The Town Hall Theater, a focal point for the town of Middlebury and college students alike, is expanding. But the theater is no stranger to change. Since the 1800s, it has held space for a variety of community spaces, including an opera house, town offices and a failed furniture store. In its current form as a performing arts hub for the town of Middlebury and Addison County at large, it hosts plays, musical performances, camps and classes for children and adults, weddings, memorial services and more.
With all this activity, the theater is bursting at the seams, according to Lisa Mitchell, the executive director. In 2018, it bought 66 Merchants Row, adjacent to its current building at the intersection of Merchants Row and South Pleasant Street, when it was vacated by Steve’s Diner. The largest addition is a public plaza with an outdoor stage, which will allow for outdoor performances, as well as food and beverage popup stands. Other renovations will add a learning and event center, a scene shop capable of providing technical education, and the Doug and Debby Anderson rehearsal studio, which will also be used as a small performance and event rental space.
“The board searched for years for space that could meet our needs, amplify our regional impact, and secure our sustainability,” Mitchell wrote in an email to The Campus. “This project is not only an expansion of our mission; it also means a new business plan that ensures Town Hall Theater's generational sustainability.”
“It will also be amazing to have a scene shop where we can build sets, and a rehearsal room and the courtyard performing space where we can envision doing various readings and shows,” said Melissa Lourie, a member of the Town Hall Theater board of directors.
Bread Loaf Corporation will start construction on the expansion on Dec. 14. The estimated completion date for the project is Dec. 18, 2024.
“Our vision with this expansion is to create a welcoming, accessible hub for learning, performing and gathering,” wrote Mitchell.
In less than two years, the theater has raised $6.2 million toward the project’s $7.6 million total cost. It will launch its community giving phase on Dec. 12.
“Our fundraising success to date is thanks to a generous gift from Middlebury College, a grant from the state of Vermont, and the support of many generous individuals, businesses and organizations,” Mitchell wrote.
The project has also gained positive attention at the local and state level. The Middlebury SelectBoard and regional economic development authorities wrote letters in support of the expansion, which subsequently helped secure a $500,000 grant from the state. Vermont Senator Peter Welch also nominated the project for Congressionally Directed Spending.
“Thankfully, this effort has received zero public pushback. To the contrary, we are fortunate to enjoy an outpouring of public support and enthusiasm,” wrote Mitchell.
Still, the theater needs to raise $1.6 million to complete the project, and according to Mitchell, the final funding push can often be the hardest. However, she and others working on the project remain optimistic due to the force of the theater as an economic and cultural driver in the Middlebury community.
“Personally, I could not be more excited or bullish on the future of the arts in our region — or [Town Hall Theater’s] role as a cultural driver! We could not be more grateful for everyone's support,” Mitchell wrote.
For those wanting to see the new space for themselves, the Town Hall Theater will have a ground-breaking ceremony on Tuesday, Dec. 12 at 12:30 p.m. The ceremony will include Middlebury College President Laurie Patton, Executive Vice President of Finance and Administration David Provost, as well as other local and state leaders.
“Everyone is invited to attend and be part of this historic moment,” wrote Mitchell.