As Dina Janis starts her third year as artistic director of the Dorset Theatre Festival, it's possible to see one of the original animating ideas behind the summer-long offering of professional theatre in a rural setting coming into focus, she said.
When the original Dorset Playhouse was renovated in 2001, the hope was that the theater could become a regional center for dramatic excellence. That task became more difficult after the unexpected loss of its former artistic director, Jill Charles, but after a few years of transition, the goal is to get back to that vision and move forward aggressively, she said.
"We started (over the past two years) thinking about what the festival could be, should be or what was possible and doing a lot of community outreach and dialogue with people who had been involved with the festival over the past 20 years," she said. "This year we hope to go to the next level."
Having laid in a foundation that allows for more marketing support and regional outreach to broaden the audience base, the idea is to stage quality productions with strong, talented casts and directors, capable of putting the festival back on the regional map, and maybe more, Janis said.
"It's a huge task, but I think in the past few years we've been able to solidify the structure and now it's a question
There are four plays that will get put out there this year, beginning with David Lindsay-Abaire "Good People," a regional premier about the haves and have-nots of Boston's south end. Being the first theatre to stage the play regionally is a prime example of what the theatre festival aspires to do - to bring fresh, innovative productions to the area - and one that won accolades when it was staged last year on Broadway. One of the actresses won a Tony Award for her performance, and one of the understudies from the Broadway cast, Tasha Lawrence, will be in the cast at Dorset.
"Good People" opens on June 22 - there will be preview performances set for June 20 and 21 - and will run through July 7, so it will be on the front end of the "Hills Alive!" week that will offer arts aficionados opportunities to take in events at four major venues around the area. Along with the Dorset Theatre Festival, the Weston Playhouse, the Southern Vermont Arts Center and the Manchester Music Festival will offer discounted pricing to holders of special "passports" to encourage visitors to attend the shows and performances.
"We're hoping that this festival will be the first of an annual festival that will put a spotlight on the region as an arts area as well as dining and shopping," Janis said.
Those taking advantage of "Hills Alive!" during its second weekend will get a shot a seeing the second production the theatre festival will offer up: "Boeing-Boeing," a play by Marc Camoletti, which will run from July 12 through July 28. According to the festival's Web site, it's a French farce that has to do with an American businessman juggling three affairs with airline stewardesses. Those who enjoyed last year's production of "Noises Off," staged last year at Dorset, will likely find this entertaining, Janis said. It will be directed by Jen Thompson, who did "Noises Off" last season.
Another highlight of the season will come around on Aug. 2-11, when the curtains rise on "The Whore and Mrs. Moore." This is a world premier of a new play by Michael Christofer, who Dorset audiences may remember from his performance two years ago of a burned-out writer in "The Novelist," a play written by Theresa Rebeck. In addition to being a Tony award-winning actor, Christofer is also a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and screenwriter. "The Witches of Eastwick" and "Bonfire of the Vanities" are among his earlier works.
"It's a huge coup to have him in," Janis said. It fits the formula Janis hopes to bring to Dorset to a "T" - a new play by a well-known, established writer that will very likely travel to a larger venue after its Dorset debut.
The regular season will conclude with a production of "Deathtrap," a play by Ira Levin that will run from Aug. 16 - Sept. 1. Similar sounding to "The Novelist," the plot involves an over-the-hill writer in a murder mystery, but with laughs and comedy thrown in.
That however, is not the end of the 37th season of the Dorset Theatre Festival. During September, the festival will continue with a "local first" angle. A playwright festival of Vermont writers is planned, as well as a young playwright's evening, where productions submitted from students at area schools will be presented.
For more information about the festival's upcoming season, visit their Web site at www.dorsettheatrefestival.org or call 802-867-2223 for tickets and subscriptions.