Editorial: A Long Run at Randolph’s Chandler Center

The curtain is coming down on the career of Becky McMeekin at the Chandler Center for the Arts in Randolph, where for 16 years she has overseen impressive growth, despite the always-dicey nature of show business. Especially at non-profits, where the show-must-go-on spirit carries on, despite threats from the most notorious theater villain, red ink.

Staff Writer David Corriveau recently reported that the number of performances at the Chandler has jumped during McMeekin’s tenure from about 10 a year to 50 to 60 annually. The budget has grown as well, from about $80,000 to $450,000. The Chandler also pulled off a $3.5 million capital campaign that made the handsome building more functional, from new bathrooms to air conditioning (which would have been welcomed by the Cowardly Lion in a pre-AC production of The Wizard of Oz. The self-described king of the forest suffered dehyrdation.)

The current season includes big names, such as comedian Paula Poundstone and fiddling wizard Natalie McMaster, high-brow classical music performances and the ever-lively New World Festival in the fall. Local productions with big casts are a staple, and involve many young performers.

And right now the Chandler is hosting its fourth annual Vermont Pride Theater Summer Festival, which brings gay-themed drama and comedy to the stage. A small town in central Vermont can feel satisfaction, and yes, pride, that it hosts such relevant theater. Small-town theater is best when it does more than comfort, when it takes risks and shares diverse experiences and viewpoints.

A challenge that McMeekin acknowledged is the need to attract young adults to performances. In the age of downloadable entertainment, many are staying home. McMeekin didn’t mention the economy, which laid an egg beginning in 2008, as a factor, but that has stymied the buying power of young people. Anyone who attends a live performance in the region can’t help but wonder about the sea of gray-haired people in the seats, and what that bodes for the future.

In Randolph, Chandler board chairwoman Janet Watton was effusive in her praise for McMeekin. “We were horrified when she said she was going to retire. … She knows everything. She’s got such an air about her, such grace. She handles all kinds of situations with such ardent diplomacy.” That seems to apply even to McMeekin’s retirement, which comes after a grand finale on Labor Day weekend: the New World Festival. McMeekin says to those who say she can’t be replaced: “You don’t understand. I may be the figurehead, but it takes so many people to make this work. … When you’re here for a performance, and everyone’s doing what they do, it’s so wonderful.”

That feeling of all hands on deck, or shoulders behind the wheel, or whatever is appropriate to the show of the moment, is one of the wonders of theater and the arts. For a brief moment, many are united in one goal, all for the enrichment of no one but the audience. Bravo to Becky McMeekin, and perhaps she would insist, all the others who have worked alongside her.