Mark Bradley to take stage as new THT director
MIDDLEBURY — Town Hall Theater (THT) officials cast a nationwide net in their search for a new executive director.
They ended up hiring a man who currently lives around 90 minutes away from Middlebury.
Mark Bradley, currently assistant director of the Lebanon (N.H.) Opera House, will on Aug. 8 begin his new job as the THT’s top administrator. He will succeed Doug Anderson, who will transition to a newly created position of “artistic director” for the historic performing arts center on Middlebury’s Merchants Row.
“Coming to visit really sealed the deal for me,” Bradley said of his recent interview with THT officials. “(Middlebury) looked like a place where I would want to live and work. The people I met were amazing. I think the board and staff are exceptionally creative and smart. I was totally blown away by what they’ve been able to accomplish during the past 10 years the theater has been in operation.”
Bradley, 35, has worked for the Lebanon Opera House for the past two-and-a-half years. His duties there include managing the box office, fundraising and overseeing the front of the house. The opera house is an 800-seat performing arts center and holds the distinction of being the largest proscenium theater in the Upper Connecticut River Valley. It was built in 1924 and began its life as a vaudeville theater, community gathering place, and city hall.
The venue currently hosts an eclectic mix of entertainment, from rollicking musicals like Footloose to renowned performers such as Stephen Stills, Judy Collins and bluesman Buddy Guy.
Swift House Inn Co-Owner Dan Brown chaired the THT Executive Director Search Committee. He said 29 people applied for the THT’s top administrative post, of which eight were interviewed by phone and three were brought in for face-to-face dialogues with the search committee.
Brown and Anderson said Bradley quickly emerged as the logical selection due to his proven management skills, his toil at a community-centered arts organization similar to THT, his experience as a musical performer, and his familiarity with the Northeast.
“We’re really excited and think he’ll be a great fit,” Brown said.
Anderson is particularly excited about Bradley’s ability to crunch numbers. The THT is steadily becoming a bigger operation. Anderson has often reminded the theater’s board of directors that his strengths are acting in and directing stage performances.
In a perfect world, Anderson would have limited his title to artistic director when the THT opened around a decade ago. But a tight budget required him to take on both the artistic and administrative chores for what was then a fledgling organization.
Thanks to a growing endowment fund that currently stands at $1.7 million en route to a $2.5 million goal, THT is now able to bankroll both an executive director and artistic director, with Anderson gratefully moving into the latter position.
“My joke is I’m firing myself as executive director,” Anderson said. “I feel if this thing we created is going to survive, we need somebody who’s a much better manager than I am, somebody who not only can prepare a budget, but who actually enjoys it. And I’ve never been really good at all that stuff. I’m a creative guy; I was trained to be a director and an actor. I think my real value to the theater is upstairs in the theater, and not sitting behind a desk.”
Bradley won’t merely be sitting behind a desk — he’ll also have his fingers firmly on THT’s financial pulse.
“He has an MBA and understands spreadsheets,” Anderson said. “He’s a real professional arts manager, and yet he’s also someone who understands the value of community, the value of having a very diverse season serving all kinds of people. That just came through loud and clear (during his interview).”
Bradley has always been interested in the performing arts and got his first taste of stage work while in high school in the Chazy area of upper New York state.
“I found that being on stage, back stage and working on theater craft was like a second home to me,” he said.
Bradley was — and is — an outstanding clarinetist, having studied and played the instrument during his college years at McGill University in Montreal. There he studied clarinet and orchestral performance as an undergrad. He remained at McGill to earn a Master’s degree in chamber music performance.
Upon graduation, Bradley played clarinet professionally, performing regularly with the Nouvel Ensemble Moderne and other Quebec-based groups.
He enjoyed performing, but found himself increasingly interested in what it takes to stage a play, concert or musical.
“I started to find that I was enjoying the act of putting on the shows at least as interesting and fulfilling as actually playing in the shows,” he said.
He further cultivated that “behind the scenes” interest during a brief stint as a booking agent and consultant for Latitude 45 Arts Promotions, Inc., a boutique Canadian music agency.
“I realized at that point that the writing was on the wall that theater administration would be a fun thing for me to go into,” Bradley said.
After a brief engagement freelancing in Washington State, Bradley in 2013 moved to Toronto to enroll at York University’s Schulich School of Business. There he earned a Master of Business Administration with a Graduate Diploma in Arts and Media Administration.
With valuable work experience and a solid educational background, Bradley in 2016 moved to Lebanon, N.H. to take the opera house position.
He has in recent months been looking for a new professional challenge. He saw an ad for the THT job.
“This Middlebury opportunity seemed really exciting,” Bradley said.
ON TO MIDDLEBURY
It’s a job that gives Bradley top placement on the management marquee of a community theater for the first time in his young career. It also places him closer to his parents, who still reside in the nearby Adirondacks region of New York.
While Bradley had never been to Middlebury prior to his THT interview, the community already feels like home. And he’s impressed with the way THT has become a big part of Middlebury’s community fabric, through locally produced shows and its strong partnerships with area theater/opera/musical groups, businesses, and residents passionate about the performing arts.
His hiring coincides with THT’s acquisition of the adjacent Diner property on Merchants Row. Plans ultimately call for the old restaurant building to be cleared to make way for a theater addition to create more rehearsal and storage space. In the meantime, THT officials want the Diner structure to house one or more pop-up businesses.
“The sky’s the limit with a place like that,” Bradley said of the flexibility the adjacent property gives the THT.
He won’t be starting his new job for another month, but Bradley already has a few ideas to expand THT’s appeal. For example, he’d like the theater to become more of a destination for touring musicians. The Lebanon Opera House has been quite successful attracting some well-known acts looking for a little gas money in between more lucrative gigs.
“The economics are kind of tough (at THT) with fewer than 300 seats, but there might be some artists coming through where I think we could make it work,” he said.
Like most theater folks, Bradley is used to putting in many hours and expects to have a rigorous schedule at the helm of the THT.
“It’s fine,” he said. “It doesn’t feel like work most of the time.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]
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