“My goal is to invite new people - artists and audiences alike - to join the conversation,” says Susanna Gellert, the new executive artistic director of Weston Playhouse. “Because of its close ties to the community, the high quality of its productions, the deep and rigorous curiosity of its audiences, and the priority it places on young and experimenting writers, I am very excited to lead this the- after.”
Those words reveal Susanna’s energy, enthusiasm, and artistic vision for the expansion of the popular, award-winning theater in Southern Ver- mont, perfectly matching its mission is to “celebrate the American musical and classic dramas alongside new works by contemporary authors.”
And expanding it is!
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Weston Playhouse began as a small local the- ater in 1935 during the Great Depression when a Weston-born architect named Raymond Austin put the finishing touches on a playhouse The Boston Globe called “the most beautiful theatre in New England.” Located in a renovated church used by the town’s drama club, the playhouse quickly caught the eye of director Harlan Grant, who produced the theater’s first summer stock season in 1937, starring Lloyd Bridges.
The company quickly flourished, launching the careers of many talented artists. Musicals were added to the playhouse’s offerings. A cabaret and restaurant soon followed. Owned by the Weston Community Association, the playhouse was rented by the theatre company during the summer with support from the community. This model continued through the 1940s. In 1962, a fire destroyed the original Greek- revival building. The 1970s brought flooding. Hurricane Irene famously flooded the space in 2011. But like a Phoenix rising, the theatre was restored after each crisis.
In 1988, three former artistic directors, concerned about the rising costs of running the professional theatre, reorganized Weston Playhouse as a non- profit Equity company. Since then, it has been home to a family of artists that includes actors, producers, directors, and others from New York and Vermont. Their collective engagement and investment in the future of the playhouse led to new play and musical development. Some works were experimental and some, like the highly successful play Oslo - written in part at Weston - went on to receive great acclaim.
In 2017, Weston Playhouse at Walker Farm opened. The year-round facility, with a new state-of-the-art building can now advance the theater’s new play and musical development programs. “Our New Works Program values the idea that when we nurture new writing, we are also nurturing new, original points of view,” says Gellert, who has an MFA in directing from Yale University and worked in the New York theatre scene before coming to Weston.
The New Works Program, which has been supported by various foundations, the National Endowment for the Arts, and others, began about 15 years ago and is now nationally recognized. It provides artists with a quiet place to work away from New York. Grounded in the belief that time and space are essential to cre- ativity, the program welcomes new ideas expressed in various performing arts.
The 2016 New Music Award winner, Kirsten Child, saw her western musical open at New York’s Play- wrights Horizons’ Mainstage Theater in 2017, and two writers from previous artist retreats at Weston recently won the American Theatre Wing Jonathan Larson Grants award.
In 2018, Weston inaugurated its Fall New Works Festival, which provides a stage for projects that are ready for a first encounter with an audience. Artists come to Weston for four days of rehearsal before a ticketed staged reading of their work. Several projects participate in the festival, which generates conversation between artists and audiences. “We like to nurture the curiosity and interest that are the hallmark of our community by sharing unique points of view and styles of work,” Susanna explains. That’s why after each reading a member of Weston’s artistic staff leads a conversation with the audience that produces dialogue about questions raised by the work’s subject matter.
Weston offers artist retreats for up to 10 artists who are working on projects during a fully funded week- long retreat, which aims to give artists the necessary time and space to discover, process, and develop their work. Artists receive support from the theater’s artistic staff and can request technical and material resources specific to their creative needs. At the end of the week, artists are invited to share a selection of their work and process in a free showing for Weston’s audience. The Weston Playhouse’s commitment to establishing a genuinely comprehensive Center for the Arts is also reflected in their educational programs for students of all ages. The elementary school program “Early Stages” brings artists to K–5 classrooms to lead students in performing selections from material based on a family-friendly show that opens the summer season each year. Performances can also be based on students’ own writing. Summer programs also serve middle and high school students. The Middle School Program includes summer theatre labs and a theatre camp, and the Young Playwrights Festival for High Schoolers provides wide-ranging and inviting opportunities for older students.
A new project under development, “Vermont 100,” will invite a writer to be in residence in Weston during the theater’s summer subscription season. The resident playwright will be provided with housing, transportation, and a weekly salary as well as resources such as a private workspace and directorial support to enable continued work on a new play. A company of professional actors will read the resident’s work on stage. Additionally, the resident artist will hold one-on-one inter- views with a small group of local people in order to create new short works based on the interviews. Audiences will then be invited to a free workshop presentation of the project.
“Weston Playhouse Theatre is at a thrilling turning point, having built a strong foundation over the years that includes exceptional work, engaged audiences, and brave exploration. I joined Weston to be in an artistic environment where the work of the theatre was deeply connected to the surrounding community and to make art in a place where artists and audiences care about each other,” says Susanna with obvious excitement. “As we move into the future, we can look forward to deepening that connection as we introduce new artists, new audiences, and new stories to our stages.”
Elayne Clift writes about the arts and other topics from Saxtons River, VT.
For more about her work, visit
Weston Playhouse Theatre Company
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