AREA — A new theater company has moved into the area, and its directors aim to make it a boon to themselves and the community.
”The project is a professional ensemble of theater artists, actors, directors and designers made up primarily of people who live in Boston and New York,” said Christopher Chew, a co-director of the new Village Theatre Project.
”I think the difference here is one of the reasons we like Groton,” said Chew. “This area is where we want to be as a professional company. There’s a lot of different local companies, and we want to be a support for them. We chose to reach outside of Boston because we wanted to be part of the community. We wanted to be part of a specific area and to have a different kind of presence.
”In Boston, you can’t reach out to the neighborhoods the way you can in the suburbs,” he said. “They have different relationships to the larger community.
”We wanted to be able to come out here and help supplement programs in schools,” said Chew, a resident of Ashby. “We want to figure out how we, as professional artists, can act as a network for these schools and other local programs. We want to offer more opportunities for local students and theaters.”
Chew and fellow Codirector Troy Siebels only recently established the Village Theatre Project and will present their first full main-stage production of “Better Off Dead,” a “zany new comedy” written by project member and Blue Man Group veteran Shawn Surnick.
”We have 22 members in our primary company, but will bring in other people who aren’t members when we need them because all of our artists continue to work at other theaters in Boston and New York,” said Chew.
In addition to limited performances, project members have been holding fund-raisers and house parties in different local towns for start-up money.
”Troy and I are codirectors of the project, and we, together, came up with this idea that we wanted to create an ensemble where artists had a home base,” said Chew.
Local professionals often work in different theaters all the time, but never have a place that they can call their own, said Chew.
”We’re brought in to do a specific job and that’s all,” Chew said. “We wanted a home where specific artists had more control over their careers. We wanted a place where they could be challenged on a more regular basis, so we got people together who liked the idea. People whom we respected as artists and as individuals. People we wanted to spend time with. Just the idea that we were all going to be working together as a collaborative unit to create (new shows) was enough to get everyone excited.”
The company started slowly with one night stands in local venues such as schools and restaurants.
”We’ve performed at Lawrence Academy and have done one night shows in Fitchburg,” said Chew. “Our first opening, our introduction to the area, our grand opening event was held at the Gibbet Hill Grill last June.”
As for “Better Off Dead,” the final version to be performed from April 20 to April 30 at the Groton-Dunstable Performing Arts Center was a group effort.
”We developed it over the summer when we were on retreat in Ashby. We worked collaboratively with the writer and players to develop the scripts so that everyone was contributing,” said Chew. “It was an incredible experience and everyone loved it. Shawn’s piece was one of those that we developed over the summer. He’d written a draft and we worked on it with him. He made changes to it every day as we talked it over and rehearsed scenes.”
But Chew insisted that the intention for the future is to feature both original scripts and local performers at subsequent productions.
”One of the goals of the project is to produce original material from local writers,” said Chew. “That’s part of our mission. We want to bring new and classic works to the public and want to help add more works to the American theater cannon. We’re passionate about it and see it as a way to grow the art form.”
Better Off Dead will hold performances on April 20, at 7:30 p.m.; April 21 and 28, at 8 p.m.; April 22, at 8 p.m.; April 29, at 3 and 8 p.m.; and April 23 and 30, at 2 p.m.
Tickets cost $35 for adults, $29 for seniors over the age of 62, $15 for students and $25 for groups made up of at least eight people.
Already looking to the future, Chew said plans have been laid for the summer.
”We’re looking to do our Ashby retreat again and hope to produce at least two more shows on the stage in Groton next year,” Chew said. “Also, we want to get more youth programming going. We’re not settled on next season yet, but we hope to hold a fund-raiser in June at Fruitlands.”
For more information call (978) 456-7898 or visit villagetheatreproject.org.