Editor’s note: The following is the third of a four part Advocate series following Oldcastle Theatre Company’s transition to its new home in downtown Bennington, Vt. Look for the fourth and final installment previewing Oldcastle’s entire 2012-13 season in November.
BENNINGTON -- Oldcastle Theatre Company co-founder and artistic director Eric Peterson listened to the construction ruckus from the stairwell outside his office and smiled, even though time is getting short. Now that the planning for his upcoming stage season is firmed up, and its opening night is set for early December, his company is in a race.
"We only have two months to wrap this work, and to get our opening play out on the stage," Peterson said. "But this is good, because more than ever before we’ve witnessed the power of togetherness in our community, not just to keep Oldcastle here in town, but to have it flourish as never before."
A venerable stage
Established in 1972, Oldcastle is a professional Equity theater that has produced more than 300 plays. The company began as a traveling act for two years, then staged its plays in the historic Everett Mansion at Southern Vermont College before settling at the Bennington Center for the Arts for the last two decades.
Oldcastle has presented original work on Vermont Public Television, performed for the Vermont Legislature, toured with the Vermont Bicentennial Play, and won awards from the New England Theatre Conference and the Vermont Arts Council.
Its new home at the old Knights of Columbus building on Main St. was provided through the generosity of the Goldberg family, owner of the eponymous home supply businesses in Bennington and North Adams.
Trustee president Charles Putney said the work is starting to take shape, and with multiple contractors on site pushing for completion in time for the December opening, co-operation and results are the order of the day.
"We will have a flexible performing space that can be configured as a proscenium, arena, or three quarters. The seating will vary from 130 or so to approximately 150 which is, we think, an ideal size," he said.
Oldcastle will use its new home to offer a range of programs for youth, seniors, amateur actors and playwrights, Peterson added. The building will also be the base for Oldcastle Actors’ Express, a popular touring company that visits schools across the tri-state region with interactive programs that are relevant to children and educators.
"We already several arts organizations that have agreed to perform here, and there is interest on multiple artistic and education fronts in usage of the new space," he said.
Current projects in Oldcastle’s new downtown home are not reserved to the actual theater performing space. In addition to complete renovation of numerous bathroom facilities and building compliance with ADA guidelines, several thousand square feet are being morphed into brand new rehearsal spaces which can also accommodate dance, a props and costume workshop complete with storage, meeting rooms, and a lighting and sound booth.
Peterson said the entire project, which won’t see all phases complete until early 2013, will cost about $1.1 million.
"We’ve had quite a few six-figure gifts, and none of this would be possible without that level of generosity," he said. "But just as important is the other kind of largesse that has just blown us away with each passing week."
Peterson explained he was referring to the steadily increasing volunteer hours and in-kind donations Oldcastle has seen throughout this entire process. This, he added, has even extended to the builders on site. To date four different contractors have donated some portion of their labor costs and some materials in support of the project.
Robert Moriarty, president of Moriarty & Associates LLC, a construction company from North Bennington, was present to inform Peterson that his firm would donate the expense of all waste material removal from the site.
"The Oldcastle project was very important to us for far more than the contract awarded on these renovations," Moriarty said while monitoring progress in the new green room. "In a community, citizens must do their part. Everyone benefits from Oldcastle in their midst, because theater is a cultural multiplier. And when the arts are strong, so is business. We are all neighbors here, so just doing the work isn’t enough. We must give back, too."
Peterson concurred by emphasizing that the move to a new location has been both labor and education.
"There is so much going on between facility construction and artistic programming and development," Peterson said. "But what we never expected was the largesse of so many people, and the willingness to band together. This is something that was lost on us after so many years housed outside of town. Here, though, the energy surrounds us every day. And that will show when the curtain rises on our first opening night."
Telly Halkias is an award-winning freelance journalist. Email: email@example.com.