What I did this summer – start a theater company, put on a show

Photo by Elise Killian
From left, Tommy Bergeron, Alex Simmons, Shea Dunlop, Thabitha Moruthane and Eamon Lynch practicing the choreography for “The Ballad of Sara Berry” from “35MM: A Mu-sical Exhibition,” the first production of Verdantrics Production Company, the theatre company they started this sum-mer.

Staff Writer

Shea Dunlop of Hinesburg and Tommy Bergeron of Essex will have an impressive an-swer if someone asks them the timeworn question: What did you do on your summer vacation?

They started a theater company and are starring in its first play – a musical called “35MM: A Musical Exhibition.”

Dunlop and Bergeron, who are both theater students at the University of Hartford in Connecticut, noticed the shortage of theatre opportunities back home in the Burlington area for college students. They have gathered a group of five actors and around 15 other production staff and formed Verdantrics Production Company.

Dunlop said that she and Bergeron were active in theater during summers when they were in high school with FlynnArts and Very Merry Theatre Company, but there wasn’t anything for college students besides working in three summer professional regional theatres – Northern Stage, Skinner Barn and Lost Nation. And all of those are a long commute from both Dunlop’s home in Hinesburg and Bergeron’s home in Essex.

Dunlop said they have already applied for and received nonprofit status for Verdan-trics. The production company is based on the concept of peer-to-peer education.

Student space

“No adults allowed,” Dunlop and Bergeron stated in a press release.

Everything Verdantrics does, from the lighting, set and costume design to the musical direction, from the fundraising to the advertising, from the choreography to the actors themselves, is student-produced.

“We saw a hole in the market for college theatre students,” Dunlop said. “There’s not any educational opportunities for college theater students. And we wanted a space to learn from each other. We wanted to come back and share with each other what we’ve learned during the school year.”

She said almost everyone in the company has summer jobs, so they are limited to eight rehearsals, two rehearsal days every weekend for four weeks. This is about the same number of rehearsal days they’d have if they were working with many summer stock theater companies.

Besides her roles as an actor, starting a theater company and handling publicity, Dun-lop has at least four jobs this summer. She’s working as an online haircare consultant, as a server at Pizzeria Verità in Burlington, as a dogsitter and as a babysitter.

They chose “35MM: A Musical Exhibition” because it’s a small cast musical, she and Bergeron are both musical theater majors, and they like it.

“35MM: A Musical Exhibition” is by Ryan Scott Oliver and is based on a collection of photographs by his husband, photographer Matthew Murphy. It had its off-Broadway premiere in 2012. It was ex-tended and sold out its initial run. “35MM: A Musical Exhibition” has been produced in Baltimore, Md., Dayton, Ohio, London, Canada and Australia.

The photographs inspire different stories and the whole cast plays different charac-ters for each song. The music is pop-rock and the production features a live band.

The group play’s the thing

The cast has group-directed and group -choreographed most numbers. The cast does not have named rolls, they play different characters in each song, so no one has any more or less material than the next person, Dunlop said

“35MM: A Musical Exhibition” will be presented at Essex Memorial Hall in Essex with shows at 8 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 9, and at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 10. Tickets are $8 for students and $12 for adults. There are no advanced ticket sales.

Besides Dunlop and Bergeron, the cast includes Thabitha Moruthane – a South Bur-lington High School graduate who enters the University of Hartford this fall; Eamon Lynch – a Burlington High School graduate who will be a sophomore at the Univeristy of Vermont this fall and Alex Simmons of Canton, Conn., who will be a sophomore at the University of Hartford this fall.

Dunlop’s sister Rowan Dunlop is set designer, props master, dramaturg, and associate director and choreographer. She is a CVU graduate who enters Carnegie Mellon University in the fall. Elise Killian is also an associate director and choreographer who will be a sophomore at Wagner College. Contributing as associate chore-ographers are Georgia Malone-Wolfson and Karli Robertson, a rising sophomore at Hofstra University.

Verdantrics (verdant + dramatics) has launched a Kickstarter campaign at: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/verdantrics/35mm-a-musical-exhibition-0. They’ve also recruited a donor who will match every dollar donated up to $5,000. They’ve already collected more than $1,000 from their Kick-starter.

None of the actors or production staff are paid. They hope to raise enough money to not only pay expenses but to leave money for a production next summer. And the next.

Dunlop said they hope, that by the time they graduate from college, they will have found some undergraduates who will take over Verdantrics and keep the process going. In other words: Play it for-ward.

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