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Company Theatre co-founder Zoe Bradford talks the unexpected & theatre education

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Celebrating 35 years is a fantastic feat for any organization. For the Company Theatre of Norwell, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts, it meant expansion to their already excellent theatre education programs and a theatre facelift.

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I had the honor of meeting with Zoe Bradford, co-founder of the Company Theatre of Norwell, for a closer look into these enhancements.

What didn’t you expect to accomplish that you accomplished?

Having a home base is so wonderful. We formed in 1979 and have been out looking for a place since the 80s. We knew we needed our own space, but it seemed so insurmountable to get that much money together and that much support. We started in a church basement.

Getting this place, a theatre in an industrial park, it’s kind of odd. You usually think of it in the city, but then I realized there’s parking galore, there's restaurants all over, it’s easy to get to from the highway, and accessible to the entire South Shore and Greater Boston area. Just a little highway trip away!

For people who have children that want to do the educational program for kids, it’s accessible for them. They don’t have to drive in to Boston for their child’s education in dance, music, and all of the things that we’ve been doing.

You mentioned on the 30th anniversary, the rent was almost paid off. With the 35th anniversary, it’s been paid and with came all of these enhancements that you made recently. You enhanced the theatre with new chairs, overall renovations.

When we took over, although it was a lovely theatre, things were getting old and tired. Through the production of our original work, ‘Paragon Park,’ because of the great success of that production, we were able to fundraise aggressively and get a matching grant from the state, a wonderful grant. We had two years to get it, but because of the success of our show and the success of us as a group, we matched it in a year.

People really wanted to support us and see the changes such as new seats, paint, carpeting, just upgrade everything. People who come here get a really nice, comfortable experience, just something special.

That’s the award-winning ‘Paragon Park.’ That was your first original production in a few years.

All the magic happened. It was really great and I am hoping we’ll be able to produce it again here or have a professional company pick it up so that it can continue on to be an originator of any important new work. We hope that we will continue to do original works and let be a part of our signature too.

Studio One is another enhancement.

Right, which is so exciting! Michael Joseph came on as our Academy of the Company Theatre (ACT) partner in 1987 because Jordie and I founded the theatre. Michael was already our music director in 1984 and stayed with us as resident musical director.

We all got together and said we need to form a school. We have been fulfilling that need since 1987 with a lot of great programs by doing shows and this huge summer workshop which offers over 70 classes in performing, visual arts, media, film, dance, you name it.

The workshop was doing great! We don’t even have to advertise to keep kids in and they keep returning. We are offering four shows a year now. We used to do two youth shows a year. Now were up to four, two for younger kids under 13, and the two high school aged, one musical and one non-musical.

We’re still turning kids away, especially in the younger crowd. Michael said we need to fill this niche. Once again there’s a need for kids to be able to get into these shows and you can only cast so many people.

We need to offer more programs, so we’re expanding that into adult education, which has been asked about for a long time. We thought maybe people would just rather go into Boston and dance with somebody really prestigious or sing with a private coach. When we started offering classes for adults, they have shown great interest.

Studio One is really taking off! We bring in really great artists to teach and have adult acting and voice classes which is fabulous. People can learn how to audition, they can do it just for fun, or they can actually apply things then move on from us as a stepping stone if they want to do some college or whatever. Younger kids can learn these arts.

As a part of our summer workshop program, we recently upgraded our outdoor stage. We hope to offer a couple of outdoor theater experiences because our indoor stage is booked. We’re either building a show onstage, we’re rehearsing it, or it is happening. We’re out of time. We can do some things with kids like a teen show, some Shakespeare, or classical. We want to expand out there too.
Many, many dreams for Studio One, bringing in guest artists possibly from New York for just a one day master class. Those are all things in development.

I wanted to touch a little on ACT. You just did ‘Our Town,’ but you do a wide range of shows because you just did Disney’s ‘Aladdin’ and you did ‘The Hiding Place’ which was a true story.

I love working on a true story. That’s kind of like an original work because even though there was a roughed out play, I happened to know the authors of ‘The Hiding Place’ book which is what the play was based on, and I coordinated with them. That was a wonderful project.

For those readers who don’t know, it’s a true story about Corrie Ten Boom, a woman that hid many Jews in her father’s clock shop during the Nazis takeover of Holland. It’s a beautiful, moving story from a different point of view, maybe more of a Christian versus the Jewish point of view, but a real sympathizer who ended up in a concentration camp.

What an experience for the kids to meet the author who knew Corrie Ten Boom! I love it when we can do a project where we can bring in that close a connection and the students were able to actually touch some of Corrie Ten Boom’s things that had been passed on to Elizabeth Sherrill who had written the book with her husband John. Elizabeth had her teapot for instance. The kids got to hold it, that’s the real hands-on theater that interests me. The kids who worked on it said they were sure they would never forget it.

We always love to have schools come and watch, especially when the kids can watch their peers! There’s nothing kids love better than watching other kids perform. Even when we do an adult show like ‘A Christmas Carol’ and bring in children to watch it as a field trip, Tiny Tim always gets the biggest applause no matter how brilliant Scrooge is. The kids go wild because it’s a kid up there and they know that’s a big deal. I love those kinds of experiences.

To look into the Company Theatre’s extensive adult, teen, and children’s theatre options in Studio One, click here. For more on the Academy of the Company Theatre, visit companytheatre.com or click here. Check out the slideshow for more on ACT and Studio One!

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