Middletown's historic Everett Theatre is starting off 2014 with big changes. For the first time in its history, an executive director has been hired to oversee the facility and its programming.
Middletown's historic Everett Theatre has never had an executive director. However, according to the Arts and Economic Prosperity Report presented in October 2012, the arts are big business in Delaware, raking in revenue even when other business sectors see a downturn in spending or event turnout, making it imperative for arts organizations to have a competent person at its helm, navigating everything from grant applications and the budget to creative, engaging programming and technology development and maintenance.
In November, the Everett Theatre's Board of Directors decided that it had found the right person to lead its organization in own of its own: Chris Everett.
Everett, who has no familial relationship to the theater, has been working on productions at the historic venue since the fall of 2012 when he came on board as the musical director for "The Wizard of Oz." He immediately saw potential in the theater and submitted his resume for the part-time position last September, hoping that the board would see his diverse background as the perfect culmination of experience for running the theater.
He officially took over January 1 and hit the ground running, trouble-shooting past problems and brainstorming about future projects and programs. But, he found a few minutes to talk about his background, where he sees potential and what people can expect from its hometown theater in 2014 and beyond.
Q First, why don't you introduce yourself to Middletown by giving a little background about yourself.
A OK. Well, I have a Bachelor of Arts in vocal performance form Lebanon Valley College in Pennsylvania. I worked as a professional actor in Lancaster for four or five years, even performing for former Prime Minister Maragaret Thatcher once. I also ran a conservatory up in Bethlehem, Penn., so, I've always been on the music side of things. But, whenever you do fine arts, you usually have to do other jobs as you go along. So, I've been a financial advisor for AIG and Morgan Stanley giving me a really extensive financial background. And, as far as managing people, I have had management positions within Home Depot, too, where I work in the mornings. Everything just combined together and just worked perfectly for this position.
Q Being the executive director is a big responsibility, especially within the confines of part-time hours. What made you want to be involved?
A Just being there and just seeing what the theater could be. I think when you walk into a place and you see what it was and the potential that's there, it's hard not to want to be involved. At the Everett, I walked in and it was a welcoming environment and I just latched on to the idea that this place could really be something great.
Q And, what's the potential you see? Are there holes in programming or elsewhere that you want to see filled?
A I do see holes at the moment but a lot of it has to do with people's expectations of the arts. Right now, we're so bombarded with a "give it to me now" attitude that the things that take time aren't as big a forefront as people want them to be.
Q What do you mean?
A When people think of plays, they think of it as buying a product. But, it's not just about buying a product. You have to consider the amount of hours that are involved and the fact that you can go and experience a brand new night every time you go there. The arts are so much more than that. When arts are thriving in a community, it's almost like a ripple effect and they happen to be the center. If they are surviving, you have a ripple effort for tourism, for your local economy, for opening up a diversity [conversation] because there are people talking about the different things going on. I think, if we put in more community focus and be more open so people understand what we do there, I think you'll see things get better and we'll be able to add programs the community wants.
Q Fill in that hole then. What exactly does the Everett do?
A You know, I just talked to somebody last week and they were like, 'that's that place that shows movies, right? But, there's no live theater there.' And, I was like, 'No. There are live shows there as well.' Some people just don't know that we do live productions. Or, some people know that we do live productions but don't know that we do movies. Some people don't know that we offer classes over in the Gibby [Center for the Arts] for visual arts and for visual arts.
Q Are you going to be in charge of the Gibby Center for the Arts as well?
A Yes. It is all owned by the same corporation.
Q So, what can people expect in 2014?
A We usually do one camp but we've expanded it to three. We're also going from five shows to six, which will include two plays and four musicals. For the camps, we're doing 'The Aristocats' and 'Jungle Book' and 'Seussical, Jr.' It's going to be more of an educational experience so the kids get to go through the whole process. They'll learn the basics like auditioning but there's also going to be a tech team, who will learn how to do the lights, the sound and how to build sets and paint sets. They'll also learn how to run a stage while managing a production so it goes smoothly.
Q Middletown's Performing Centre for the Arts just did 'Seussical' in July of last year. Where do you see the Everett's productions and camps fitting in alongside PCA?
A Well, PCA is 'for profit' and we're 'not-for-profit.' There's going to be some competition, though, because we do some of the same things but we have a different space. For instance, they have a very small space but we have a very large space. I don't see us pursuing dance classes, which is a core thing for them. I also don't see us exploring private lessons, which they also do. At least, at the moment. But, as far as visual arts, there are a lot of things I would like to see implemented, like a more progressive educational program. What I mean by that is that we'd have classes that were 'Drawing 101,' followed by 'Drawing 102' and so on. When you look at other regional theaters, that's kind-of how their programs are set up. I'm looking to go more towards that so there's more of a curriculum to go to as well as keeping some of our current classes taught be these great artists who come in and do special classes on topics like metallurgy or ceramics. Those classes, though not progressive, are a great addition to a core curriculum.
Q You mentioned movies earlier. How will the Everett compete with the new movie theater in town?
A We don't know yet. We're going to have play it by ear and if we have to change strategies, we'll change strategies.
Q What kinds of strategies are you considering?
A Well, there's a few ideas. We could show older, classic movies like "Gone with the Wind" and other big name classics. We're considered marathons, too. We could show the whole 'Harry Potter' series over the course of a week or something. Or, we could show contemporary classics that have a loyal following, like 'Top Gun.' Or, we could go independent because the closest independent theater is Theater N at Nemours.