A read through for “The Man Who Came to Dinner.” Left to right are cast members Norman Metz, Gilana Chelimsky, Larry Picard and Taylor Raucher.
Photo credit: Michael Budnick

EASTHAMPTON — Community theater will continue to make its mark in the area’s art scene thanks to a new collaboration.

On March 27, Easthampton Theater Company announced a partnership with Williston Northampton School to bring opportunities for local theater in multiple ways.

According to the announcement, the school will host ETC’s upcoming spring production, “The Man Who Came to Dinner” in their “state-of-the-art” theater, and ETC will also run youth summer programs on campus.

Michael Budnick, the president of the ETC, told Reminder Publishing that ETC’s first two productions they spearheaded, “God of Carnage” and “Torch Song,” were so successful that the production group decided to look for bigger venues to host their shows.

Eventually, they landed with Williston because the partnership is mutually beneficial.

“The Williston partnership had the potential to be kind of a two-way partnership because they were looking for people to run their summer program to restart what had once been a theater program for kids on campus,” Budnick said.

Williston’s theater, which holds 250 seats, brings myriad benefits for future shows, according to Budnick, including ample parking, a large stage, a lot of space and great tech and sight lines.

“The stage is expansive; it’s wide and deep,” Budnick said. “We can do plays like we’re doing [in the spring], which has a cast of 24 and an elaborate set…it really kind of leapfrogs us to the next level when it comes to being vibrant community theater for Easthampton.”

The facilities also allow ETC to run their Summer Youth Theater program on campus, which Budnick said will include two weeks of programming this year in the month of July with 20 students expected each week.

“These will be teens, so, those entering eighth grade through senior year of high school,” Budnick said of the demographic.

The youth program will be directed by Eva Husson-Stockhamer, the performing arts director at Mohawk Trail Regional and a teacher of theater and dance throughout the Valley.

“As a community theater, it has been one of our goals to offer theater education and encourage the participation of area youth in theater arts,” Husson-Stockhamer said in a statement. “Three of our board members are educators, and we have strong relationships with theater folks throughout the area, so Williston is a great fit for ETC. With their expansive campus and well-appointed theater arts facilities, the school provides the perfect partner and launching pad for ETC’s community theater education component.”

While the specifics of the program are still being hashed out, Budnick said the curriculum will be an introductory theater craft for teens.

By the end of the course, the students will spearhead some type of performance that parents will be invited to.

“The nice thing about the facility is it’s large enough and it’s capable enough that they can get exposed to a lot of different aspects of theater, including acting and reading scripts and auditioning and the basic stuff,” Budnick said, of the course. “But then there’s also enough capability for them to see how tech works, how lighting works, how sound works.”

The program is open to teens across Western Mass., and according to Budnick, the hope is to use grants and other sponsorship opportunities to give underserved teens in the region the ability to join the program for little to no cost.

After this year, Budnick said he hopes to expand the program to include more teens.

“Community outreach and involvement have always been a core value at Williston, and our goal is to continue that tradition as we grow and develop our new summer programs initiative,” said Kevin Burke, the director of summer programming for Williston. “Partnering with ETC affords everyone involved an opportunity to share their passions for theater and, in whatever small way, help today’s young people grow and develop into tomorrow’s well-rounded citizens.”

ETC’s next show, “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” will run from June 20-23.
Easthampton Theater Company is a production group created by Easthampton and nearby residents to bring quality theater productions and related cultural/educational programming to the city. Its founding board and members are dedicated to growing ETC as a premier theatrical venue and destination for the valley.

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