Easthampton Theater Company and Williston Northampton School form partnership: Ensemble will stage its next play, “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” at school in June

The cast and supporting staff for “The Man Who Came to Dinner” by Easthampton Theater Company do an initial read of the play at Southampton Congregational Church. ECT will stage the play in June at the Williston-Northampton School as part of a new partnership with the school.

The cast and supporting staff for “The Man Who Came to Dinner” by Easthampton Theater Company do an initial read of the play at Southampton Congregational Church. ECT will stage the play in June at the Williston-Northampton School as part of a new partnership with the school. IMAGE COURTESY MICHAEL BUDNICK

From left, Tom Piccin, Maggie McCally, Matt O’Reilly and Gilana Chelimsky rehearse in spring 2023 in the parish hall of St. Phillip’s Episcopal Church in Easthampton for Easthampton Theater Company’s production of “God of Carnage.”

From left, Tom Piccin, Maggie McCally, Matt O’Reilly and Gilana Chelimsky rehearse in spring 2023 in the parish hall of St. Phillip’s Episcopal Church in Easthampton for Easthampton Theater Company’s production of “God of Carnage.” STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

By STEVE PFARRER

Staff Writer

Published: 03-31-2024 1:15 PM

Modified: 04-01-2024 8:40 AM


EASTHAMPTON — Easthampton Theater Company (ETC), which since forming in late 2022 has staged two sold-out productions at the Blue Room at CitySpace, has formed a new partnership with the Williston Northampton School — one that will bring both a new ETC play and a summer youth theater program to the campus.

Michael O. Budnick, ETC’s president, said the collaboration with Williston Northampton will enable the company to stage its first large production, “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” June 20-23 in the school’s main theater, which can seat 250, compared to about 80-100 people at the Blue Room.

“It also has a much deeper stage, so it gives us the opportunity to build a bigger set, with easier access in and out for the actors,” he said.

As part of the new arrangement, the theater plans to host a two-week youth theater program, for students in the middle school/high school range, in July on campus, using staff drawn from ECT’s board and and some affiliated theater groups in the Valley.

“This really came about because both sides were able to help each other out,” said Budnick. “We get a really good deal on using their facilities when their students are gone, and we can offer them assistance with their summer programs … they’ve been in the process of recalibrating” those programs.

Kevin Burke, Williston’s director of summer programming, echoed that thought, saying that the school’s discussions with ECT soon revealed ways to collaborate.

“We always do our best to accommodate community requests to use Williston’s facilities,” Burke said in a statement. “But it became apparent very quickly that we have an opportunity to create a unique partnership that benefits everyone involved, especially the young people of the area and the community as a whole.”

Details about the summer theater program are still being worked out, but Budnick said the intent is to have about 40 students attend; funding from grants and donations will ideally enable underserved teens to take part in the program, he noted.

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The program will be led by Eva Husson-Stockhamer, the performing arts director at Mohawk Trail Regional School. Husson-Stockhamer is also the vice president of ETC’s board of directors and has taught theater and dance in other places in the Valley. In addition, she’s directing the upcoming “The Man Who Came to Dinner.”

Budnick says ECT had been looking for some time for a larger performance space in the area to put on its new play, a much larger production than the company’s first two plays, “God of Carnage” and “Torch Song,” which both had small casts. By contrast, “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” first staged in New York in 1939, has 24 characters.

In addition, ECT and Williston-Northampton intend to collaborate on future productions on campus by the theater company when possible, Budnick says.

“There will be opportunities for us during school vacations, when students are not on campus and there’s no conflict with the school’s activities,” he said. “We’ll keep talking. We’re really grateful we’ve created this partnership. It keeps with our mission of being an important part of this really vibrant arts community” in Easthampton.

And Burke added, “Partnering with ETC affords everyone involved an opportunity to share their passions for theater and, in whatever small way, helps today’s young people grow and develop into tomorrow’s well-rounded citizens.”

Additional information about Easthampton Theater Company can be found at easthamptontheater.com.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.