Arts & Leisure

THT unveils new sign to support local restaurants

DOUGLAS ANDERSON, ARTISTIC director for Middlebury’s Town Hall Theater, displays a new sign he devised as a way to encourage folks to be safe and buy take-out food from local merchants during the COVID-19 pandemic. The sign, a variation on a famous World War II poster, has been distributed free to many Middlebury businesses and is one of several community outreach efforts recently undertaken by THT.

MIDDLEBURY — It was 1939, the beginning of World War II. Anticipating a series of bloody air raids orchestrated by the Third Reich, the British government sought basic ways to inspire its people to persevere through the carnage that would come. The Ministry of Information designed a series of motivational posters, including a crimson-red version, festooned with the royal crown insignia, bearing the slogan, “Keep Calm and Carry On.”
Fast-forward 81 years, and the world finds itself dealing with another monumental crisis — the COVID-19 pandemic. And Town Hall Theater Artistic Director Douglas Anderson has decided to dust off the famous WWII poster, with a slight word change to convey the need to purchase and consume food from restaurants in a manner that won’t encourage spread of the virus:
“Keep Calm and Carry Out.”
With help from the Middlebury’s Little Pressroom, Anderson has created a bunch of these signs, which he’s been distributing for free to area restaurants and businesses. Each handsome, retro poster includes a space at the bottom for the restaurant to print its phone number for passersby hungry for takeout.
He explained the sign “is not only funny, but it might be an important rallying cry as we move into the colder months and outdoor dining — which is working so well for The Arcadian, Two Brothers, the Waybury Inn and others — will disappear. We need everyone to carry out on a regular basis during what may be a dark and forbidding winter.”
Holmes Jacobs, co-owner of Two Brothers Tavern, has two of the “Keep Calm and Carry Out” signs posted at the 86 Main St., Middlebury, business. “We’re deeply appreciative for this gesture of community outreach,” Jacobs said. “The fact Doug went out of his way to do this for the restaurant community, that’s great. I think it encapsulates his sense of humor nicely, while driving home a great point that also helps build business.”
The novel carry-out signs are but one example of how THT officials are seeking to help the greater Middlebury community during a time when the theater is, by necessity, closed to in-person entertainment. THT leaders had decided even before the COVID-19 pandemic that the theater wouldn’t be able to operate this summer due to the din, dust and detours associated with the most intensive, 10-week construction of the new downtown Middlebury rail tunnel. That phase of work ended on Sept. 18.
But it looks like the stage lights could stay off well into the fall and possibly winter due to the pandemic. So Anderson and THT Executive Director Lisa Mitchell are focusing their creative powers elsewhere. “While we are technically closed, we have not stopped working hard to connect with our community through the arts,” Mitchell said. “This includes the Bridges 20/20 outdoor sculpture project; Doc Lyle Sol’s Medicine Show, which visited EastView (retirement community) and Buttolph Acres on a travelling stage in June; online videos, such as the Quarantine Sessions; and (in early September), we took a big step forward, offering our first ticketed live performances.”
The THT sold out two 150-person Bread and Puppet Theater outdoor shows behind Woodchuck Cider off Exchange Street. There was a long waitlist for both shows, demonstrating the public’s thirst for in-person entertainment.
“This experience was thrilling, not only due to the joy of once again presenting live theatre, but because we learned how to offer outdoor events safely and our attendees were entirely supportive of our protocols and safety measures,” said Mitchell, who recently made a presentation to the Middlebury Rotary Club about how the THT has tried to roll with the many punches the virus has thrown.
Mitchell is hopeful that with great care and continued stability on the coronavirus front, the THT will soon be able to roll out more activities. “Building on the success of Bread and Puppet, THT is looking to offer more outdoor performances before it gets too cold,” she said.
Anderson and Mitchell are working with Middlebury College’s Michole Biancosino to put on a live reading performance of the new play “The Agitators” by Mat Smart, which focuses on the historic relationship of Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass. The THT is also looking to partner with local musician Clint Bierman on an outdoor live music performance, while exploring indoor possibilities as well. The theater will partner with Middlebury Acting Company on a Zoom play reading series that explores race, called “The American Dream,” which will run from November through April.
“We are speaking with other theaters, and evaluating capital projects to ensure a safe indoor experience, should we open indoors this fall/winter to host a much smaller group of attendees,” Mitchell concluded. “We are looking at all the possibilities, with safety top of mind.”

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