Theater + Pandemic: Four Upper Valley Theaters’ Stories

Remember when performances looked like this? (That’s Opera North performing at Blow-Me-Down Farm in summer 2019.) Needless to say, times have changed.

How do you do your work when its usual nature involves bringing people into close proximity in indoor locations — a nonstarter in these pandemic times? Four Upper Valley professional theaters offer examples. And while you’re reading this, consider donating to your favorite arts organizations and artists to help them get through these tough times. Arts in the US generally operate with narrow margins and bargain budgets; if we want them to be around to lift our hearts and tell our stories, we need to support them.

Opera North

Opera North, active mainly in the summer, usually stages two full productions in the Lebanon Opera House. In the past two summers, it has also offered shows at the magnificent Blow-Me-Down Farm venue the company has been creating on the banks of the Connecticut River in Cornish NH in partnership with the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Park — two summers of collaboration among circus artists, singers, and orchestra in a mash-up of performance and music drew in people who might not have expected to enjoy opera.

This summer is different: no LOH shows, but three performances at the Cornish site:  “Bluegrass and Broadway” on Saturday, August 1, featuring Klea Bankhurst, an actress, singer and comedienne, and Plainfield legends Pooh Sprague and the Four Hoarsemen; and Mozart’s The Magic Flute on Thursday, August 6, and Saturday, August 8, sung in English by a cast of 10 singers with a 24-piece orchestra. What’s more, tickets are free, thanks to some generous donors. Click here to obtain those free tickets.

Opera North is a member of Vital Communities’ Vital Economy network (formerly known as Local First Alliance.)

Northern Stage

This White River Junction theater company has held no live events since the shutdown began but has been using digital platforms in varied and engaging ways. Play Date, a play reading class with online discussions and performances curated and led by Northern Stage and its family of artists, takes place every other Friday through September 25 (next one: July 17). Online performances include an engaging production of the only play we know of based on a Vital Communities program: Elisabeth Gordon’s  Small Town Trilogy, based on actual exchanges on the Norwich Community Discussion List. It’s still available for viewing. A July 1 online discussion on the Robin D’Angelo book White Fragility, facilitated by Brittany Bellizeare, a nationally known actor, teaching artists, and diversity and inclusion consultant, is available for viewing; email boxoffice@northernstage.org and you’ll be sent the link. So many people expressed a desire to continue the conversation that Northern plans to hold additional sessions in the coming weeks (details to come).

All these online events are offered for free, although donations are needed from those who can afford them. Writes the company: “Even the most vibrant not-for-profit theater companies operate with a narrow margin between success and failure, and a challenge like this is unprecedented in our lifetime. We hope those who are able will make a donation.”

As for the 2020-21 season set to begin this fall, BOLD Associate Artistic Director, Jess Chayes writes: “Northern Stage is currently on the cusp of announcing an exciting fall line-up of brand new virtual programming while remaining open to the possibility of live performance if circumstances allow. Beyond the fall and winter, we are remaining flexible and imaginative so we can best respond to changing health and safety guidelines due to COVID-19.”

Opera North is a member of Vital Communities’ Vital Economy network (formerly known as Local First Alliance.)

JAG Productions 

This White River Junction-based theater was poised to hit a new peak this spring when Esai’s Table by Nathan Yungerberg, a play it helped develop (and shared with the Upper Valley), was to open in New York’s Cherry Lane Theatre. Days before opening, COVID shut down all New York theater. (Hear about the play’s history here.) A mystical, heartbreaking exploration of Black Lives Matter themes, it was a great example of the classic and contemporary African American theater it is JAG’s mission to develop and present.

Bouncing back from that setback, Founder and Producing Artistic Director Jarvis Green (one of Vital Communities’ 2019 “Heroes & Leaders”) has used JAG as a platform for powerful online programming on racism, holding a series of interactive digital conversations with Black artists across genres discussing “Black theatre, Black art, Black organizing, Black joy, Black critical thought, Black fantasy, Black history, and more during a time of death, betrayal, and a global pandemic.” Participants have so far included award-winning playwrights Keelay Gipson and Stacey Rose, poet Major Jackson, choreographer Felicia Swoope, writer Desmond Peeples, and cartoonist Lillie Harris. Videos of past conversations are archived on the JAG website. (Consider a donation to help pay the artists who contribute to these online gatherings.)

Shaker Bridge Theatre

To counter the blues from having to cancel its final two plays of the 2019-20 season, this Enfield theater, located above the town offices and library, decided to hold a contest for short plays set amidst this pandemic, featuring two or three characters. The 14 winners (see the list) will be given staged readings in the theater in the 2020-21 season, and some may be performed via Zoom in the near future.

LISTEN community dinners go take-out

Before the pandemic, the doors of LISTEN’s Community Dinner Hall opened six days a week to welcome anyone in need of a warm dinner. Inside the handsome facility by the bridge linking White River Junction and West Lebanon, each guest was treated to a three-course meal, served on real plates and cutlery and with cloth napkins. “It’s wonderful to see the different friendships and conversations that come about from having those nightly meals,” said LISTEN executive director Kyle Fisher. “Some folks need that food because of a disability or an inability for whatever reason to cook for themselves. Some people are homeless, and that’s their only way of getting a warm cooked meal. And, you know, other folks come just for the conversation.” 

COVID-19 threw a wrench in the works, initially. It became no longer safe for the cooking to be done by alternating teams of volunteers, many of whom were seniors. Funding became a challenge when LISTEN’s thrift stores, which account for 80% of their revenue, had to temporarily close. The need for the dinners, however, was greater than ever. 

Overcoming these challenges has taken some ingenuity, as well as support from the community that LISTEN has always been the first to help. First, a grant from Upper Valley Strong allowed LISTEN to redeploy four warehouse and trucking employees as paid kitchen staff. One employee, who had worked previously as a cook at Jessie’s Restaurant in Hanover, has taken charge. “He’s now got his staff all trained up to be his sous-chefs,” joked Kyle.

That team is currently producing 200 to-go meals a day, up from an average of 100 meals served before the crisis. Some of those are picked up by the Upper Valley Response Team, a grassroots mutual aid network dedicated to working with COVID-19 relief initiatives. They are then brought to White River Junction, where folks experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity are currently being housed in hotels using state vouchers. 

The effort speaks to the possibilities when different service organizations work together. “The Upper Valley is just so different than anywhere else that I’ve seen,” said Kyle. “It’s an extremely tight-knit community where folks communicate and ensure that all the resources that are available get to the people who really need them.” 

Moving forward, LISTEN’s services, including their community dining service, will remain essential. If you are able, make a donation to help bridge the financial gap until the thrift stores can fully reopen and ensure that LISTEN is able to keep providing support to those who need it.

By Henry Allison. Pictured: from left, LISTEN employees Robert Broadwell, James Hutchins, and Jason Stauffer-Laurie prepare take out dinners. Meals can be picked up to-go Monday through Saturday from 5-5:30 at the LISTEN Community Dinner Hall, located at 42 Maple Street in White River Junction, Vermont. More information, along with the menu for June, can be found here

 

New Partners and the Vermont Telecommuting Guide

One significant impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is the sheer number of people now working from home. Though telework is now normal for many, we are still trying to find the answers to many questions. How can collaboration occur without shared space? How can employers be sure their employees are actually working? What are the implications for health and wellness? If your office is your home, can you ever leave the office?

Vital Communities and the Chittenden Area Transportation Management Association (CATMA) are answering these questions with a statewide telecommuting guide. The guide, now in development, will provide resources for both employers and employees to make sure that a shift to working from home isn’t accompanied by a loss of structure and support. 

The collaboration is a new type of partnership between our organizations. We haven’t collaborated before on a project like this,” says Vital Communities Transportation Manager Bethany Fleishman, “but it’s something we both need. We thought, ‘This is so obvious. We should be doing this together.’ It’s nice to know that we’re producing something that will be useful, not just for the Upper Valley, but for people all over the state.”

On Tuesday, Twitter announced that its employees will be allowed to work from home “forever.” It’s a signal that telecommuting isn’t just relevant in a pandemic. There are permanent advantages, from reducing fossil fuels, to reducing barriers for those who live in rural areas as well as folks who have disabilities or illnesses that make it hard to leave the home. Hopefully this upcoming guide, as well as the new partnership formed in its creation, will have an impact that lasts beyond our current situation. Stay tuned!

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Image (“Working vs Chores”) by Charles Deluvio

EPA Recognizes Hanover Co-op Food Stores with National Award

Congratulations to The Co-op Food Stores! 

EPA Recognizes Supermarkets Across America for Smart Refrigerant Management

WASHINGTON — Yesterday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recognized 13 organizations in the supermarket industry for their achievements in protecting human health and the environment under its GreenChill Partnership Program. The GreenChill Partnership works with food retailers to reduce refrigerant emissions and decrease their impact on the ozone layer by supporting a transition to environmentally friendlier refrigerants, lowering charge sizes and eliminating leaks, and adopting green refrigeration technologies and best environmental practices.

For the second straight year, the Hanover Consumer Cooperative Society’s four food stores earn the environmental Protection Agency’s award for Most Improved Emissions Rate.

Ed Fox, general manager of the Hanover Co-op Food Stores put the award in context of the grocery industry. “For the Hanover Co-op, we may be the nation’s second largest food cooperative, but we’re tiny compared to the largest grocery chains in the world. So it is especially noteworthy to earn such an award along with mammoth retailers.”  Fox also commended City Market (Onion River Co-op), in Burlington, Vermont for its top honors for Best Corporate Emissions Rate, an award won by the Hanover Co-op last year. “It’s so great to see food cooperatives recognized for their long-standing work on issues of environmental responsibility.”

Read more here.

Local First Business of the Month

Introducing a new way to celebrate our wonderful, community-building, locally owned businesses:

Local First Alliance Business of the Month (BOM)!

Throughout the year we will be highlighting specific Local First Alliance members by celebrating with in-store promotions and engagement opportunities.

Our friends and neighbors are the people behind the amazing locally owned business and the BOM program is a way to learn about all the ways they support our communities (job creation, charitable giving, civic engagement, economic impact) and to thank them for all they do to make the Upper Valley a great place to live, work, and play.

Visit the BOM during the promotion and learn about the often overlooked value that locally owned  businesses contribute to our communities while taking advantage of the personal attention,  expert service, and unique products they provide.

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Join the Celebration September 18-30 – Free Stuff!

Visit King Arthur Flour Bakery + Cafe from September 18-30 to thank them for being such valuable community members and pick up a free baguette! Learn about Local First Alliance , snag a Love Local bumper stickers and a coupon for $5 off a $25 purchase from King Arthur.

Keep your dollars circulating through our economy and support our locally owned businesses!

Future BOMs:

October – Hubert’s Family Clothing & Skinny Pancake

November – West Lebanon Feed & Supply

Partner Spotlight: Hypertherm

Hypertherm: Social Responsibility at its Core

A global company founded and headquartered right here in the Upper Valley, Hypertherm has been a champion of community engagement and environmental responsibility since its founding in 1968.

“Our founder, Dick Couch, has always believed that as a business, we’re a citizen of this community, and we’re only going to be as strong as our associates and community and environment allow us to be,” said Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility Jenny Levy, a member of the Vital Communities board.

Hypertherm is a 100 percent associate-owned manufacturer of industrial cutting systems, with 1,100 associates living and working in the Upper Valley. “Our associates want the company to succeed, and they want our region to be strong and resilient,” She said. “There’s a very strong connection between the two when the owners of the business live in the region.”

With these values at its core, Hypertherm has been a natural key partner of Vital Communities.“It’s important to our associates to have safer, more economical, and more environmentally sound commuting options. It’s important that they are aware of the region’s challenges and inspired to be part of the solutions. It’s important that we share our best practices and learn from others so we can all move toward greater energy efficiency for our region,” Jenny said. “Vital Communities pulls us together across state lines, town lines, and sectors to address these critical regional issues.”

An advocate for Leadership Upper Valley, Hypertherm has made it possible for associates to participate annually since 2010. The experience benefits the associate, the community, and the workplace, said Community Citizenship Manager Stacey Chiocchio, who has both graduated from and taken a guiding role in the program.

“It gives you a much more in-depth understanding of the issues in the region from experts in the subject matter,” Stacey said. “And you get to share the experience with 29 other people who have different perspectives.” Associates who participate not only bring valuable ideas and networks back to Hypertherm, they become more involved in the community, she said.

Hypertherm has also provided many hours of volunteer support for Vital Communities, encouraging employees to help with everything from data entry to monitoring Valley Quest boxes. In 2016, 12 associates participated in two Valley Quest “blitz” days, ensuring the hidden treasure boxes for nine Quests were in place and fully stocked. Hypertherm even hosts a Quest written by their Technical Writing Team on the trails at its Hanover location (you can find it at VitalCommunities.org/ValleyQuest).

In addition to its community work at the corporate level, Hypertherm’s HOPE Foundation makes grants to a range of nonprofit organizations, including Vital Communities. Associates volunteer to serve on the committee that makes the funding decisions, choosing how to multiply the company’s local impact.

“Vital Communities does impressive work to make the Upper Valley stronger, convening our region around very important topics for an employer like Hypertherm as well as for our associates who live in the Upper Valley,” Jenny said. “We want to be part of that work and part of the solutions.” –Jenny Levy. Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility, Hypertherm

To learn more about how your business can partner with Vital Communities, e-mail Rachel@VitalCommunities.org