Theater's new educator to lead youth programs

 

MIDDLEBURY — Addison County youth will increasingly take center stage in Middlebury’s Town Hall Theater (THT) thanks to a generous donation that has allowed the organization to hire an education director.

Douglas Anderson, THT executive director, this week announced the hiring of Westport, N.Y., resident Lindsay Pontius to a part-time educator’s position in which she will cultivate new youth programming for the next generation of aspiring actors and theater-goers.

The new job helps THT fill a conspicuous programming void at the town’s arts hub on Merchants Row.

“We have been doing offerings for kids very sporadically here for our first three years,” Anderson said.

While children have participated in such major recent productions as “The Music Man” and “The King and I,” Anderson acknowledged that THT hasn’t created “any systematic program for kids. And that hurts, because we know that kids around here are really crying out for performing arts and training.”

That hunger for youth programming was evidenced when more than 130 kids turned out to audition for “The Music Man,” he said.

Anderson said it quickly became clear THT needed a part-time person solely dedicated to creating and overseeing youth performing arts programs. That desired position became a reality when an anonymous donor stepped up with a $50,000, five-year grant to finance a part-time “education director.” THT officials then embarked on a search that yielded scores of applicants and culminated in the hiring of Pontius.

Pontius has been an actor, director and teacher for more than 25 years. She has been a teaching artist with Empire State Partnership for Arts-in-Education, and a presenter at regional conferences on best practices in school/museum partnerships and arts integration. She recently completed her doctorate in Leadership and Policy Studies at the University of Vermont.

Pontius started her career as an actor and director with Shakespeare & Co., based in the Berkshires of Massachusetts. It is a group that Pontius said is known for having strong in-school programs that instill theater appreciation in kids. She also operated her own group, “The Bigger Light Theater Co.,” which toured internationally.

Anderson said Pontius possesses all the qualities THT was looking for.

“We talked to a lot of people, and we were looking for a specific skill-set,” Anderson said. “Someone who had demonstrated an interest in, and who had worked with, kids, plus someone who had a legitimate theater background. We also wanted someone who could manage what will become its own large organization within this organization.”

That new organization is already being called “The Young Company.”

Pontius called her new job tailor-made for her to use her experience and new UVM degree. She sees three elements to her job that include working with THT to develop new youth offerings, associating with local educators to get theater programs started in the schools, and collaborating with local organizations on community service projects.

Anderson and Pontius stressed that the intent of this outreach is not to duplicate any drama-related programs currently ongoing in the schools and community, but to complement them.

“We can already sense that Lindsay is this great connector, that she can connect up a lot of energies that are already there,” Anderson said. “That’s what we really want to be.”

Pontius and other THT officials have already lined up three major youth programs for the summer. They include:

• “No Holds Bard,” a five-week offering for youths 12 to 17 that will feature instruction in stage voice, stage combat and slapstick in the production of a Shakespeare play, likely to be “As You Like It.”

• “The Actor’s Trunk,” for ages 8 to 11, a weeklong program for young aspiring actors.

• “The School of Rock & Roll.” A popular offering last year, THT will invite “The Grift,” Jer Coons and other accomplished local rock-and-rollers to work with middle- and high-school students on musicianship.

“Kids love to be challenged,” Anderson said of those offerings. “This isn’t just going to be summer camp.”

Plans call for some fall offerings that are still be fleshed out.

“I have high hopes for The Young Company,” Anderson said.

Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

 

 

 


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