WHITEFIELD — Despite having its original building condemned and the new one damaged by fire, the show has always gone on at the Weathervane Theatre, which is now getting ready for its 49th season as the country's only professional summer-stock theater with an alternating repertory.
The alternating repertory — seven shows in the eight-week season, with actors mastering one show while continually learning another — is what makes the Weathervane unique and exciting both for the audience and the actors, said Lyn O. Winter, the theater's managing director.
This season, the Weathervane is putting on Annie, The 39 Steps, Cotton Club, Mary Poppins, God of Carnage, Next to Normal and Memphis.
Founded in 1966 by Gibbs Murray and the late Tom Haas, the Weathervane follows in the tradition of the Chase Barn Theatre, which from 1934 until 1962 brought actors from the Great White Way to the North Country.
In the same 1860s-circa structure that the Chase Barn Theatre once used, the Weathervane debuted in 1966 and quickly established itself. In subsequent years, there was drama both on and off the stage for the Weathervane, which in 2001 learned that its performance space was structurally unsound, necessitating the construction of a new 250-seat theater adjacent to the original.
Ten years later, the old barn, which was renovated and reinforced and was being used as a workshop for storage and dressing rooms, went up in flames. The new theater sustained some damage, but it was open in time for the Weathervane's 47th season.
The effects of the fire, however, are still being felt at the Weathervane in so far that it continues to make up financial ground that it lost. Although the theater was insured, the fire caused more than $1 million in damage, less than half of which was covered.
"We did not have a stellar year last year," Winter conceded, in large part because the theater is still paying off fire-related expenses. She expects the situation to progressively improve, adding that it has not hurt the Weathervane's offerings.
The season starts on July 5 and during its course, the 10 professional actors — joined by 10 interns as well as local adults and children — will have something to talk about for a long time, said Winter.
"The Metropolitan Opera does an alternating repertory," Winter noted, "but they have hydraulic lifts" to move the scenery between shows, whereas at the Weathervane, everything is done the old-fashioned way: by hand.
"We're the only people crazy enough to do this," Winter said of the alternating repertory, adding that for the actors it means "they have an opportunity to perform up to six different roles that they might not be cast in. This is a place where they can rekindle their craft and be challenged and it is challenging."
The actors live and eat together and they build a camaraderie which is "a throwback" to how summer theater used to be, said Winter.
For the audience — two-thirds of which comes from within a 50-mile radius of the theater — the Weathervane "infuses enthusiasm," Winter said, not only in terms of the action on stage, but by the versatility of its schedule.
Time-pressed visitors to the North Country "can see three shows in one weekend," said Winter, while those with more time as well as locals have peace of mind in knowing that they can see any show they want in any given week of the season.
"We want theater to be for everyone," Winter said, including for those who enjoy video games and other diversions. "With live theater, you never know what's going to happen," she said, but the Weathervane, as it has done for 48 previous seasons, does have one constant.
"Day by day, inch by inch," the mission of the Weathervane, said Winter, "is finding a way to engage people in art."