A.R.T. marking 20 years of teaching stagecraft

MIDDLEBURY — The Addison Repertory Theater (ART) will hold a gala and masquerade ball at the Vergennes Opera House at 7 p.m. on Saturday, June 6, to mark two decades of minting new actors and theater technicians and to raise money to replenish a scholarship fund honoring one of the program’s beloved founders, Candace Burkle.
“It should be a lot of fun,” said Steven Small, who with Burkle became the founding teachers and directors of ART back in the fall of 1994. The program was the brainchild of local playwright Dana Yeaton, with the goal of becoming an intensive high school offering to give students the collective skills to run a small professional theater company, according to the ART website.
Twenty years later, Small believes ART is definitely hitting its marks in its space within the Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center. Burkle tragically lost her battle with cancer in 2011, but her energy and ability to inspire students still resonates, according to Small and his spouse, Shannon Bohler-Small, who is an ART Advisory Board member and organizer of the June 6 gala.
“She not only educated students, she shared their spirit,” Bohler-Small said of Burkle.
The couple expects the gala to attract a broad scope of people, including of course various ART alums who are either working professionally in TV, film or theater, or who credit the program for laying a solid foundation for other pursuits. Those alums include Quincy Dunn-Baker, a successful theater and TV actor in New York City, and Vanessa Dunleavy, a New York actor who last month played the lead in the musical “My Post-Traumatic Cruise Ship Cabaret” that garnered rave reviews at Middlebury’s Town Hall Theater.
Jake Lacy, another alum, was a character in the last season of the popular NBC TV series “The Office,” and has appeared in the HBO comedy “Girls.”
But Small noted that ART has done more than chart a path for  aspiring stage actors.
The program has turned out successful theater costume designers, technical directors, stage managers and educators. Small noted ART has for more than a decade boasted a 100-percent placement record for students going on to post-secondary programs in technical theater and acting.
The staff currently consists of Small, English teacher Sheena Strada, and Robin Huestis, who offers technical theater and costume design instruction. Technical theater students focus on lights, sound, costume, sets, and hair and make-up. Performance theater students learn the craft of acting, as well as movement, voice, character connection and research. These students also learn how to create scripts and dissect information as actors. 
All students are required to create a comprehensive portfolio containing the students’ best work in addition to assignments from their home schools, which include Mount Abraham, Middlebury and Vergennes onion high schools. ART also accepts tuitioned students from outside of Addison County.
Folks will be able to see the fruits of the current students’ labor on Thursday, May 21, and Friday, May 22, at 7 p.m. at the ART’s space in the career center off Charles Avenue in Middlebury. The group will be staging “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged),” a comedic offering.
The gala/masquerade ball will include food and music from the band Crazy Hearse. Admission for this fund-raising event will be $50 per couple, $30 per individual, and $20 for students. Proceeds will go toward the Candace Burkle Spirit Scholarship (which has unfortunately run out of funds), as well as help the ART’s “Legacy Fund,” which offsets some of the program’s production costs.
More than 400 students have gone through the ART program during the past 20 years, so organizers are hoping for a good turnout.
“We keep telling them that it’s the high school reunion they want to come to,” Bohler-Small said with a smile.
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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