Dunstable Theater takes the stage

It’s early days yet, but the Dunstable Theater Collaborative is off to a great start.

Launched after a lengthy planning period and with full-scale productions still on the drawing board, the DTC has secured a spot on-stage at Pepperell’s FireFest on July 1. With area performers lined up to showcase an array of specialties, DTC’s Musical Review promises the kind of splashy kickoff a fledgling theater group needs to get its name in circulation and its shows on the road.

The performance is at 4 p.m.; the festival goes on all day, from 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. on the Town Field.

DTC President Jon Swift said that while he might rue the last minute set-up, with just a few weeks to round up performers in a recent “Musical Theater Talent Call,” the opportunity was too good to pass up.

Over coffee at a Groton cafe recently, Swift talked about DTC’s launch, and his theatrical roots.

While pursuing a master’s degree in elementary education at Emerson College, Swift switched his major to theater education. While living in East Boston, he sang with a local ensemble and served on the Board of Directors for “Small and Casual Productions” in Somerville.

Today, he’s a full time, stay-at home dad to 3-year-old Sam.

Swift and his wife Elizabeth, who works in Lexington, are both from Maine, where they met in high school and performed together in community theater. Two decades later, while living in East Boston, they were seeking a family-friendly community when they bought a house in Dunstable and moved there about a year ago. The small, rural town met their search criteria, plus it has a high quality public school system, he said, including the preschool his son now attends.

On the lookout for options close to home, he met a fellow theater nerd through a playgroup he went to with Sam. Valerie Kosick is now DTC’s Clerk. Jeremy Hamond, a neighbor, is its treasurer and co-director. The titles are required for non-profit status, he explained, and he’s now researching grants for new groups.

One of the costs that can be prohibitive for start-ups is renting space. Again, serendipity stepped in. When he went to Town Hall for voter registration, he spotted a 125-seat venue with a small stage. “Nobody uses it,” he was told. But non-profits could do so with selectmen approval.

“We’re a state-certified non-profit,” Swift said. But applying for Federal, 5013C status can be costly, he said. That’s a work in progress.

Next came outreach. “It’s a spread-out community,” he said. But knowing there are talented people in Dunstable and surrounding towns, he hopes they’ll respond when DTC issues talent calls for future productions. “We got a pretty good response on social media,” he said.

DTC plans about three shows a year, musicals and others, with about 3-4 months prep time for each one. It won’t be an ensemble company but he figures regulars will likely emerge, perhaps including folks who want to exercise artistic expertise backstage, helping with stage sets, choreography, directing and other production elements, even before roles open up and try-outs begin. Asked about age requirement, he said they’d play it by ear, although they don’t plan to do children’s theater, at least not now.

When DTC held its first meeting a few weeks ago, they got a warm reception, from the 25-30 people who attended, he said and several signaled ongoing interest on the sign-up sheet. The publicity push continues.

His passion was sparked by a community theater group in high school that might be a model for DTC. Its director mentored him and helped him overcome his shyness. She died in a car crash his sophomore year.

“She affected me profoundly,” Swift said.

Now, he wants to do that for others. “People can learn from each other” in a theater group and have fun at the same time, he said.