by David Kelley
There are forces within cities and towns that are, in some ways, similar to the forces of nuclear physics. Either by accident or design, communities can achieve a critical mass of talent, common interests and ideas that will set off a chain reaction. Unlike the destruction that can be wrought by enriched uranium, the enriched human counterpart usually produces an explosion of creativity. In recent history, Paris in the 1920s, Hollywood in the 1930s, and Greenwich Village in the 1960s are examples of the explosions of creativity that can be set off by a critical mass of talent. That phenomenon rarely occurs in a rural environment. But sometimes it can happen in the most unlikely of places.
Greensboro, Vermont, is a town with a population of approximately 750 people. Nevertheless, Greensboro is at the epicenter of an arts explosion in the Northeast Kingdom. One of the more critical pieces of mass is Lake Caspian, which in the past has been a summer home for theater greats such as Greta Garbo and Eric von Stroheim. It has been the place where writers such as Wallace Stegner and John Gunther came to restore their creative juices and where a wide assortment of professors from Northwestern University, the University of Wisconsin, Princeton and Harvard came to rest, relax and contemplate universal truths. Recently it has given birth to Caspian Arts, a unique artists collective, and it has become home to an eclectic array of nationally recognized artists such as Marion Stegner, Devin Burgess, Jerilyn Virden and Paul Gruhler, to name just a few.
Some of the energy has been generated by Circus Smirkus, with a new multi million dollar campus in Greensboro, and a host of talented performers and artists from all over the world. Circus Smirkus attracts talent and cultivates it, sending some, such as Molly Saudek and Dan Brown, on to fame in Paris and Hollywood. Next door, in tiny Craftsbury, is the Music Box, which every month draws musicians from around the Northeast. Up the road is Sterling College, which draws an eclectic faculty and a student body on the cutting edge of farming. And then there is Pete’s Green’s, Jasper Hill Cheese, and Hill Farmstead Brewery, bringing home worldwide recognition for their artisanship in the food and beverage industry.
Amid these fertile fields, the Greensboro Arts Alliance and Residency, an offspring of the Mirror Repertory Company of New York City, has found a home. The Mirror Repertory Company, originally founded in 1983 by Sabra Jones, is the spiritual successor to Harold Clurman’s Group Theatre and Eva Le Gallienne’s Civic Repertory. The founding initiative was spearheaded by the legendary philanthropist, Laurance S. Rockefeller, and received additional endowments from, among many others, Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino, Dina Merrill, Kitty Carlisle Hart and Paul Newman.
For the last 10 years the Greensboro Arts Alliance and Residency has brought a breath of fresh mountain air to the American theater community by bringing outstanding actors, actresses and musicians to the shores of Lake Caspian each summer to hone their art. During the last few years the alliance has sponsored productions of “The Music Man,” “Our Town,” “Miracle Worker,” and “Carousel” under a tent on the town green bringing renowned actors such as Golden Globe nominee Tina Chen and Tony nominee Marla Schaffel to the Green Mountains.
This summer, the group’s productions will include “Hamlet,” “Kiss Me Kate”, “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead,” and “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.” Performances will begin July 23 and will run through August 15. The Greensboro Arts Alliance will be sponsoring a square dance on the town green on the evening of July 4 and a writers’ conference from August 12 to 21. Additionally, the alliance will be bringing Vermont’s own Chris Bowen, creative director of Blue Man Group, to direct “Kiss Me Kate,” with Brandy Burre, star of HBO’s “The Wire” as Bianca. “Hamlet” will star Nicole Ansari-Cox as Queen Gertrude and Charles McAteer, also from Vermont and a Broadway veteran, as Hamlet. The artistic director, Sabra Jones, directs. Ansari-Cox’s husband, the celebrated British actor Brian Cox, will be working with the Greensboro audience on opening weekend during his wonderful lecture “Shakespeare for Toddlers.” He will make us all worthy of the Royal Shakespeare Company in only an hour.
The music director for this summer’s performances and for the new theater will be Justin Jacobs, an accomplished director from Australia.
Importantly, the arts alliance’s days of “camping out” under a tent on the town green will soon be over. This summer, on July 29, the organization is scheduled to break ground on a new permanent home in Greensboro. Designed by H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture of New York City, the Greensboro Arts Alliance’s new home will be an Elizabethan-style theater, patterned after Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, with 21st-century design and amenities. It is anticipated that the theater will offer a resource to local high schools, colleges and the communities around Greensboro for concerts, musical performances and theater productions in a year-round facility.
It is unlikely that Greensboro, Vermont, will send out shock waves of creativity like Memphis in the 1950s or Liverpool in the 1960s, but more than ever the town is likely to be a place where the arts will flourish and where talent in music and theater come home to study, rest and grow. For the young people fortunate enough to grow up in the area, the new theater holds the promise of providing opportunities in the arts comparable to the most cosmopolitan cities in the world.
Great music, a great theater, a great circus, great beer, great cheese, great salads and a great lake. It’s hard to beat.
For more information about the Greensboro Arts Alliance and Residency and 2015 summer program go to http://www.mirrorarts.org/2015.