DUNSTABLE — When Dunstable Theater Collaborative director Jon Swift and his wife were house hunting, their must-have list included living in a quiet, family-friendly community with good schools for their son.
Soon after moving to Dunstable, Swift, a former teacher and current stay-at-home dad, found the right fit for his then-3-year-old son: part-time pre-school, plus play groups and library programs. The missing piece was creative activity he could get into, absent the cultural perks of city life.
Pop-up options came while squiring Sam around town.
“My son has been an icebreaker,” Swift said. Recently, for example, a local librarian mentioned that Swallow Union Elementary School needed a volunteer director for a student play. She suggested Swift and he accepted.
Thanks to networking and acquaintances struck up early on with fellow theater-arts enthusiasts, Swift found his niche, artistically and domestically. In a recent interview, he said he and his family love the town. And the theater group he co-founded with like-minded friends is thriving.
The Dunstable Theater Collaborative staged its first full production, Neil Simon’s “Barefoot in the Park,” last year.
Summing up its first year during a recent interview, Swift said growing pains have been minimal so far, with rehearsals underway for a second play, Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie,” directed by Christina Chadzynski.
Evening performances are April 27-28 and May 4-5 at 8 p.m, with a matinee performance on April 29 at 2 p.m. “Barefoot …” sold out, so a healthy turnout seems likely. Swift advised buying tickets ($10-12) in advance. “They tend to fly … the week before,” he said.
It’s been a busy year for the fledgling theater group. “Heavy lifting for me, as expected,” Swift said.
But “If you’re passionate about a project,” it’s a labor of love. And the non-profit organization’s finances are on track. Besides ticket sales, the collaborative make ends meet with online fundraising, grants and donations and an all-volunteer crew that includes the board of directors. “It’s not about making money,” he said.
It is about the expertise of “theater folks” involved, from marketing to staging to casting, even acting. “The biggest challenge has been getting enough people” for all aspects of production. Some wear more than one hat, he said, including Swift, with roles in “Barefoot” and “Menagerie.”
He recalled one “Barefoot” performance that tested actors’ mettle. The tiny stage — decked out as a cold, unheated attic apartment, was stiflingly hot. The building heat was cranked up during a winter cold snap. As characters shivered in coats and scarves, the actors were sweaty and flushed. But they carried it off.
As word spreads and more people get involved, Swift hopes to fade back behind the curtain, he said but he’s in his element now.
“It’s exciting,” he said. He’s hoping the collaborative has a long run.
Kevin Dumont belonged to a theater group that did not last, as former president of Camelot Players in Tyngsboro. After it’s end, Dumont helped the new group salvage some of the old, defunct group’s working parts, including stage risers, lighting and other gear.
Like other meet-ups over the past couple years, the link was serendipitous. Swift had reached out. Dumont showed up to audition. He’s on the board now.
Dumont brings “a wealth of information and skill” to the collaborative. He helped build the “Menagerie” set, complete with glass figurines and a fire escape. A player marveled at it’s look, “like lightning in a bottle,” Swift said.
The venue, Dunstable Town Hall, was also a lucky find. When Swift went to pay his taxes, he noted a small auditorium and stage. The selectmen agreed to rent it. It seats about 100 people. He’s since met most town officials and local business owners, he said, broadening his net.
Looking ahead, Swift envisions summer shows at the gazebo on the town common. He muses about partnering with the Groton-Dunstable Community Education Theater Program at the Performing Arts Center.
Some day, a permanent home for the theater would be nice. Roomier stage. More seating. Storage for props now kept in his barn and basement. For now, the Dunstable Theater Collaborative is content where it is. “All we want is to get the best show possible off the ground,” Swift said.
Sometimes, it works like magic. Like finding gold at the tip of a rainbow. Joanne Kaplan, who plays Amanda in “Menagerie” showed up to audition and wowed the board.
“She’s so good!” Swift said. And the match-up with the leading man is right on.