I don’t know anyone who gets nostalgic about an old television set when they go out and get a new one. While we may remember television shows fondly and watch "M*A*S*H" or "Taxi" over and over again, the television itself isn’t really something we think about.
Theaters are something else. I remember the first thrill of seeing "Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris" at the small and crowded Southern Vermont College theater. I also remember seeing Arthur Miller’s "A View From the Bridge" in the large and comfortable theater at the Bennington Center for the Arts. I remember seeing "Superman" with Christopher Reeves at the New Harte Theater on Main Street.
I’ve been in a lot of theaters over the years -- some good ones and some bad, and most of them memorable for some reason.
Theater is a social process. You share the experience of hearing live actors perform dialog conceived by a playwright. You are surrounded by others. You hear them laugh or gasp. Your reaction is going to be shaped by and shared with those around you, particularly if you are attending with a loved one or friend. The sign of an effective performance is people standing around afterwards talking about it. A friend commenting on a play he saw last year said, "It must have been better than I thought it was. My wife and I were still talking about it the next morning."
I’ve been a fan of Oldcastle Theatre Company for 33 years. I first saw "All My Sons" by Arthur Miller. I have seen almost all of the plays since then -- at SVC, BCA and a few at Bennington College. That’s one of the reasons I am now serving my third three-year term (after a break) on the Oldcastle Board of Trustees and have assumed the presidency once again.
This is why I am so excited about the upcoming opening of Oldcastle’s new space at 331 Main St. There is so much potential in this new location. Our building committee, staff and consultants have designed an innovative seating system that will make it possible to reshape the theater from time to time and experiment with new ways of staging productions. It will be less formal than the BCA and more comfortable than SVC. It has air conditioning and it has 138 seats, more or less. It will return Oldcastle to the intimacy of SVC. It will also allow for ingenuity and artistic breadth.
It will also bring Oldcastle downtown. The arts have been shown to enhance the economy of an area. When people go to the theater they often go out to dinner. Out-of-towners may stroll Main Street before an evening performance or after a matinee. With 75 percent of the audience coming from out of town, that will be a big boost for downtown.
It has been exciting to find almost universal praise for the move. We had a standing-room only crowd for the "Oldcastle Celebrates Downtown" cabaret last weekend. As we have solicited support from individuals and businesses, almost everyone we have approached has said yes. People keep asking: "when will you open?" Soon, for sure. Before the snow flies.
As we move forward Oldcastle will continue to call on the community for support. Although progress on our $1 million capital campaign is ahead of schedule, we still have further to go before we reach our goal. We’ll be asking businesses to advertise in our program book. We’ll be promoting our plays and building our local audience. We always need folks who are willing to host actors for five weeks (it’s lots of fun). There are other volunteer opportunities.
And, come to the theater. Enjoy the experience and the new theater space.
Charles R. Putney is president of Oldcastle Theatre Company. He is a consultant to nonprofit organizations. He lives in Bennington.