The Dorset Theatre
Dorset Festival, now in its 40th year, mounts four main stage productions a year from June to September, drawing some of the country’s most talented playwrights, actors, and directors by Heather DiLeo
Situated between two other major cultural hubs—the Berkshires and New York’s Capital Region—Bennington has often been defined by its neighboring draws and less often by its own creative pull. In 2017 that changed when the National Center for the Arts ranked Bennington the third most vibrant arts community in the U.S. for its size.
Bennington’s artistic vitality owes considerably to the way area arts organizations share objects from their respective collections, synchronize shows, and think about how their programming can complement one another’s. Then, there’s the symbiotic relationship these organizations have with the College.
When you pair College faculty and student artists, the start and stop of these collaborations between institutions can be difficult to distinguish. Members of the College community curate for, perform, exhibit, volunteer, and intern with nearly all of the cultural organizations in the area. The history of specific College-institutional collaborations would fill several volumes. Underlying all of them is a common vision of the vital role the arts play in the community.
Anne Thompson, inaugural director and curator of Bennington College’s Suzanne Lumberg Usdan Gallery, came to Bennington drawn to the local/campus permeability. She sees her role as curator inside and outside of the Usdan Gallery—one that will build on the myriad of developing partnerships with arts organizations locally, regionally, and globally.
“Bennington has a rich history and stunning landscape,” Thompson says. “I’m talking with a lot of people, looking at campus, looking at the region, seeing what opportunities there are to work in a context-specific way here in Vermont. The College’s history of innovation lends itself really well to thinking in an experimental way about how art gets exhibited on and off campus and in collaboration with institutions in the region and around the country,” she says.
While the area is saturated with a growing art scene, here are some of the current cultural exchanges between arts organizations and the Bennington College community.
Dorset Theatre Festival
104 Cheney Road, Dorset, VT, 05251
Dorset Festival, now in its 40th year, mounts four main stage productions a year from June to September, drawing some of the country’s most talented playwrights, actors, and directors. Under the leadership of artistic director and Bennington faculty member Dina Janis, the Festival has become known for bold and innovative programming and for its commitment to new play development, something the Boston Globe recognized in a glowing feature of the Festival that ran this summer.
Janis, who hosted several summer play-development intensives at the College for New York’s prestigious LAByrinth Theatre Company, has applied her gift for nurturing the most promising voices in contemporary theater to Dorset’s New Play Development Program in collaboration with playwright Theresa Rebeck and The Lark Play Development Center. Drawing on the vast talent pool of Bennington students and alums, as well as her own stage partnerships, Janis has built a festival in Dorset that attracts not only local residents, but an expanding and discerning audience seeking groundbreaking theater.
In addition to bringing audiences to the mountains, Janis is also bringing in headlining talent. Dorset performers have included Tim Daly ’79, as well as a long roster of well-known actors such as Tyne Daly, Kristine Nielsen, and Alfre Woodard. Artists come to Dorset partly because of the challenging material it stages, and partly because it frequently offers actors the chance to originate a role in a show’s world or regional premiere. This past summer, faculty member Kirk Jackson opened the season with The Tarnation of Russell Colvin.
DTF can seem, sometimes, like a second Bennington campus with its many connections from the formal Dorset’s Young Playwrights Program, which pairs advanced Bennington College student playwrights with local middle- and high-school students to the healthy population of faculty artists and students working at the Festival and participating in the annual apprentice program.