and been eaten by a man-eating plant in “Little Shop of Horrors.”
In addition, Beyer, who is also chairman of the UD-3 school board, has seen his students participate in musical and theatrical productions co-organized by Anderson.
“There are wonderful connections here that I think bring about the best in the town-gown relationship,” Beyer said.
Anderson and the Town Hall Theater board have been working since 2000 to save and restore the THT building, which had fallen into disrepair over the years. Workers have already stabilized the structure and completed extensive exterior renovations. New front steps and a Pleasant Street garden were completed this spring.
The group is now turning its attention to interior repairs.
“The inside is back to the brick,” says Anderson. “We have no heating system, no air-conditioning, no insulation and nothing is up to code. So we’re basically starting from scratch on the inside.”
Anderson believes the project could be completed in 2007.
“Middlebury College’s generous gift has really fired up our team,” he said. “It will leverage more donations, and makes a 2007 opening a real possibility.”