In commemorating its 40th anniversary this year, Gloucester Stage Company is celebrating its home port more than ever. With a harbor full of sailboats right out its back door, the rich history of a historic working waterfront all around, and neighbors with countless tales of their own, the theatre is in the perfect position to embrace the community through its rich storytelling.
On a recent hot summer morning, students in Gloucester High School’s LEAP for Education program gathered at the theatre. There, they learned how to usher, they toured the on-site shop where sets are built, and they discussed marketing strategies for the theatre’s production of Alfred Hitchcock’s 39 Steps, which ran this past summer.
“Now, who wants to walk around with flyers while Nate wears the sandwich board?” asks Heidi Dallin, GSC’s education director, who first started volunteering with the company when she was growing up in Gloucester. “The big thing that’s changed in the 40 years we’ve been here is the youth program,” says Dallin. These days, children as young as 5 are taught acting. Programs run in the summer and during the school year go beyond what happens on the stage. In the Gloucester Stage Youth Acting Workshops, kids receive a full professional theatre training experience, including learning sword fighting, playwriting, costuming, lighting, dialects, and stage makeup. Taught by Dallin and guest instructors, the program helps kids build skills in communication, public speaking, teamwork, understanding complex reading, confidence, and on and on.
In addition to spots for interns, who receive a stipend from LEAP and complimentary tickets to shows, the organization offers an apprentice program, which has been going on since 2015. Eight recent college grads live together in a house for the summer, and each has a designated role in directing, tech, marketing, and so on as they work on mainstage productions with professionals.
Liana Genoud, a recent graduate of Emerson College, is the education apprentice. “You get to play different kinds of people and see the world from their view.” She has taught A MidSummer Night’s Dream to kids and found that Shakespeare really can be accessible to children. “Shakespeare can seem so highbrow, but it’s not out of reach.”
Genoud is especially excited for GSC’s fall production of Hamlet, in which the lead role will be played by a woman. “I want to create things, tell stories, and make art,” says Genoud, acknowledging the difficulty recent college grads have in getting jobs in their field, especially in the arts. “Here, we get to surround ourselves in a theatre and be constantly around working artists.”
One of those working artists is Lindsay Crouse, who has made Gloucester her home after performing in the theatre as well as onscreen numerous times. Crouse, whom Dallin calls “our own local Academy Award nominee,” is volunteering in the Young Playwrights Festival happening September 17. The festival accepts submissions of 10-minute plays by students and then professional actors donate their time to do staged readings of the winning plays.
Last fall, Gloucester lawyer and playwright Ken Riaf’s My Station in Life featured the story of local recluse Simon Geller, who ran a classical music station from his Gloucester apartment from 1964 to 1988. Actor Ken Baltin so embodied the crusty Geller as he shamed his listenership for not giving him money that the performance earned him an Elliot Norton Award.
“We have a duty and exciting responsibility to be part of a community that reflects the culture of our neighbors,” says Christopher Griffith, interim managing director of the theatre. This includes shows like this past summer’s Ben Butler, about a Union general who made the game-changing move to ignore the law and not return an escaped slave to the South during the Civil War. A lawyer and former governor of Massachusetts who championed the causes of labor and of naturalized citizens.
“It’s a unique opportunity to touch history in a different way,” says Madison Cook-Hines, a directing apprentice this summer, who is assistant directing the production.
For 40 years, GSC has managed to tell stimulating and relevant stories, both local and global, in an intimate black box setting. Their building, in a century-old repurposed brick warehouse, has staged stories about fishermen as well as fish packing plants and has been renovated slowly over many years to become the destination it is today.
Recently, Griffith met a local woman to discuss staging her upcoming one-woman show. “We’re innovators,” Griffith says. “We develop relationships with playwrights and use what magic we have to amplify their voice.”
For more information, visit gloucesterstage.com.