March 19, 2016

WRJ theater company uses for-profit business model

Jonathan Verge has founded The Gatherwool Theatre Company in White River Junction.

Taylor Hooper

Jonathan Verge has founded The Gatherwool Theatre Company in White River Junction.

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — Jonathan Verge returned home to the Upper Valley for what was to be a short visit after a decade producing and directing theater in Chicago. That visit led to the launch of The Gatherwool Theatre Company LLC, which produced its first play within six weeks of its inception at the Briggs Opera House at 5 South Main St. in White River Junction.

Verge said that a conversation he had with David Briggs inspired him to look at the opportunity this growing downtown offered. Briggs, owner of the Gates Briggs Building and the Coolidge Hotel in White River Junction, has long been involved in revitalization efforts in his hometown. In 1997, the Briggs Opera House was key to luring Northern Stage to make its home there. Those efforts were so successful that Northern Stage built a new theater (Barrette Center for the Arts) in White River Junction, which they moved into last fall. Through the efforts of people like Briggs, Matt Bucy, James Sturm and many others, the town has been seeing growth in business and artistic activity. With the addition of another theater, it may be poised to become a theater hub.

Briggs brought Verge up to date on the changes and vibrant growth White River Junction has experienced since Verge departed Lebanon, N.H., to study Musical Theatre at Syracuse University — and how the arts have been, and will be, integral to its ongoing revitalization. Verge considered putting together a one-off show but then his conversation with Briggs took a different turn. Verge says he began to understand Briggs’ vision for the opera house, for White River Junction, and it resonated with his own interests. Within a week, Verge had decided: he would start a new for-profit theater company downtown.

“I came home on Nov. 6, and by Nov. 13 I was filing the paperwork. By Jan. 1, we were an official entity.” The company was formed with Jonathan Verge (president and founding artistic director), Clint Carter (vice president, treasurer and founding executive director) and founding members Steven Besic, Erin Kukla, Denise Dennis Shibles and Stuart Williams.

Gatherwool Theatre is a for-profit theater, while most arts organizations in this region are nonprofits.

“In Chicago there were not enough donors, board members and audience members to go around,” Verge explained. “You wind up depleting the resources and organizations find it hard to thrive. I didn’t want to pull from what North Country Community Theatre, City Center Ballet,and others are already doing. We wanted to provide a backbone as a theater-in-residence [at the Briggs Opera House] but not deplete the resources by going after the donor bases.”

There are models like it around the country.

“For a regional theater of this size, it’s a different way to look at it. Traditionally summer stock theaters were operated like that,” Verge said. When Gatherwool planned its season, “I wanted to make sure that we could allow space between our shows and not take away from community groups [who want to use the opera house]. There is a lot of energy there.”

They are looking for local investors who share the vision of wanting to see the Briggs used for theater and as a community space. Gatherwool will be, essentially, a theater-in-residence at the Briggs Opera House. Gatherwool is also creating partnerships to give back to the community. For example, they’ll be working with Windsor County Partners, which provides adult mentors for kids, in their next show “John and Jen” (April 10 to May 8, 2016) , to give back to the community and provide awareness of community programs and needs.

Gatherwool Theatre is looking to sell a total of 204 shares at $5,000 per share. A minimum of one share can be purchased and they are expected to appreciate over time.

“We will also be looking on a show by show basis for investors who want to come in on a per show basis,” Verge noted.

For investors, the question may be: what are they selling?

“It’s definitely a long-term investment,” Verge said. “It’s investment to build the quality of life in the Upper Valley. Investment in a top quality professional product [theater]. Investing in the continuing diversity of options of entertainment and things to do in the Upper Valley. Even though we’re for profit, we’re working with groups like Windsor County Partners. And with Briggs Opera House which is a place that people want to go to. We’re hoping to help breathe new life into it and bring it to its full potential.”

For more information about the upcoming season, visit www.thegatherwool.com or call the box office at 698-8325. The administrative office is available at 698-8071.

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