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Zoe Bradford, co-founder of Company Theatre, talks teamwork and fond memories

Before becoming a theatre director, Zoe Bradford, co-founder of the Company Theatre of Norwell, thought her life was headed toward film. As Company Theatre of Norwell celebrates their 35th anniversary, Zoe is so grateful for the direction her life ended up taking and for the wonderful people she has worked with over the years.

Catherine Oliviere as Young Cosette
Catherine Oliviere as Young Cosette
Courtesy of Michelle McGrath and the Company Theatre of Norwell

I had the honor of meeting with Zoe Bradford, co-founder of the Company Theatre about what these 35 years has meant for her and her team, working to make what the Company Theatre of Norwell is today. Check out the slideshow of new production photos of upcoming musical 'Les Miserables' and more.

The 35th season has been fantastic so far. How did you decide what shows and concerts you’d be putting on each year?

The concerts are always challenging, because I consider it a little bit like gambling. You’ve got to know your audience and guess what they like. We try to keep our concert season in the winter because the ‘South Shore Music Circus’ and other things are competing with summer. We had a really tough winter, so that was a little hard, but usually very successful. We really analyze and figure out what people are going to want to see.

‘Les Miserables’ is the nugget. When it first came out in the 1980s, Michael, Jordie, Sally, and I all said, ‘Oh my god! When can we do ‘Les Miz?’ By the 90s we said, ‘We don’t know if we’ll get to do ‘Les Miz’ in our lifetime, they’re never going to release that puppy. Then it’s the 2000s and we’re still singing that song!

Now it’s 2014, they’ve finally released it to high schools and then let it out! We’re one of the first organizations to do it.

You put together productions so swiftly! Do you have a blueprint or anything that you work on before you attack these shows?

Sometimes we do, but it feels like you can hardly keep your head above water because when one is happening, the next is down the pike. ‘White Christmas’ is our final show of the year. It’s particularly challenging because I think it will be a repeat show, so we’ll have to build and design it so we can store it. That’s hard, but I have a feeling that it will be such a smash hit for people looking for a holiday event that we can alternate it with ‘A Christmas Carol.’ We’re going to do a little bit of projection work on Les Miserables, and we might do some film work in ‘White Christmas.’ It might call for it and I’ll have to look at that when I’m ready to study that, which is probably not until after ‘Les Miz’ opens for now.

Then we’ve got ‘The Glass Menagerie,’ which is enjoying this incredible resurgence with the Tony nominations! I’ve spoken extensively with one of the producers who lives locally and who has been kind enough to talk to me about her experience. We’ve also got a great director on it and I think it’s going to be a wonderful piece.

There are wild new concepts on Broadway! The director has a concept he wants the mother and daughter to feel like they are trapped in sort of a birdcage, with the fire escapes closing in. I think I’ve come up with a pretty good design and James Valentin will be executing that and I’ll work with him a bit. James is really the master at making it happen.

I go to Maine every year and usually take two trips in the summertime to scout out interesting things that will offset our shows that are coming up for the year.

In the years you’ve been doing theatre, what do you think is the biggest surprise for you?

Oh gosh, interesting question. For me, I think it was an early discovery. I remember waking up on the day when I realized that I wasn’t going to be a film maker, but a theatrical director. Jordie was right on board and we were going to start this thing. Suddenly, my life became clear that I could do every kind of art form. I could have my hand in everything, be it costume or make up design. I could just oversee the whole thing and help create a world and work on a team.
Film and photography, in particular, can be more for a loner. You shoot with everybody, but then for your sound and all of your post production, you are alone in the editing room making it happen.

I’m a people person and I love the teamwork. That’s what I thrive on. It was an early revelation for me to say it is crystal clear what I’m supposed to do and now I’ve got to do it. I think the later on surprise and challenge was how to juggle family, home responsibility, pets, children, and still have a massive dedication to the theatre. I’m sure that everybody has to make sacrifices, but I think that the reward of it was amazing to be able to incorporate family and extended family. The world became very wonderful.

Another big surprise was how many people have become involved. When I was young and we were in the First Church of Weymouth, I’d be in the parking lot and I’d look into the lower windows of the basement and see everything happening. I’d say, “Wow, this wouldn’t be happening if Jordie and I didn’t say we’ve got to do this.” I’d see everybody working hard. That concept exploded into something huge with the addition of Michael, Sally, and other people who have come onboard for us.

Every day I pull up to the theater, I find it a blessing to have a job you love. It’s hard, there’s nothing easy about it, but you love it, and you constantly get to make creative decisions. Another surprise is having somebody come into the theatre and bringing their children. They started with us as a 17 or 18 year old, and now they bring their 17 or 18 year old.

It’s the longevity of it and I think as a young person I did not foresee it at all! You’re just living in the moment and suddenly it’s children and all of the hundreds of people on Facebook and letters that we’ve gotten saying if it wasn’t for you I don’t know where I would be today, or one of us has changed their lives in some way or saved their lives because they felt like they were in a safe place, a safe environment. Those are the things that have been the hugest payoffs for the 35 years.

Some days I come in and say this is hard! I see why people don’t make it in theatre with all the sacrifice you may have to make with family, friends, or money, saying the important thing is that your staff gets paid or your bills get paid and not you. You have to be willing to make sacrifices.

It’s been a beautiful thing to occasionally get a letter that somebody is getting married or their retrospective for some reason. They say, “Wow, Company Theatre really made a difference in my life, thank you.” It’s the longevity of our organization, the benefits it has provided has been really a wonderful experience. I don’t know if it’s been a surprise, but a remarkable payoff.

‘Les Miserables’ will premiere on Thursday, July 24 through Sunday, July 27 and continue Wednesday through Sundays through Sunday, August 17 at the Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts. Visit companytheatre.com for more information and here for tickets!