Town Hall Theater hands reins to Lisa Mitchell
MIDDLEBURY — When Mark Bradley announced last month he’d be stepping down as top administrator of Middlebury’s Town Hall Theater, his board of directors didn’t have to look far for a replacement.
Take a bow, Lisa Mitchell. The former THT board member and co-founder of Middlebury UndergrounD, known as MUD, will on Feb. 24 officially start what she hopes will be a long run as the theater’s general manager.
“I felt it was a wonderful match for my skills, interests and experience,” Mitchell said during a Tuesday interview. “I decided to go for it, and I am completely honored that it worked out.”
Mitchell will be able to hit the ground running as the leader of Middlebury’s downtown arts and entertainment hub. She has experience planning tasty and amusing events in her role with MUD, a nonprofit, multidisciplinary arts and events organization that seeks to unite the community around unique, shared experiences.
MUD’s offerings have included a lively talk about sharks, the annual Foodaroo event that showcases area food and beverage vendors, and a musical performance by Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars.
And coordinating fun events has been more than a just hobby for Mitchell. She’s worked many years as a freelance event producer and communications consultant. She’s produced interactive culinary events for Gourmet magazine and Bon Appetit, among others. Her résumé includes a stint with the marketing and communications division of Washington, D.C.’s Direct Impact Company, where she managed five senior writers.
Most recently, Mitchell telecommuted to a job as an events planner with DDC Public Affairs, also based in the D.C. area.
“That balance of marketing, communications and events are all things that I believe play nicely into THT,” Mitchell said. “In addition, through Middlebury UndergrounD and other boards and things I’ve been involved with during the past 10 years, I’ve picked up fundraising skills that I can also apply to the position.”
It’s a position that will get Mitchell’s full attention. She’s given her notice to DDC Public Affairs, and she’ll lessen her involvement with MUD. The MUD board was slated to meet this Thursday, Feb. 13, to discuss the leadership transition.
“Middlebury UndergrounD will not go away,” she promised. The group has scheduled Foodaroo for Sunday, Aug. 23, in the Marble Works complex. Bread & Puppet Circus will return to town on Aug. 13. And a third installment of Middlebury UndergrounD’s Moth-style storytelling series will take place on May 15, in partnership with Bundle at 51 Main St.
Mitchell is committed to preserving and enhancing already strong programming at THT that owes much of its success to Artistic Director Douglas Anderson. Anderson was the driving force behind the creation of THT. He served as its first executive director until Bradley took the reins in 2018.
“I have many ideas for audience engagement and new offerings to complement the wonderful programming of Doug Anderson,” she said. “I’ve had great collaborations with Doug and I think we’ll be good partners. I also consider him to be a mentor. I have a lot to learn from him, and I’m looking forward to that.”
While she’s not ready to divulge specifics about the new offerings she hopes to bring to THT, anyone who has attended Middlebury UndergrounD events knows that Mitchell likes to develop programming with a twist.
“I will apply that style to concerts, talks, theater, dance and other things,” she said.
What does Mitchell mean by a twist?
Past MUD programs have included the “choose-your-own-adventure” shark talk in 2014 that featured a Discovery Channel host and engaged a wide range of the community in a fun and educational way. Those who attended the Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars appearance found it to be more than a concert — it was also an opportunity to hear the performers’ incredible backstory coming out of the refugee camps.
“Doug has always been incredibly encouraging of my out-of-the box ideas,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell joins a THT on the cusp of one of its biggest challenges — to not only survive, but also thrive, during this summer’s most disruptive phase of the downtown Middlebury rail bridges project.
That $72 million construction project will result in closure of both Main Street and Merchants Row for 10 weeks beginning in May. Construction will bring noise, detours, dust and other disruptions that won’t be conducive to performance art.
Undaunted, THT will continue to hold events both onsite and off. In June, Anderson’s opera company will perform at Middlebury College’s Wright Theater. That same month, Lindsay Pontius and Craig Maravich will present, “If I Say Bee,” an interactive theater experience focusing on pollinators and climate change, and Anderson and Pontius will produce a musical and Greek play with children as the stars.
Then it’ll be time for the annual Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival in August.
“While the construction will slow things down some, there will still be lots going on,” Mitchell said.
Benj Deppman, chairman of the THT board, said Mitchell enjoys overwhelming support as she begins her duties. The board unanimously agreed that its search for a new leader would begin and end with Mitchell.
“We were thrilled she had some interest,” Deppman said. “We know her, we know her background and are familiar with her work through Middlebury UndergrounD. It seemed like the perfect fit.”
Mitchell, according to Deppman, already knows how THT does its marketing. She knows the kinds of shows that can be successful at the theater. And Deppman believes Mitchell will be able to expand THT’s appeal to new audiences.
“She brings a level of enthusiasm … and a knowledge of a different audience than we typically have,” Deppman said. “A lot of our audiences are people who want to see big musicals. Lisa does interesting things with food, sharks. She’s done some interesting things that I think could broaden our appeal and could be partnered with some local businesses.”
Mitchell thanked those who paved her way to her new job — including her most immediate predecessor.
“I’m thrilled to build on the strong foundation and excellent programming that already makes THT a cultural beacon for the community and beyond,” she said.
“I’m grateful to Mark Bradley, who worked very hard to enhance THT’s business operations. I also think he took risks, and moved forward some creative initiatives from spinning plates, a new folk music series, and his art exhibit, ‘The Making of a Graphic Novel,’ with Jeremy Holt. I thought that was all great stuff. I’m very thankful to him.”
Reporter John Flowers is at email@example.com.