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A Shift Away from Family-Friendly Fare: NCCT Takes a 'Huge Risk' With an Adult-Themed Show

  • Roger. played by Specer Bladyka of Norwich, Vt., grabs his head in frustration while singing One Song Glory in the first act of the dress rehearsal of Rent at the Woodstock Town Hall Theater in Woodstock, Vt., on Dec. 3, 2013. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    Roger. played by Specer Bladyka of Norwich, Vt., grabs his head in frustration while singing One Song Glory in the first act of the dress rehearsal of Rent at the Woodstock Town Hall Theater in Woodstock, Vt., on Dec. 3, 2013.
    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • Hannah Sobel, of Hanover, N.H., playing Mimi, practices swinging on the set before the dress rehearsal of the musical Rent at the Woodstock Town Hall Theater in Woodstock, Vt., on Dec. 3, 2013. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    Hannah Sobel, of Hanover, N.H., playing Mimi, practices swinging on the set before the dress rehearsal of the musical Rent at the Woodstock Town Hall Theater in Woodstock, Vt., on Dec. 3, 2013.
    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • While Megan Spinella of Hanover, playing Maureen, fixes her hair, while Kaitlyn Ramirez of Hanover, playing Joanna, applies makup before a dress rehearsal of the musical Rent at the Woodstock Town Hall Theater in Woodstock, Vt., on Dec. 3, 2013. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    While Megan Spinella of Hanover, playing Maureen, fixes her hair, while Kaitlyn Ramirez of Hanover, playing Joanna, applies makup before a dress rehearsal of the musical Rent at the Woodstock Town Hall Theater in Woodstock, Vt., on Dec. 3, 2013.
    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • Roger. played by Specer Bladyka of Norwich, Vt., grabs his head in frustration while singing One Song Glory in the first act of the dress rehearsal of Rent at the Woodstock Town Hall Theater in Woodstock, Vt., on Dec. 3, 2013. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap
  • Hannah Sobel, of Hanover, N.H., playing Mimi, practices swinging on the set before the dress rehearsal of the musical Rent at the Woodstock Town Hall Theater in Woodstock, Vt., on Dec. 3, 2013. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap
  • While Megan Spinella of Hanover, playing Maureen, fixes her hair, while Kaitlyn Ramirez of Hanover, playing Joanna, applies makup before a dress rehearsal of the musical Rent at the Woodstock Town Hall Theater in Woodstock, Vt., on Dec. 3, 2013. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

When Rent, the famed musical about New York artists and musicians living and dealing with the threat of HIV and AIDS, was on Broadway, Allyson Weiner-Sawyer saw it five times. Ever since, the choreographer has wanted to put on a version of her own.

Now, with her husband Bill Sawyer directing, she’s able to realize that dream. But confusion may set in for some with the realization that this Rent is a production of North Country Community Theater, which for 40 years has largely stuck to family fare.

“It’s a huge risk, to be honest with you,” Weiner-Sawyer said. “It was a huge leap of faith that the board took with Bill and I, and we’re very thankful for that. It is, I think, really cool that they would step out of the box and take those family-friendly shows and leave them for the summer.”

That’s the plan going forward, Sawyer said. While the warmer months will be given over to family-friendly plays — Seussical is set for summer 2014 — future fall performances will deal with more adult themes. Rent will premiere at Woodstock’s Town Hall Theatre tonight, and will run through the weekend.

The choice of a more adult play is part of NCCT’s wider scope as a theater company. According to Sawyer, NCCT may soon start looking to produce as-yet unproduced musicals, perhaps as another way to bring in fresh faces.

“I think a show like Rent has such a reputation already, so it really pulls from all aspects of the Upper Valley to get the cast that we got,” Weiner-Sawyer said.

Besides the local theater-philes who come out to every casting call, NCCT was met with a wealth of actors from Windsor and Woodstock, as well as several affiliated with Dartmouth. One of those actors was Derrick Smith, a Dartmouth alum who moved back to the Upper Valley two years ago to work as assistant director in the college’s Young Alumni & Student Programs.

After acting in several Dartmouth musicals as a student and then singing in vocal groups while living in New York City, he’ll be playing Tom Collins, a gay college professor and anarchist with AIDS, in this production.

“I always wanted to be back on stage or entertaining people,” Smith said. “And I found an outlet through NCCT.”

The increased involvement from Dartmouth staff ties into the play’s history, Sawyer said. When Rent was in its nascent stages, Sawyer said, the late playwright Jonathan Larson workshopped it during one of the New York Theater Workshop’s Dartmouth residencies.

Because of Rent’s motifs of characters struggling with HIV/AIDS, Sawyer decided to tie the fictional story to the real world by raising money in support of Lebanon’s HIV/HCV Resource Center. He suggests that playgoers bring non-perishable food items for the center’s food bank; proceeds from red ribbons sold after the show will raise money for the organiztion.

Even with the fundraising, though, Sawyer said the crux of the show isn’t necessarily the headline grabbers that makes Rent immediately recognizable.

“A lot of folks see Rent as a show about AIDS and drugs and heroin,” he said. “But it’s really not. We’d like to urge folks to understand that Rent is a show about family and how any family ... works. Is it traditional? Ah, maybe not. But in its essence, from a director’s point of view, it’s about family.”

North Country Community Theatre will present “Rent” tonight, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. All performances are at 7:30 p.m. except for Sunday’s matinee, which is at 3 p.m. General admission tickets are $20, and can be purchased from ncct.org/shows/coming-attractions.

Jon Wolper can be reached at jwolper@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.

Related

Letter: Onstage Risks and Rewards

Thursday, January 2, 2014

To the Editor: The Valley News recently reported on the North Country Community Theater’s production of Rent, appreciating the risk NCCT took in moving away from family shows and tackling more adult themes (“A Shift Away From Family-Friendly Fare,” Dec. 5.) I also applaud NCCT’s decision. Without risk, art becomes stale. In a similar vein, I would like to celebrate …