WESTON, Vt. (AP) — Members of a beloved Vermont acting troupe were sleeping in theater buildings when torrential rain and flooding forced them to flee, with water flooding the playhouse’s massive basement containing dressing rooms, costumes and props, reaching up to the first floor.
The July storms left the large, white, columned Greek Revival building covered with layers of mud and rubble, and while volunteers and others dug their way out of the rubble, the Weston Theater Company eventually continued to perform—on higher ground. The shortened season ended last week on a smaller stage on higher ground, and the actors are now figuring out how to recoup some of the losses and rebuild their rented playhouse in the small riverside town to better cope. make against flooding.
The prominent playhouse is located in the center of the 620-resident southern community of Weston, Vermont, on the West River. The oldest professional theater company in Vermont, it attracts people from all over the country, including part-time residents and visitors who want to see actors from the New York City area without having to travel to the Big Apple.
When the theater flooded, some actors about to arrive for “Singin in the Rain” rehearsals were delayed for days. The basement also flooded during Tropical Storm Irene in 2011. This time the water was about 0.7 meters higher.
The damage is heartbreaking, especially after the struggle to recover from the pandemic that brought performances to a halt in 2020, says Susanna Gellert, the company’s Executive Artistic Director. The company performed under an outdoor tent in 2021, returning to pre-pandemic numbers only this year, she said.
“The real victim of this is our revenue,” she said.
Most of the water was pumped out of the Playhouse, but the damage was worse than after Irene, the company posted on Facebook, while also accepting offers from community members to help scrape mud from the building and administrative offices.
The company was in the middle of performances of the sold-out show ‘Buddy, The Buddy Holly story’. The set and instruments were on stage, but all the costumes were downstairs, as well as the high-end tools from the scene shop, which Gellert said represented an equipment loss of $150,000. The building’s HVAC and sprinkler systems were also destroyed.
The Weston Community Association, which owns the building and supports the theater, is still assessing the damage and cost of repairs and submitting it to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
It was the first time water reached the playhouse hall, says Dave Raymond, president of the association, who also led the group during Irene. Water “took away” the first five rows of seats, which will be salvaged, but the hardwood floors were finished, he said.
“We had to break all of that down,” said Raymond. “We had to break out the front part of the stage because the water had come up through the old well where the orchestra was standing.”
The society and the theater company spent about $450,000 to have professional crews clean up and remediate the building, he said. The association plans to move all electricity upstairs, except for the sprinkler system, and use concrete to block the windows where the water came in—a “no-brainer,” Raymond said.
“There will be no view of the beautiful river, which will become a monster if it decides to do so,” he said.
Performing the show despite the floods “appeals to the resilience of theater people,” says Andrea Johnson of Wellesley, Massachusetts, who attended “Singin’ in the Rain” with her husband when the show was moved to the smaller Walker Farm theater of the company. on higher ground. “The show must go on.”
So says actor Conor McShane, who played Cosmo, in the musical. “The show must go on, when it rains, when it shines,” he told The Associated Press — though he can’t believe he didn’t add “come flood” to the line every time, he said.
The theater company, citing the extreme devastation, ultimately decided to shorten the summer season, canceling an upcoming show and postponing another until next summer, when Raymond expects the theater to reopen.
“To everyone who came to help dig the Playhouse out of the mud (from far and wide!) and donated their time, food, money and resources to help us pave the way forward – thank you,” said the theater company, which has just completed its 87th season, posted on Facebook on Sunday. “While the road to recovery will be long and arduous, it is nothing compared to the resilience you have reminded us of, and there are no words to describe the magnitude of our gratitude.”