Virus forces closure of THT and Vergennes Opera House

ADDISON COUNTY — There’s a popular saying in entertainment circles — “The show must go on.”
Well, the coronavirus has trumped that maxim for performance venues around Addison County, as it should. The curtains are drawn and the stage lights have dimmed for an uncertain length of time, until society receives the “all-clear signal” from health care officials.
Middlebury’s Town Hall Theater was already anticipating a modified performance schedule this year as a result of the downtown Middlebury rail bridges project, which will include a 10-week shutdown of Main Street and Merchants Row beginning this May.
Now new THT General Manager Lisa Mitchell is contending with another setback, this one caused by the coronavirus. And as the marquis in front of the 68 S. Pleasant St. building indicates, shows have been cancelled through April 30. Mitchell and the THT board made the tough call proactively a few weeks ago.
“At THT, the health of our patrons, staff, volunteers and community is of paramount importance to us,” Mitchell told the Independent through a recent email exchange. “After weighing the information and guidance of local, state and federal health authorities regarding COVID-19, we felt we must take action to proactively protect public health.”
More than 24 THT events have been postponed or cancelled, including the original musical “Showing Up,” according to Mitchell.
“This was a huge blow for (Artistic Director) Doug Anderson, the cast, crew, and everyone invested in the project,” Mitchell said. “This show will go on in Fall 2020 and this is the case with a number of our events.”
She and other THT officials will continue to monitor the coronavirus pandemic to assess the right time to re-open.
“Fortunately, many events have already been successfully rescheduled, and we will continue to keep you updated on these new dates,” Mitchell said. “The Jackson Gallery, currently featuring Courtney Allenson’s exhibit, will remain open, and our box office will continue to handle ticket sales for future events. Our full staff, board, and volunteers will remain hard at work on a wide range of projects to strengthen THT as a whole.”
There are no plans right now for staff layoffs.
“We are a team and everyone plays a valuable role,” Mitchell said. “We cannot afford to lose our people. We have many projects to attend to, including long-range planning, development, facilities work, future programming, and much more. Employees will be able to work remotely should they choose to, and we’re now offering Zoom video conference options for board and committee meetings.”
Theater officials are hoping to hold a fundraising event titled, “A Toast for the Arts” on Thursday, May 21. The Middlebury New Filmmaker Festival’s Select series has been rescheduled for Saturday, May 23, and will feature three films on that day. And the ever-popular annual Green Mountain Adventures fly-fishing event has been rescheduled for Sept. 18.
“This decision is a financial hardship for our regional theater, and we ask for your support as we weather this challenging time,” Mitchell said. “Thank you for standing with us. We are all in this together and we deeply appreciate your support of the arts.”

Meanwhile, Middlebury College’s Mahaney Arts Center is also closed, as is the Vergennes Opera House.
The opera house season ranges from October to March, so the COVID-19 crisis didn’t force cancellation of major, prescheduled events at the Little City’s arts hub. Still, the facility has had to close to dance and theater classes, and the stewards of the historic hall can’t accept any rental offers until the state and federal officials lift current restrictions on gatherings, according to Vergennes Opera House board President Gerianne Smart.
“We hope our guests, visitors and all members of the community remain healthy,” Smart said during a phone interview.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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