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College, Town Hall Theater ink $1 million deal

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October 25, 2007

By JOHN FLOWERS

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury College has played a strong supporting role in renovating the Town Hall Theater (THT). Now the liberal arts institution is jumping into the act in an even bigger way.

College and theater officials confirmed on Monday that they had formed a partnership that will give the institution and its student body regular use of the THT for productions, rehearsals and mentorships. The college in turn will provide the THT with $1 million over the next 20 years to give the theater a strong financial footing as it prepares for major interior renovations that should allow for an opening next summer.

“It gives the college an extra place to perform as well as a wonderful connection to downtown Middlebury,” THT Executive Director Douglas Anderson said. “We see it as a win-win situation.”

Middlebury College President Ronald D. Liebowitz agreed.

“There are a whole bunch of things we see happening that will bring the college and town arts scenes together,” Liebowitz said. “We are pleased to help make this happen.”

This is the third substantial contribution the college will have made to THT, a 124-year-old building off Merchants Row that is being renovated for use as a performing arts center. The college previously donated $125,000 in both 2001 and 2006.

Boosters have set a $5 million price tag for the project and are just $130,000 short of meeting a $500,000 anonymous challenge grant to reach the fund-raising finish line. Anderson stressed the college’s $1 million commitment should be seen as separate from the effort to match the $500,000 challenge grant.

“We are still trying to raise around $130,000,” Anderson said.

College and THT officials are looking forward to collaborating on future performances. Middlebury College and its students annually produce a number of quality, often award-winning plays that will now find a stage within downtown Middlebury.

“The extra financial security this brings THT is wonderful, but personally I’m thrilled by the way it will expand our offerings,” Anderson said. “THT will be home to the Middlebury Community Players and many other community groups, but now our schedule will be enhanced by student and faculty productions — and in many cases, college students and local people will be working together. Everybody wins.”

While Middlebury College has its Mahaney Center for the Arts and other on-campus arts amenities, there are times when the institution faces a shortage of performance spaces, according to Liebowitz. The THT will help fill that void.

The Middlebury College Language Schools will now have use of the THT building for three weeks every summer. The language schools will offer the local community an international performance festival, bringing everything from Russian choirs to French farce to downtown Middlebury — free of charge.

Student groups will also benefit. The student musical theater group, the Middlebury College Musical Players (MCMP), will stage performances there each year. Training opportunities for Middlebury students will include at least one paid summer position and internships in theater management, technical theater, performance and arts education. 

Other possibilities include performances by the Riddim World Dance Troupe, a student organization; the college’s many a cappella singing groups; and the college’s Potomac Theater Project, a summer theater group that performs in New York City.

“We are going to have a season line-up that will be the envy of theaters in much larger towns,” Anderson said.

A vibrant THT, with visiting college faculty and performers, could also provide an added economic tonic for downtown restaurants and merchants.

“It’s readily apparent that this will be an economic driver for the downtown,” said Middlebury College Treasurer Bob Huth. “It will encourage people to get outside of their homes and participate in the cultural life of the community.”

Residents will soon see some new construction at the THT. Gov. James Douglas, a Middlebury resident, will preside at a groundbreaking ceremony at THT on Wednesday, Oct. 31, at 10 a.m. The ceremony will kick off construction on a small addition to the southwest corner of the building that will house, among other things, office space and THT’s air conditioning system.

For more information about the THT project, call the organization’s office at 388-1446.

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