BRATTLEBORO—Along with the number of in-person programs returning to the region after a long hiatus, New England Youth Theatre is moving indoors this fall.
The theater is welcoming students back to the theater this fall with classes and workshops for students aged 6 to 19.
This season’s offerings will explore all aspects of theater-making, with many different options to choose from in costuming, acting, set design, improv, sound and lighting design, and prop design and creation.
The stand-alone workshops are shorter this season.
“We’re baby-stepping toward live audiences indoors, vaccinated and masked,” said Hallie Flower, the theater’s executive director. “We’re getting better at pandemic programming.”
The theater had been in constant production for 21 years straight until it went dark in spring of 2020. They moved online to continue offering certain programs such as radio drama playwriting festivals on YouTube and Facebook and once weather allowed, put up a tent for outdoor productions (including a musical theater cabaret) on the lawn as well as conducted rehearsals and workshops outside. The theater’s student pit band, in collaboration with the Brattleboro Music Center, returned for the cabaret as well.
“We got accustomed (to performing) in mud and wind,” said Flower.
Two mainstage productions are happening this fall: “Buried Moon,” (ages 9 to 12), based on the old English fairy tale, and newly adapted for the stage by Putnam Smith, combines drama and comedy, magical and mysterious characters, with a touch of horror in honor of Halloween.
The second is a holiday show: Disney’s musical, “Beauty and the Beast” will culminate the season after having been cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic.
New England Youth Theatre was founded by Stephen Stearns, who, according to its website, imagined a theater community “of, by, and for” young people that fosters collaboration between youth and professional mentorship. The theater has grown from inhabiting a small restaurant with 30 young actors creating a production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” to a company of 500 students and more than 50 theater mentors/professionals engaged in all aspects of theater making in its Flat Street facility. The types of theater young people can participate in at New England Youth Theatre include original, popular and holiday musicals, serious dramas, children’s book adaptations, and summer Shakespeare.
The theater’s professional apprentice program, a grant-funded program founded a few years ago, is designed to connect students with the region’s theater and theater-related professionals through personalized advanced instruction.
“We feel committed to developing a relationship with the region’s artists—designers, musicians, acting teachers, musical theater directors, choreographers, scenic painters,” said Flower. There are a lot of new artists in town, she added, who migrated to the area because of the pandemic.
The cast and audience will be limited compared to non-pandemic seasons (25 cast members as opposed to 100 and about 60 audience members as opposed 144, the theater’s capacity).
The full apprenticeship program will return in the spring, but this fall it will be spread out over three and a half months. In a regular season, there are normally more than 50 visiting artists working with students, but that number will also be reduced this season.
“It’s a nice student/teacher ratio—we’re excited to get that back,” said Flower. “We are figuring out how to do it safely and feel good about building both these shows.”
While it will be a pared-down season because of continued restrictions, she added each program continues to offer students more familiarity with the audience and performance experience, whether by getting them onstage or working with indoor lighting and sound systems and doing design and production.
“The first days when students came back to campus was the best thing ever,” said Flower about the start of the fall season. “The kids are here, they’re together making great stories, beautiful art and having a good time. We’re so grateful and happy about it.”
For more information on New England Youth Theatre’s fall programming, visit www.neyt.org or call 802-246-6398. New England Youth Theatre is located at 100 Flat Street, Brattleboro.