Arts & Leisure

Vergennes theater to relight its footlights

MANY PERFORMERS FROM the popular Broadway Direct fundraising shows will kick off the 2020-2021 Vergennes Opera House season with The Little City Cabaret in mid-August. Pictured here from Broadway Direct 2019 are, from left, front, Richard Koons, Amanda Ryan Paige, Elisa Van Duyne and Bill Carmichael (Walsh); and rear, students Anneke Shepard, Harlan Paquin and Addie Brooks. Photo by Tim Barden Photography

People are going to be able to bring in their own picnic. That way we’ll still be able to tie into the downtown restaurants. Hopefully people will go there and bring it in and relax and have a really nice evening.
— Gerianne Smart

VERGENNES — The volunteers who make up the Friends of the Vergennes Opera House organization — and, in fact, operate the theater — spent late winter and spring learning about how to deal with a pandemic and planning and considering when to re-open the linchpin of the city’s arts scene.
On the weekend of Aug. 14 to 16 the product of their efforts will be unveiled — three shows that will offer the talents of the performers who for years have entertained opera house audiences with the popular “Broadway Direct” fundraisers. In this case they will be doing business as The Little City Cabaret.
Taking the stage will be Broadway veterans Bill Carmichael (aka Bill Walsh) and Elisa Van Duyne, along with Tim Barden (Spotlight Vermont), Jonny Barden and Caitlin Walsh. Pianist Scott Nicholas will accompany the singers.
“There will be Broadway show tunes, old and new, performed by some of our favorites,” said Gerianne Smart, president of Friends of the Vergennes Opera House.
Tickets will go for $12.50 apiece for shows that Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m.; contact [email protected].
Most importantly, Smart wants to assure theatergoers FVOH is doing everything possible to make sure attending shows at the opera house is safe.
Volunteers have attained Vermont Occupational Safety and Health Administration COVID-19 certification; masks and temperature checks will be required for entry; audiences will be limited to 50; seating will be at tables spaced eight to 10 feet apart, with family pods allowed to sit together; and volunteers will disinfect before, after and even, in the case of sensitive areas like doorknobs, railings and restrooms, during the shows.
Smart said volunteers will be working from a bullet list 12-points strong, including enforcing mask wearing, except at tables once people are seated.
“We’ve done a lot of really incredible work as a team to make sure we’re ready,” Smart said. “We know how to open up safely. We know what to put in place so not only the people working there, the volunteers, us, are safe, but the performers are safe and the people who come in are safe.”
As much as possible during the theater’s upcoming winter season the opera house will also schedule multiple shows by the same artists to allow as many people to see them perform. Smart said if all goes well in mid-August, box office receipts from three shows filled to 50% of the theater’s maximum capacity (as the state now allows) could exceed one sold-out event at 100% capacity in times past.
“Over the course of three shifts 150 people will have a chance to see the show live, which is great. The performers are extraordinarily happy,” she said.
Back in March when the pandemic struck the theater’s season had just wrapped up — it typically runs from fall to late winter.
Smart said the theater has therefore not taken a financial hit, particularly because it is run solely by volunteers. The opera house has kept up with the utility and maintenance costs it shared with the city of Vergennes (the theater occupies the second story of Vergennes City Hall) and made its insurance payments.
“We’re good,” she said. “Our overhead is very low.”
Smart also noted what she called the opera house motto: “Nothing goes on that stage unless it’s paid for,” including the performers.
Using that maxim as guidance has helped the organization find artists and activities for a space for which Smart said businesses and patrons have opened their wallets — when she sent out a July 1 fundraising email to sponsors she received seven replies by the very next day.
“That forces us to find that support in the community,” she said. “Which also forces us to put the right programming up there that is relevant to the community.”
The past few months have also given Friends of the Opera House members time not only to prepare for a much different season (one that so far also includes the Unknown Blues Band on Oct. 10), but also to think of new ways to serve patrons.
Innovations they will experiment with during the Little City Cabaret include encouraging patrons to bring meals to their tables, hopefully purchased at a city eatery, and filming performers, onstage and off.
Smart said part of the opera house’s mission is to boost the city’s economy as well as its arts sector.
“People are going to be able to bring in their own picnic,” Smart said. “That way we’ll still be able to tie into the downtown restaurants. Hopefully people will go there and bring it in and relax and have a really nice evening.”
The performances will be filmed and backstage material added into to create a video that will be sent as an online link to customers who bought tickets. Anyone else interested can buy the link as a $6.50 download at
There are several reasons for the video, Smart said.
“We feel like not everybody can make it because, No. 1, there’s not enough room. No. 2 there are going to be shows going forward that can’t be over multiple dates. And, No. 3, some people aren’t going to feel comfortable coming out, but they still need to have the arts delivered to them. It’s part of keeping their hearts full and their psyches calm,” she said. “And we feel this is a nice model to test drive.”

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