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CATV, Briggs Opera House deal barters operating space for venue management

  • Chico Eastridge, technical director and senior producer with CATV, at Briggs Opera House in White River Junction, Vt., on Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021. CATV will take over physical and technical management of the opera house on October 1, and in exchange they will be able to record performances as well as some of their own programming in the space. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News / Report For America — Alex Driehaus

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 9/21/2021 9:30:07 PM
Modified: 9/21/2021 9:30:08 PM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — Two long-standing organizations that take very different approaches to the performing arts have signed a one-year agreement to work together.

CATV, the community access television station, will take over the physical and technical management of the Briggs Opera House as of Oct. 1.

The arrangement, announced Monday, gives CATV opportunities to film performances at the opera house and to record some of its own programming there. In return, CATV will oversee the opera house and its workings. David Briggs, whose family owns the Gates-Briggs Building and the opera house, will continue to book and schedule the venerable performing arts venue. The deal is a straight barter, with no money changing hands.

Both Briggs and Samantha Davidson Green, CATV’s executive director, said the two organizations have worked together in the past and that the new arrangement continues that affinity.

“We couldn’t have pulled this together if we didn’t know each other,” Briggs said.

Davidson Green, who took the job at CATV last spring, said the opera house fills the station’s need for production space. After the Lebanon City Council voted last year to cut funding to CATV, the nonprofit moved out of the Tip Top Media Arts Building on North Main Street in White River Junction and into the Hartford Area Career and Technical Center on the Hartford High School campus. The new home provides plenty of room for offices and education but not much for production, Davidson Green said.

“The goal is to have as many members of the public have a voice in the media ecosystem,” she said. But there also needs to be a media community, where people can talk shop and have access to professional filmmaking resources.

Both the move and the pandemic have taken a toll on CATV’s programming, and people who work in moving images have been able to continue working from home. But CATV has technical expertise that can benefit filmmakers, Davidson Green said.

“There is this niche for studio-based productions and that is the piece that we want to fire up again,” she said.

Starting in January, Davidson Green plans to start teaching a film production class through Community College of Vermont. Filming events at the Briggs would provide students a hands-on opportunity, she said.

“In this region, there isn’t a huge volume of productions to give people job skills,” said Davidson Green, who taught film production at Dartmouth College from 2017 to 2019.

Although the partnership costs CATV nothing, it plans to make some improvements to the space to make it easier to record there, including recording podcasts, Davidson Green said.

The agreement with CATV injects some new life in the Briggs Opera House, which has been reinvented several times since its opening in 1890.

Most recently, the opera house was home to Northern Stage from 1998 to 2015, but the theater company built its own theater on Gates Street and moved out. Since then, it has hosted a wide range of events, from the commencement ceremonies of the Center for Cartoon Studies to concerts by local and visiting artists and productions by Opera North, We the People Theatre and JAG Productions.

Earlier this year, Briggs created a nonprofit, which is steadily planning to take over the opera house from the Briggs family.

In the meantime, events will continue, said Briggs, who charges arts groups a fee to use the 240-seat theater. But CATV staff, mainly in the person of Chico Eastridge, the station’s production director, will oversee the physical plant.

The need for video production expanded substantially during the coronavirus pandemic, when performing arts groups couldn’t convene audiences. As the pandemic drags on, that need continues; even as live theater has returned, video remains as a hedge against a spike in cases.

We the People Theatre is planning a production for November, Perry Allison, the company’s founder and producing artistic director, said Tuesday.

Davidson Green and Eastridge “are going to be able to really help us to deliver a much higher-quality production,” Allison said, “which I’m really psyched about.”

And if the show can’t go on, “at a minimum, I think we will film it and make it available” for streaming, she said.

The agreement announced this week, Davidson Green said, is about building community relationships, and that will be a key measure of its success when it comes up for renewal a year from now.

“There’s that media arts community here that’s looking for a home base,” she said, “and I would like CATV to be that.”

Alex Hanson can be reached at ahanson@vnews.com or 603-727-3207.




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