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by BWW News Desk
The Northern Stage Company of White River Junction, Vermont announced today that the Board of Directors and Founding Artistic Director Brooke Ciardelli have agreed that the current production will be her last with the company. Ms. Ciardelli has led the artistic team at Northern Stage since its formation in 1997, guiding it through 16 seasons of critically acclaimed professional theater. She has served in many capacities for the Company including Artistic Director since its inception, director of more than 50 percent of the main stage productions, as well as serving as Managing Director and CEO for many seasons and as a member of the Board of Directors.
This change will allow Ms. Ciardelli to pursue other artistic projects while Northern Stage, which enjoyed its largest-ever attendance last season, focuses on future goals, including expanding the patron base, developing a more robust education program, and continuing the work on stage that has entertained and enlightened northern New England for a decade and a half.
She leaves Northern Stage with a legacy of over 100 quality productions, which have led to many friendships with longtime patrons and artists. Ms. Ciardelli said, “I will greatly miss working with the extraordinary actors and designers who have come to Northern Stage again and again, attracted by the quality of the art and the tremendous support of the Upper Valley community, as well as the dedicated and talented staff members.” She added that she will particularly miss her regular contact with the Northern Stage patrons who have given so generously to help support the Company's productions over the years, from it's meager beginnings of $6,000 to the current $2m+ annual operating budget.
In announcing Ms. Ciardelli's departure, Northern Stage Board Chair Stuart Johnson said, “Brooke will be missed. Although her career and Northern Stage’s paths will diverge, we will work together in making the transition a smooth one. She not only brought her talent and energy to Northern Stage, but her contacts in the theater community here and abroad allowed Northern Stage to bring a wide range of talent here for the benefit of Upper Valley audiences.”
“Over 16 years, Brooke has produced an enviable body of work that will long be remembered for its quality and impact on everyone involved,” Mr. Johnson continued. “She has the great appreciation of the Board, the staff, and the many enthusiastic audience members who have enjoyed her productions over the years. We wish her the best in her future endeavors.”
In 1997, Brooke Wetzel Ciardelli saw a need for top-quality professional theater in rural Vermont. After discovering that the historic Briggs Opera House in White River Junction, VT was vacant, she raised about $6,000 in a blind solicitation of known theater lovers in the area and launched the inaugural season of Northern Stage 16 years ago. Since then, the company has grown to a major, award-winning regional theater with an annual budget of over $2 million.
This growth was achieved in part due to Ciardelli's careful management, but it was her artistic vision, her uncompromising demand for quality in all areas and her attention to detail that produced the high-quality theater that kept audiences returning and inspired millions in donations.
Northern Stage is a regional non-profit theater operating under an Actor's Equity Association (the professional actor's union) League Of Resident Theaters (LORT-D) contract Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin has said, "Under Brooke Ciardelli's guidance, Northern Stage has grown into a vibrant and successful professional theater company," and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders commented, "Brooke has directed one of the most successful rural theater companies in the nation."
Under Ciardelli's leadership, Northern Stage produced 111 mainstage productions over 16 seasons, of which she directed or co-directed 52, as well over a dozen staged readings. Over 380,000 tickets were sold over that time to shows that featured over 2,000 characters portrayed and creative team members hired, of which 350 were by actors who have appeared on Broadway and 306 were by area young people. This provided an estimated direct economic impact of $5.5 million over that time period, as well as indirect and induced impacts that brought the total economic impact to over $12 million, generating tax revenues of over $3 million. Ticket sales grew from 6,006 in 1997-98 to a record 33,408 in 2011-12, and raised income grew by over 209% over the last 10 years.
The company won Moss Hart Awards for Excellence in Theater from the New England Theatre Conference five times, for To Kill A Mockingbird (Best Professional Production, 1999), All My Sons (Honorable Mention, 2004), Les Misérables (Best Professional Production, 2008), Hamlet (Best Professional Production and Best Overall Production, 2009) and Amadeus (Honorable Mention, 2010), the last four of which she directed. She also won an Addison Award for The Shrew Tamer, and the company has won five Owl Awards in the three years since the awards were established, including Best Artistic Director.
As a creator, Brooke has adapted a number of classical pieces for the stage. In 2007 her adaptation of Ovid's Metamorphoses, The O Myths - "A most delightful and refreshing original theater piece based on this ancient masterpiece" - was performed at Dartmouth College as the basis of an international exchange between Dartmouth students and actors from New York, Zimbabwe, Mexico and Romania. Her adaptation The Shrew Tamer combining Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew with the response piece The Tamer Tamed by Shakespeare contemporary John Fletcher—was reviewed as "a delicious new comedy," and Ed Siegel of the Boston Globe wrote, "Ciardelli has fashioned a play of significant historical interest." She also guided the development—and produced the World Premieres of two new musicals, Take Two and A Christmas Carol: The Musical.
Through her relationship with Giles Ramsay and his U.K.-based company Developing Artists, she has worked with actors from Zimbabwe, Mexico, Cape Verde and England, as well as touring, as co-director, with LAm My Own Wife to Harare, Zimbabwe and Edinburgh, Scotland. Brooke has been a guest lecturer at many venues throughout the world, and in the summer of 2010, she co-directed a production of Macbeth by Castle Theatre Company, which toured England and the northeast U.S., including Off-West End and Off-Broadway performances. She also brought the U.S. premiere of the acclaimed Irish one-man show Torn Crean, Antarctic Explorer for a performance run at Northern Stage and a U.S. tour, including an Off-Broadway run at The Irish Repertory Theatre.
Ciardelli is a Visiting Fellow of University College, Durham University, Durham, England, and has been a guest lecturer at the State University of New York, Albany; Harare International Festival of the Arts, Zimbabwe; the Elderhostel Program Tour to the Fringe Festival, Edinburgh, Scotland; Dartmouth College, NH; New England Theatre Conference, Boston, MA; Kendal at Hanover, NH; Adventures in Learning, NH; Keene State College, NH and others.
She directed a staged reading of Arthur Miller's then-unpublished Resurrection Blues with the playwright in residence. She has directed Patrick Stewart and Lisa Harrow in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and worked with playwright Sonja Linden on the American Premiere of The Strange Passenger. Brooke has also directed regional premieres of Wit (featuring Lisa Harrow from the New York production), The Beauty Queen of Leenane, Pride 's Crossing and Enigma Variations, as well as many large-scale musicals.
Building community has been critical for the company, because their central Velmont location has created serious obstacles. Located in the second-least-populous state in the nation, they do not have the advantage of a large population base. In a city of five million, attracting just one percent of the population gives a theater a base of 50,000. In a community of 77,000 people, drawn from four counties and dozens of small communities, Northern Stage has served roughly 18,000 households or nearly 25% of the population. A recent study revealed that only nine theater companies in the U.S. are located at least 40 miles from a major urban area (50,000 population or greater), have annual ticket revenue of at least $750,000, and are not part of a university or government. Only four of those theaters produce their own shows and operate for at least seven months out of the year. Northern Stage is one of those four.
Ciardelli has developed extensive community engagement programming that reflects her "openstudio" orientation. This programming included informal "Script Club" lunchtime seminars with directors and multi-session enrichment activities (such as "Mozart Revealed," in conjunction with a production of Amadeus, conducted along with an opera company, and "Red Revealed," which she teamed with Dartmouth College's Hood Museum of art, and The AVA Gallery).
Ciardelli established the "Celebrity Saturday" talk-back series to allow audiences to interact directly with professional actors and directors, as well as the Athena Sunday series of expert preshow lectures. Under her leadership, the Backstagers, an active and enthusiastic group of community volunteers, provided "open arts dialogue" dinners for actors and participated in costume, prop and set construction. The Trendsetters Celebration, an annual fundraiser, also served to honor individuals and businesses who were critical in helping the company's growth and provided attendees with an inside look at each upcoming season.
Professional education programs developed by Ciardelli provided thousands of area young people with opportunities for rural students to improve acting, singing, dancing, filmmaking and pla-ywriting skills under the tutelage of working theater professionals from New York and around the country. Project Playwright offered fifth and sixth graders throughout Vermont and New Hampshire an opportunity to write their own short plays under the supervision of professional playwrights and to see their work performed by professional actors, directors and designers on the Briggs Opera House stage. Attendance at low-cost school-day matinees of the company's professional productions has totaled over 15,000. The company's Ensemble program as well as it's Oracle Program, for ages 8-18 provided professional training in all aspects of theater, from acting and stage management to costuming and set building, leading to six major Family Theater Productions performed almost entirely by this troupe.
Ciardelli also developed in-school residencies and youth internship opportunities. The Lebanon Shakespeare Residency, for example, engaged the entire ninth grade at Lebanon High School in a week-long Shakespeare immersion, resulting in a culminating performance by all students, for nine consecutive years. Many students from Northern Stage's professional theater arts training program have gone on to careers in theater, including several who have appeared on Broadway, on television commercials and in film.
In 2011, Ciardelli developed and implemented a months-long, statewide version of "The Big Read," a National Endowment for the Arts literacy program, with events available live, over the Internet and via community access cable.
Ciardelli's work has attracted the notice of—and funding from—such prestigious grantmakers as the Shubert Foundation, the Billy Rose Foundation, the Doris Duke Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Theater Communications Group, the Henderson Foundation, the HOPE Foundation, the Bay and Paul Foundations, the Veilliont Arts Council, the Vermont Humanities Council, the New Hampshire Arts Council, the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, Jane's Trust and many more.
Her leadership at Northern Stage also led to numerous collaborations with businesses and arts organizations. The quality of Northern Stage productions inspired over 500 local businesses to sponsor productions and programs. A major collaboration with Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and Dartmouth Medical School to send students and medical residents to Northern Stage's production of Wit. Ciardelli arranged a collaboration with the AVA Gallery and the Hood Museum of Art for site visits and guest lecturers as part of the "Red Revealed" series spotlighting painter Mark Rothko, the subject of the play Red. Other major collaborations have involved Opera North, Pentangle Arts Council, The Haven, CAT V-8 Community Access Television, the Center for Cartoon Studies, Norwich University, the Hartford Library, the Quechee Library, and many area non-profits.
All of this success was made possible by an invaluable team of artists, designers, technicians, administrative staff, members of the Board of Directors, donors, volunteers, businesses and ticket buyers, whose efforts resulted in top-quality theater in Vermont. For further information and full production history, visit Ms. Ciardelli's website: www.brookeciardelli.com.