Words About Wilton: Gail Hoar – Andy’s is a creative venue for all ages

Gail Hoar

Gail Hoar COURTESY PHOTO

Andy's Summer Playhouse in Wilton provides summer theater opportunities for youth.

Andy's Summer Playhouse in Wilton provides summer theater opportunities for youth. Picasa—PHOTO BY GAIL HOAR

Published: 05-17-2024 8:31 AM

I recently took Maxwell, our Golden Retriever mix, on a walk up Isaac Frye Highway to the common. As I stood in front of Andy’s Summer Playhouse, I thought about how it has been and still is a huge part of our lives, our neighborhood, the Town of Wilton and even the entire Monadnock region.

Even Maxwell’s life is enriched by the presence of Andy’s with all the additional summer playmates he has from both cast and staff.

When we first moved to town, Dan Hurlin was Andy’s artistic director. His personal artistry and talent was the inspiration that propelled Andy’s on the path it is now following. Dan led the playhouse from 1980 until 1994. When we first met Dan in 1985, it didn’t take long before we offered to store props and other Andy’s accumulated treasures in our barn.

We were happy to provide that space and it made us feel we were a small part of the Andy’s family. One year, while all three of our sons were at home, we even had a brave Andy’s staff member live in the upper reaches of our barn with shower, laundry, refrigerator and cooking space in the house.

We followed Andy’s events and attended plays through Dan’s tenure, then those of Bob Lawson and DJ Potter. We even had an Andy’s Kid in our family who we watched thrive while he was part of the cast in Andy’s production of “Witches,” decades ago.

When Jared Mezzocchi came on board, our children had all fled to other parts of New Hampshire and the country. By then, we had the equivalent of an apartment downstairs that could sleep five in a pinch, and offered it to Andy’s staff every summer from then on. We hosted tech staff, playwrights, other artists and group gatherings for as many people as felt comfortable sharing that separate and private space.

We were not alone in this. Other neighbors also provide housing and support for the playhouse’s out-of-town crew. Some neighbors are on the Andy’s board. Some are parents. Others make certain the grounds look nice and pick up trash whenever they pass by. Some offer performance or rehearsal space in neighborhood buildings, while others just attend plays because they are always well-conceived, powerful and discussion-worthy productions.

And who doesn’t want to see the magic wrought by those, referred to as “Andy’s Kids,” who are learning and using skills that will last a lifetime?

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Participating and having Andy’s in our community backyard has meant we have all watched the playhouse productions mature, become known throughout New Hampshire as a breeding ground for theatrical creativity and, ultimately, become known nationally as an incubator for creative ideas and productions, all while working with a cast and tech staff of kids.

This all happened because of the original concept behind the founding of Andy’s -- a belief in kids and trusting their wisdom and insight. Children who see the world with untainted eyes, are filled with ideas they don’t know can’t work and so they go ahead and try them anyway with amazing results, if adults only give them the chance to do so. Andy’s offers that chance.

If you hang around the playhouse for awhile, it doesn’t take long to recognized the freedom the young cast and tech workers have to voice opinions, try new ideas, create sets, write plays and be as fully involved as any of the well-known staff who came from the professional theater world in New York City and beyond.

This collaboration with professional theater folks initially happened while Dan Hurlin was Andy’s artistic director. He began using his ties to New York City theater to bring professional staff and their creativity to work with New Hampshire kids at Andy’s in the 1980s.

These relationships have only grown over the past five years under Mezzocchi’s leadership. His problem now is there are more people who want to be part of Andy’s than he can hire. Mezzocchi and the other artistic directors seem cut from much of the same fabric with their vision for Andy’s combined with their ties to and respect from those involved with professional theater.

What’s been happening at Andy’s for over 50 years should more than fulfill the wildest dreams of Andy’s two founders – Peg Sawyer and Bill Williams. We can only imagine what the next 50 years hold for Andy’s.