Northern Stage nears shovel-ready for theater

by Yasmeen Erritouni | 9/16/14 3:04pm

The leaves may be dusted with golden brown, but staff members at the Northern Stage theater company in White River Junction are preparing for a different kind of scenery change. Having outgrown its current venue, the Briggs Opera House, the theater launched a $9 million fundraising campaign in February and plans to begin construction on a new space in October.

Each year, many Dartmouth students, faculty members and graduates work at the theater, located just five miles from campus. Upgrades to the theater’s performance area will benefit those interested in technical experimentation in sound and lighting and hopefully attract talent to the Upper Valley, managing director Eric Bunge said.

“The collaboration with Dartmouth ties in well with President Hanlon’s emphasis on experiential learning — to get out in the field and experience what you’re learning in the classroom,” Bunge said. “For theater arts, this is an ideal outlet.”

The current venue’s low ceilings and small backstage make advanced stage lighting and more elaborate costume changes difficult, Bunge said.

Expanded backstage and wing space will also allow for larger productions with more actors and scenery, company manager Amanda Sheehan said.

As of mid-August, the theater had raised just over two-thirds of its goal amount. The new facility should be operational by fall 2015.

The new theater will also be accessible via regularly scheduled buses, making transportation to rehearsals and performances easier for faculty and students.

Olivia Scott ’13, a sales and underwriting associate, said ease of access to the theater was extremely important for facilitating student visits.

Theater professor Jamie Horton, who frequently performs at the Northern Stage, said the new facility will let students gain greater professional theater experience as undergraduates.

Overall, the intimate nature of Northern Stage performances will not change, Bunge said. The new theater includes the same number of seats, 250, and the new stage’s semi-thrust configuration, a stage that juts into the audience, will bring actors even closer to their viewers.

Other upgrades include an entrance ramp and interior elevator to make the theater more accessible, Bunge said.