BENNINGTON — Oldcastle Theatre Company, which like many other performing arts groups across the country was forced to cancel its season last year because of the coronavirus pandemic, will produce a three-show summer season, the organization announced.
“We’re just super excited,” artistic director Nathan Stith said in a phone interview on Monday.
The first performance is slated for July 9, according to the announcement, which said the company is “finalizing details” with Actors’ Equity Association, the union that represents stage actors and managers, and plans to formally unveil more specifics about the season in mid-May. Tickets will go on sale at that time through oldcastletheatre.org.
The company cited increasing vaccination numbers as a factor in the decision.
“We have been working incredibly hard over the past year to get ready for the return of live theatre,” Stith, who became Oldcastle’s artistic director in March 2020, said in the news release.
Last year, the company already had planned a season, hired designers and actors and begun union negotiations when the pandemic stopped everything, Stith said.
The company kept busy during the pandemic by embarking on an online collaboration with the Bennington Performing Arts Center — the company’s home at 331 Main St. — and Bennington College in the fall, revamping the company’s website to make it more user friendly and developing long-term plans for BPAC and Oldcastle in downtown Bennington, according to the release.
Paycheck Protection Program loans and other government grants helped the organization pay bills and salaries to retain employees, Stith said.
Stith said keeping artists, employees and audiences safe is a top priority as the company returns to live theater. BPAC won a $20,160 grant to cover the cost of new heat pumps that are equipped with a self-cleaning feature.
“The improvements we’ve made to our HVAC system will not only decrease our yearly utility costs, but will also improve the circulation throughout our building, and in particular our theatre space, which will make it a safer place to be this summer,” BPAC executive director Jennifer Jasper said in the release.
The theater intends to follow safety guidelines set by the Vermont Health Department and Actors’ Equity Association. Audience members will be required to wear masks while inside the building, there will be cleanings between performances and actors will always be at least 10 feet from the audience.
Tickets will be lower this year — $25 for all performances. Stith called that change a “pretty easy decision,” one intended to make shows more accessible and bring in new audiences. Each production will have a pay-what-you-can night, too, he said.
The company also sees the pricing change as a gift to the community, Stith said, explaining that the organization is grateful that donations have not dropped off very much despite the previous season’s cancellation.
The three-show season is a shorter run than usual, Stith said, adding that the company hopes to do a full holiday show in November and December.
On a personal note, Stith said he has not set foot in a rehearsal room in about one year — a gap he has not experienced since he was 7 years old.
The artistic director said he is eager to return to working with actors and designers and that “the hardest part” has been missing out on connecting with audiences.