Oldcastle Theatre cancels summer season

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BENNINGTON — Oldcastle Theatre Company has joined a lengthening list of regional artistic organizations canceling the 2020 season because of the coronavirus epidemic.

Nathan Stith, the theater company's interim artistic director, said Monday in a release, "After careful consideration, we have made the heartbreaking decision that the only responsible action is to postpone Oldcastle Theatre Company's 2020 Summer Season."

He added, "We aren't going away; this is just a pause. Oldcastle Theatre Company is a vibrant contributor to the culture of Bennington, Vermont, and we plan on continuing that legacy for many years to come. We are looking for creative ways to connect digitally with our audiences in the interim and already have some exciting plans in place for our return to the stage in 2021."

Unfortunately, Stith said "due to the multitude of factors, we cannot definitively say when we will be back, other than to state unequivocally that we will be back with live, professional theater in downtown Bennington as soon as we can."

"In the meantime, we are returning to the theater and working on putting the performance space back together after the roof replacement in April and the closure during May," said Jennifer Jasper, interim executive director of the Bennington Performing Arts Center at 331 Main St., the theater's home.

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"We are looking over the procedures we will need to have in place to ensure the safety of our patrons, staff and artists before we reopen to the public for any live or recorded performances," Jasper said.

Stith said that "in the wake of the COVID-19 virus, and the closure of all non-essential businesses, the leadership team and staff at Oldcastle Theatre Company have been working tirelessly to explore different options in order to move forward with a professional season during the summer of 2020 once it was safe to do so. We surveyed our patrons, consulted with Actors' Equity Association, the union for stage actors, and engaged in numerous conversations with our staff and executive board of directors. We believe strongly in the power of theater to bring people together, but we acknowledge that in our current reality, gathering together in a shared space is simply not possible."

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Oldcastle had three plays selected for our summer season, Stith said, "and the dates were finalized, we secured the rights to all three productions; we were in negotiations with Actors' Equity Association and making offers to several actors, directors and designers when we had to cease operations."

He added, "We'd like to hold off on announcing those titles because we are hoping to include at least some of them in our 2021 season stay tuned!"

Both Stith and Jasper were hired earlier this year during what was expected to be a "significant period of transition," according to the release. The changes followed the resignation in February of founder and longtime artistic director Eric Peterson, who cited disagreements with the board over the focus and direction of the theater company.

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"While this wasn't the season any of us was expecting," Stith said in the release, "the leadership team, the entire BPAC staff, and with the backing of the board of directors, fully support this decision and are committed to continuing to bring live, professional theater to the Southern Vermont region."

The arts center "is continuing to explore options to reopen our facility and bring live performance back to downtown through the Bennington Community Theater and other programming," the release stated. "The health and safety of everyone who enters our doors is our top priority, and we are working hard to ensure that when it is safe, Oldcastle Theatre Company and BPAC will be ready to once again be a gathering place for live performance in our community."

Jasper said the center is "exploring a variety of online programming and platforms. Later this month we will be streaming a live at-home version of 'Family Affair — Cabaret Served up Family Style' with local guests performing. It will be a benefit for [the arts center]. We have the final installment of 'Shots with Shakespeare' -- an online feature of Bennington Community Theater, this Saturday. We hope to team up with our local favorites to offer up music and more as the summer goes on."

Jim Therrien writes for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont, including the Bennington Banner, Brattleboro Reformer and Manchester Journal. Twitter: @BB_therrien


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