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The stage is set for a new Williston community theater

Williston Community Theatre players — from left to right, Alexis Suker, Grace Freeman, Sean Reeks, Helen Weston and Gloria Kamencik — prepare to perform ‘Tales and Things,’ a musical written by Douglas Anderson, artistic director of the Opera Company of Middlebury and the Middlebury Town Hall Theater.  COURTESY PHOTO BY KENNETH JANSON

Inaugural performance coming in June

BY SUSAN COTE

Observer Staff

Theater for the community and by the community is the goal of the newly established Williston Community Theatre. 

June 23-25 will mark the first production staged by the entity, a musical titled “Tales and Things,” written by Douglas Anderson, the artistic director of the Opera Company of Middlebury and Middlebury Town Hall Theater.

“Tales and Things” – about a monster who doesn’t want to be one anymore and is looking for friends – will delight children and adults alike, according to theater founder, Helen Weston. Written in the late 1970s, the musical has been performed just twice before.

Weston envisioned the community theater as the second phase of the First: Earth Project, the nonprofit she launched in 2021. 

First: Earth Project aims to combine awareness and protection of the natural environment with community building through the performing arts and educational programming. 

The initial phase of the nonprofit commenced last year with the First: Earth Summer Series, a variety of arts performances offered throughout the summer at the Isham Family Farm. Profits netted from ticket sales in 2021 were donated to Audubon Vermont.

In 2022, profits from summer performances will be directed to the Vermont Center for Ecostudies, an organization that advances the conservation of wildlife across the Americas through research, monitoring and community engagement.

Going forward, a community theater production will be part of each summer season.

Weston sees community theater as a way to bring Williston together, to connect neighbors at a deeper level.

“I really feel strongly that the arts can have a huge impact in a small town,” said Weston. “It definitely connects our community through either involvement in the arts or the attendance of people coming to the arts…. It inspires and energizes our youth, especially if they’re given a theatrical opportunity.”

The first time Weston was on stage in community theater was as an eight-year-old growing up in Bristol, VT.  She noted the annual production was a huge event every year and the whole town came out for it. 

“In Bristol we always looked forward to the community theater show …. My goal is that [Williston Community Theatre] will become a tradition that the town looks forward to every year,” said Weston.

About 40 volunteers are putting on this show, including the cast of seven and a core crew, as well as volunteers each night handling parking and ticketing. Behind the scenes, the Williston-Richmond Rotary club and two local businesses, Vermont Construction and Wild Hart Distillery, are sponsoring the production.

“I’m delighted because it goes right back to our mission/vision value statement of bringing our community together,” said Weston.

“Tales and Things” will be performed three times over three days. Opening night on Thursday, June 23 will be an adults-only gala featuring a pre-show cocktail by Wild Hart Distillery, a silent auction, the Blue Moon Jazz Trio and an opportunity to hear from lyricist/composer Anderson.  

All ages will be welcomed to the Friday evening performance. Saturday’s youth matinee will include pre-show face painting, balloon animals, clowns and more.

Weston’s major in college was piano performance and she will provide piano accompaniment for the performances. 

But Weston says the biggest role for her is to be a positive spokesperson for the community theater. “One of my skills is to bring people openheartedly together for something fun.” 

In 2023, the nonprofit’s third year, Weston plans to launch the First: Earth Youth Community Theatre, which she imagines will take the form of a performance that is rehearsed over a series of weeks or a weeklong summer camp or both. “I definitely see them combining with our adult productions,” she added.

Tickets for “Tales and Things” and information on other 2022 performances can be found at: https://ishamfamilyfarm.com/firstearth-summer-series/