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Thursday, Aug 18, 2022

From Break an Egg to “Break a Leg!”: Town Hall Theater Plans to Renovate

<span class="photocreditinline">Campus File Photo/Michael Borenstein</span><br />The Diner before it closed for business in May 2018.
Campus File Photo/Michael Borenstein
The Diner before it closed for business in May 2018.

The Middlebury Town Hall Theater (THT) is beginning to renovate and refurbish the former Diner, located at at 66 Merchants Row, into a performance and meeting space. The THT acquired the building, which is located just next door, in April of last year for a total of $300,000. Before the purchase, the space was home to the Diner, a well-loved breakfast joint. The Diner was a Middlebury fixture that had existed in town since the 1930’s, before being placed on the market by its owners in late winter of last year. The new space will be used to show performances, host events, and hold meetings by the Town Hall Theater. The space is already in use by theater staff for meetings and storage, and the THT plans to be ready to host events for the public in the Diner space by summer 2019.

“It’s all about flexibility,” said Mark Bradley, the executive director of the THT. The former dining room will be a performance/meeting area, while the kitchen has been gutted and will serve as storage for the theater’s productions. The kitchen currently holds some of the lumber that was used for sets in the theater’s J-Term musical. According to Bradley, this extra space is crucial. He explained that before the purchase of the adjacent building, the theater had “very little room for production work – think set building, rehearsing, costuming, etc. We’ve been able to manage, but on top of that we don’t have anywhere to store the things we’re creating, much of which we can re-use in other productions.”

The new space will primarily function as a performance venue. Although the Diner building is not large, with a long and narrow dining room reminiscent of its original form as a rail-car diner, according to Bradley, it has great potential as a performance space. A nook in the front of the main room serves as a natural stage, and the space possesses a quaint charm which the THT plans to maintain throughout the renovation process.

 On a tour of the space, the cozy feel of the Diner still shines through, even as renovation begins. The floor is patterned with red-and-white checkered linoleum tiles, and the walls are adorned with scenes of life in Middlebury, including people relaxing on the Town Green and eating in the Diner.

“It’s a really nice room to be in, you can feel the memories and the love for the place,” Bradley described. He went on to detail the ways in which the renovation process will both maintain and tune up the comfortable and nostalgic atmosphere of the interiors. The THT plans to refurbish but keep in place the original flooring, and is considering different ways to update the artwork on the walls. The murals are of actual residents of the town of Middlebury, so the THT plans to take high-resolution photographs of the murals before it updates the walls.

 Although the building will no longer be a diner, food will remain an important of the location’s function. In the short term, Bradley hopes that the THT can bring in a food truck to park outside of the venue so that visitors can eat and drink during events. In the long term, the THT plans to fully replace the Diner building with an upgraded performance space and restaurant. 

“I have dreams for a real café/bistro type area for patrons to enjoy before and after events – or the kind of place where you can enjoy a show while eating or having a drink,” Bradley said. “During the day, we will use it for meetings, rehearsals or even lease it out for pop up retail.” 

 The THT is currently gearing up for a run of performances of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, which will run between April 25 and 28 and May 2 through 5 and features a few Middlebury College students. The theater frequently offers opportunities for Middlebury theater students to perform, including hosting the J-Term musical in January, which this year was ‘Sunday in the Park with George’. Some of these same students could perform in the Diner space as soon as next fall.

 The THT represents an important community institution for the town of Middlebury. Jeremy Navarro ’21, who interns at the theater in the business office, spoke about the theater’s recent “Shakespeare in Elementary” series, which encourages local public school students to participate in productions of Shakespearean plays. “It’s an amazing theatrical endeavor that unites a lot of families and builds up a good community space,” said Navarro. 

The theater’s goals, according to Bradley, are to “help build and strengthen communities, to offer great events and experiences and to have the space and resources to do this work well.” 

 Although the THT has general goals for the space, it seems that its vision for the building is flexible and being shaped and refined day-to-day due to the versatility of the space and the variety of events that the theater offers, ranging from “folk music set[s] to comedy and theater,” as Bradley puts it. Whatever the final result, the new space promises to be an entertaining attraction that will enrich the cultural offerings of the town and college community.