New community theater ‘shows up’ with Anne of Green Gables musical

Picture this: The lights go dark on a theater packed with an eager audience, tension builds in the silence until places are taken and props set. Everyone is frozen; waiting for the cue to begin the scene.
How do you feel?
Some of us get knots in our stomach at the idea of performing, so we imagine ourselves in the audience; others put themselves behind the scenes. But for the theatrically inclined, well, they see themselves front-and-center on the stage.
The point is that everyone has a valuable roll in theater. Without the backstage hands the show would be a disorganized mess. Without the actors there would be no one to perform the story. And without the audience there would be no reason for all the effort.
Not everyone is made for the stage, but Jeffrey Fox, co-founder of the new community theater group Poor Lost Circus Performers, believes that community theater is made for everybody.
“Community theater is the most inclusive activity of all,” explained Fox, who was a player and artistic director for Burlington’s Lyric Theater Company in the ’90s. “As Syndi Zook, former executive director of Lyric Theatre Company says, ‘You don’t need to have any talent to be a part of community theater.’ What that means, to me, is that no matter who you are, what your abilities or limitations might be … if you show up and want to join, we’ll welcome you, give you something to do that you can succeed at, help you learn new skills, meet new people, contribute to the success of the undertaking, and — ideally — have a good time doing it.
“You don’t need to be able to carry a tune or a paintbrush, hit a baseball, play the piano, be heard at the back of the auditorium, or even believe anything other than that good things happen in the theater,” Fox continued. “If you make the choice to be there, you are welcome.”
But, there’s a problem when you live in a community that doesn’t have a community theater group. So when Fox, a resident of Charlotte, found out that nobody was doing community theater in the Vergennes Opera House he decided to do something about it.
With the help of Stacy Raphael — who started on the stage at five or six years old, received her bachelor’s in performing arts, founded Augenblick Theater Co. (a small, professional theater company in Vergennes) and has produced and directed many shows since — the two created Poor Lost Circus Performers.
Central to the group’s mission is to “fan every flame” that encourages community theater. That inspiration came from a talk Fox had with Middlebury’s Town Hall Theater Executive Director Doug Anderson way back in 2003. Now 15 years later, the Vergennes-based community theater group is finally producing its first show.
“We hope to be able to ‘grow the game’ by developing new talent, both onstage and off,” Fox said. “By finding a variety of ways for people to have fun, learn and add something in a safe and welcoming environment.”
What’s with the name: Poor Lost Circus Performers?
“Poor Lost Circus Performers is an homage to the movie ‘The Princess Bride,’” explained Fox, who bonded with his late wife Sue over this movie during their first date. “In one scene Vizzini (Wallace Shawn) says to Princess Buttercup (Robin Wright), ‘A word, my lady. We are but poor, lost circus performers. Is there a village nearby?’ before they kidnap her. I always thought that was a great name, and it’s a shout-out to my bride.”
Another shout-out to Fox’s bride is the first play that this new company is producing: “Anne of Green Gables — The Musical.” Set in late 19th century Prince Edward Island (PEI), Canada, this performance will go up on the Town Hall Theater stage this Friday through Sunday, March 16-18.
“Sue introduced our family to PEI and Anne … She took us to see ‘Anne of Green Gables’ in Charlottetown, and we talked about doing a production in Vermont sometime,” Fox remembered. “She died of cancer in the summer of 2015; this production is dedicated to her.”
A cast of 36 players, ranging in age from six to 76, will present this timeless tale of a spunky young orphan who rises from destitution to happiness on the farm owned by her new caretakers.
“In a word, ‘Anne of Green Gables’ is fun,” said stage manager Patricia Reid. “This production is chock full of talented and excited cast and crew … This play is sweet, it’s funny, it’s moving and it’s human.”
Reid, who recently moved to Addison, is new to theater, but says that she’s been welcomed with open arms to the Vermont theater community.
“Several times over the last few months I’ve found myself in a blissful state — fully aware that I’m taking part in something that captures the relationships between human beings both now in 2018, and back through time in the village of Avonlea,” she said. “Maybe I’m learning what the essence of theater is and why so many of us are drawn to it. I’d encourage locals to come and experience it for themselves.”
Right on. Raphael, a Vergennes resident and the producer of “Anne of Green Gables — The Musical,” agreed.
“It is even more critical in this fragmented, polarized world that we have opportunities to connect with other members of our community in an intergenerational, creative, generative way,” Raphael said. “Coming together to put on a show often feels daunting in the busy lives of Vermonters, but something radical begins to happen when a group of strangers make space to work toward a common task — especially one that has at its heart the aesthetic component of storytelling, music and dance … I’m grateful to live in such a vibrant little corner of the world and hope many people come out to get a dose of this important ‘medicine.’”

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