Passing the torch: Silverthorne Theater Company moves into a new era
By Anna-Maria Goossens | Monday, March 21, 2022
By Anna-Maria Goossens
Monday, March 21, 2022
From one UMass alum to another: After eight years and the satisfaction of creating a theater company known for presenting high-quality work to the Upper Pioneer Valley and for paying its collaborator-artists for their work, Silverthorne Co-Founder and Managing Director Lucinda Kidder ‘02G retired, handing the reins to fellow alum Alison Butts ’21, who held the Interim Managing Director position for three months while the company restructured; she wraps up her time there this week. Butts shepherded the company's Theater Thursday Play Reading Series over the winter, and helped guide several mainstage shows, including the upcoming Admissions.
For her interim successor, Kidder said, she sought someone who wasn’t just adept as an artist, but who would be able to take over the day-to-day operations of the company, making connections with the community and spearheading fundraising.
“There are so many aspects to running a very small company, and you just have to be a little humble. You have to be willing to check the bathroom and empty the trash,” she said. “You need somebody who is willing to learn and get their hands dirty.”
Butts, who graduated recently after majoring in both Theater and Communications and completing a Certificate in Arts Management from the UMass Arts Extension Service as well as the Multicultural Theater Certificate, fit the bill. She is an actor, stage manager, and arts administrator. In addition to acting in season works such as Water Station, The Bacchae of Euripides and most recently Everybody, she served on the UMass Theater Season Selection Committee for two years, and was a member of the Undergraduate Advisory Council for three. She was also involved in UMass Theater student-produced work as a performer and House/Box Office Manager for three. She was an active member of UMass Theater Guild as a performer, Assistant Dramaturg, and Marketing Team member. She has worked as Marketing Associate for the Arts Extension Service, Production Manager of Broken Leg Productions for four summers, and Program Coordinator of Wakefield Repertory Youth Theater for two summers.
“One of the things that I was very impressed with, with Alison, is that she really had taken the coursework needed,” said Kidder.
“We're going to be doing substantial fundraising and honestly I'm not in a position to be able to do that anymore,” she continued, citing medical concerns as a reason for her retirement. “So it's very, very good to have somebody new and energetic and personable and all that good stuff.”
The enthusiasm was mutual.
"The work Lucinda has done over the years to build and sustain this theatre company is so admirable. I am so inspired by her leadership, kindness, and wealth of knowledge," said Butts.
She appreciated her time with the company. "I have learned so much in my three months with Silverthorne. The staff, board, and artistic collaborators are so passionate, there are many big dreams and ideas in the making. I cannot wait to see and support what they do next!" "
Kidder, who graduated from UMass with an MFA in directing in 2002, co-founded Silverthorne with former Northfield Mount Hermon theater teacher David Rowland in 2014, after returning to the Valley from the West Coast. Kidder also has long-time ties to the school as an alum. (Rowland sadly passed away in January, and in his honor, Silverthorne is sharing a reading of After the Island, his full-length sequel to Shakespeare's The Tempest on April 10th. Tickets can be purchased at EventBrite.)
“He was looking for retirement project, and of course I'd come back from Seattle with not a whole lot of things on my plate, so we decided to try this out,” Kidder said.
Their goal was to create a local company that put on high-quality productions, and where the actors and production team alike were paid for their work, “to bring in people with the kind of experience that could produce really good theater,” said Kidder. The company has attracted quite a few folks with UMass ties — Prof. Gina Kaufmann has directed and serves on the board, alum Christina Beam ‘17G is the company’s costume designer, and the list of actors includes alums like Keith Langsdale ‘06G and Linda Tardif ’11, as well as recent alums and students including Jimmy Murpthy, Ryan Dunn, William Waisnor and Sophia Schweik.
Butts noted that Admissions, which runs April 22-30, features recent alum Luke Bosco '20 in the role of Charlie Luther Mason. It is also directed by former General Manager Mark Dean.
Kidder quickly settled into the role of handling the business aspects of Silverthorne, drawing upon her extensive experience on the development and public relations side of non-profits, as well as with other theater companies.
Originally, the company made its home on the Northfield Mount Hermon campus, but the logistics of bringing in community members proved prohibitively complicated. After a time at Greenfield Community College, Silverthorne is now settled into office digs in downtown Greenfield’s LAVA (Local Access to Valley Arts) Center. The space, which Kidder helped create, is in an old bank building and houses two other arts organizations, a rehearsal space, and a small performance space where the company does its Theater Thursday readings. (Fully-mounted Silverthorne productions are held at Hawks & Reed nearby.)
“It’s really been a boon for Greenfield and it's given Silverthorne a permanent home,” said Kidder, who joked that her spare bedroom was the company’s office for far too long.
Building the theater company is not just about providing quality work, but about convincing audiences and business partners to invest in what they’re offering.
“What we have to sell is so ephemeral that a lot of people don't really quite understand. It's convincing people of the value of the cultural economy. It’s a difficult sell, especially in some places,” Kidder said.
Still, the company had built good momentum and had a great season in 2019, and started 2020 having just moved into the LAVA Centre.
“We were all poised for a fabulous year in 2020,” said Kidder — and then COVID hit. The company pivoted to online formats, both live and pre-filmed, to present its work. Silverthorne also qualified for the PPP grant and other support that helped many small businesses survive the COVID shutdowns of 2020 and 2021.
“It gave us a little bit more breathing room,” she said, “but the revenue has been drastically reduced.” Even though the company never stopped producing, ticket sales remain lower than pre-COVID, and sponsorships are tough to come by. Accordingly, looking ahead, top needs for the company will be to connect with community supporters to fundraise both to support the physical space as well as to support future productions, as well as to rebuild the audience and shore up the company's long-term success.
Butts credits her UMass education with setting her up well to tackle these challenges.
"My studies and experiences at UMass have been so valuable in me securing the job and in the work itself," she said. "I learned so much about collaboration, leadership, and all that goes into producing a season of theater with the Theater Department. My classroom experiences with the Arts Extension Service have been my saving grace! I am using what I learned in those classes daily and even looking to my notes and textbook for guidance."
In fall 2021, the company started offering live events again. And although Kidder is stepping back, she won’t be completely gone, just yet.
Kidder is staying on in an informal advisory role as the company needs her. “These are not things that you pick up right away,” she said. “I would be very remiss if I pulled out altogether.”
Asked what advice she’d give folks who are thinking about starting their own companies, Kidder counseled balance: “Listen to people who have done something similar — but also don't lose sight of what you want to do.”
Silverthorne's next live event is Theater Thursday Port of Entry written by alum Talya Kingston, performing on April 7. Free tickets can be reserved here. Admissions runs April 22-30. Tickets are now available for EventBrite. The Taming is set for fall with dates TBA; learn more about these shows and Silverthorne on the company's website.