New director aims to amp up music at Town Hall Theater

MIDDLEBURY — At Town Hall Theater’s 10th birthday party this summer, incoming executive director Mark Bradley took the stage, introduced himself and issued an open invitation for coffee and chatting.
“I have had a lot of coffees since then,” said Bradley, who joined THT in August and sees caffeinated confabbing as part and parcel of the job.
So what are people chatting about?
“If a single theme has emerged it has been around moving more into music,” Bradley said.
Upcoming musical programming at THT includes an evening of holiday favorites by the Glenn Miller Orchestra, New Year’s Eve with the Horse Traders and singer-songwriter Dar Williams in February. Bradley plans to expand those offerings and bring new music to the stage, including programming geared more toward younger audiences.
“We (at THT) kind of determined that for season planning, the best role that I could play would be to focus on getting some more music in here,” Bradley said.
On that, Bradley hopes to make some exciting new announcements in the near future, he added, perhaps after the first of the year.
Bradley’s coffee meetings have also produced a lot of daydreaming and brainstorming about THT’s recent purchase of the building next door, which used to house The Diner, and before that, Steve’s Park Diner.
“I’ve gotten lots of terrific ideas about how to use the Diner space,” he said. “Enough to fill the calendar.”
Town Hall Theater purchased the Diner for $300,000 in June. THT officials have hinted that some sort of eatery could fit into the organization’s long-term plans for the space, but until then diners will have to look elsewhere.
“Middlebury could really use a cheap breakfast spot in this particular location, and we would love to find a way to bring that back, but the kitchen facilities were not in good shape and most of it had to come out,” Bradley said. Running a diner would have required a huge investment, one that THT didn’t see as the best use of its resources, he added.
For now, “our number-one goal is to get the place opened back up so the community can start using it,” Bradley said. 
THT, which has struggled with a shortage of space since it opened, has hired experts to help administrators reconceive and reconfigure the Diner building to house additional classroom and office spaces, plus an event space and perhaps even a bar.
“Our ultimate strategy is trying a few things out, but one thing all of our ideas have in common is that we’re going to be doing events in the Diner.”
Programming could begin next spring, perhaps sooner, he said.
Next month, during Midd Night Stroll — the downtown shopping promotion on the evenings of Dec. 6 and 13 — THT will open the Diner building for tours.
“That will give us an opportunity to talk about our plans for the space and show people what it might look like in the future,” Bradley said. “It might not look like much right now, but there is a lot of work going on behind the scenes.”
Longer term, THT hopes to replace the current Diner building with an annex to the theater.
In the meantime Bradley is getting to know his new surroundings. Since day one, he said, two things have really stood out for him at THT — the theater’s relationship with its resident companies and the depth and strength of its education programs.
“I’m just continually astounded by how much talent and vision and creativity exist within this community,” he said. “It’s a dream come true to be in a community like this that really intrinsically understands the value of the performing arts. And we have a big-city education program. I cannot stress how vital and important this work is for us, preparing young people to be performers and audience members and future supporters. The level of development that’s gone into the program is really impressive.”
Taking over Anderson’s executive duties is going well, he said.
“Our board of directors put a lot of thought and care into the transition. It’s helping Doug (as artistic director) focus on what he loves and is good at, which is different from what I love and am good at. We’re a good fit for each other.
“It’s nice having Doug here for me,” he added. “He has so much institutional knowledge and can help me shape the vision for the future in a way that makes sense with what’s already happened. We’re planning not just for the year ahead but for the next 10 years.”
Bradley, who studied clarinet at McGill University and played the instrument professionally in Quebec, has also managed to squeeze in some music time of his own.
“Midd Winds is a delightful group of people, and Jerry Shed, the director, is terrific to work with,” he said. “They all do it because they love it and know that even the mere act of rehearsing and playing as a team enriches their lives and, as a result, the life of the community. Playing music on any level accesses a different part of the brain — it’s therapeutic in a sense.”
Bradley also looks forward to playing chamber music informally, he said.
“I’m always up for playing something, no matter the level of the other person.”
Back in the THT offices, there’s plenty of work for an executive director to do — much of it involving spreadsheets. He gets a kick out of that part of his job, too.
“I once dressed up as a spreadsheet for Halloween.” 
For a list of upcoming events and ticket information, visit townhalltheater.org.
Reach Christopher Ross at christopherr@addisonindependent.com.

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