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Andy’s Playhouse building new path toward future

  • Andy's Summer Playhouse launched the Digital Renaissance Project for this summer and the results have led to discussions in how to keep it going even when the summer theater can get back on the stage. Courtesy photo—

  • Andy's Summer Playhouse launched the Digital Renaissance Project for this summer and the results have led to discussions in how to keep it going even when the summer theater can get back on the stage. Courtesy photo—

  • Andy's Playhouse launched the Digital Renaissance Project for this summer in response to the coronavirus pandemic and the results have led to discussions on how to keep the model even when the summer theater can get back on the stage. Courtesy photos

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 8/14/2020 12:59:55 PM
Modified: 8/14/2020 12:59:44 PM

This was supposed to be a big year in the history of Andy’s Summer Playhouse. It was supposed to be a celebration of the first 50 years of the Wilton theater that has brought in young actors and actresses during the summer months to put on a handful of performances that have grown in both popularity and depth. It was supposed to be a time when they could look to the future and what the next five decades might look like.

Then the coronavirus pandemic hit in March and with it a realization that all those special festivities and shows planned for the summer of 2020 just couldn’t go off as anticipated.

The typical sounds of those young actors and actresses going through rehearsals at Andy’s Summer Playhouse have gone dormant this season. There have been no packed houses for a performance or curtain calls, the hours of behind the scenes work have not been needed.

But not all was lost. It couldn’t be.

The local young men and women who call Andy’s their summer home needed an outlet, a space to be creative  – maybe now more than ever. And through that challenge to provide a way for everyone to come together to learn and grow their artistic talents the Digital Renaissance Project was born.

As it sounds, the Digital Renaissance Project is a completely online program that has not only allowed for that creation train to keep moving along the tracks, but it has taken a path where the final destination is still an unknown.

So far the ride through the summer of 2020 has been more than Producing Artistic Director Jared Mezzocchi could have anticipated. Transitioning a theater organization that put on four original plays each summer into a Zoom free for all in a matter of months can have its moments of uncertainty. But after launching in the beginning of June, Mezzocchi has not only seen the interim benefit but where things might be heading.

“We should not ignore the innovation we’ve created this summer,” Mezzocchi said. “That’s the future of where we’re heading. We can look back on this as the summer we realized where we changed the course of our future.”

Having everything strictly online has allowed for Mezzocchi to connect Andy’s kids with artistic talents across the country and beyond. There have been Zoom sessions with creative minds in London and Japan – something that would have never happened if there wasn’t a forced switch to remote. One young man lives in Los Angeles, whose father spent time in Wilton, couldn’t have participated in Andy’s this summer, but thanks to it being strictly virtual, he has joined and even got a friend to as well. There are siblings who have spent previous summers at Andy’s but since moved to Morocco, who got the opportunity to sign on for this season.

Patricia Clemens, 12, of Wilton, she has participated in Andy’s for the last two summers, landing parts in “My Hero” and “The Resisters.” It has been a great experience, she said, and one she was disappointed wouldn’t be possible this year. Then she found out about the Digital Renaissance Project and was intrigued.

So Clemens signed up and what she’s found is a space that has allowed her to be a part of something special.

“There’s all kinds of different stuff that we’d never be doing,” Clemens said.

She’s taken part in a few book binding projects, digital illustration and a virtual play – estimating she’s been involved with close to 100 workshops.

“There was one week when I signed up for morning warm-ups, something else in the morning, the lunch session and had rehearsals in the afternoon,” Clemens said.

While there have been some of what you expect from Andy’s, rehearsals and performances – albeit on Facebook Live – the summer has opened up a world of possibilities.

“It’s a totally different model of creating,” Mezzocchi said. “In the past it’s been three or four productions, four or five workshops and that’s it.”

This year there has been a movie reenactment workshop that goes over the fine intricacies of creating a production centered around “Jurassic Park.” The kids have told ghost stories about their homes, participated in coding classes and held open art studios.

On Fridays there’s a Dungeons & Dragons campaign and weekly live streamed open mic nights on Tuesdays that have morphed from just music to now include short scripts, some written and directed by Clemens.

“I can already see the difference in kids,” Mezzocchi said. “They’re refining their style and artistic personality.”

Lorena Krauss Pizzorno, 12, of Wilton spent last year at Andy’s, and like Clemens was disappointed there would be no on stage performances or rehearsals at the play house. But that disappointment turned to excitement after the announcement of the Digital Renaissance Project.

“I was really, really excited when they said they were going to do stuff online,” Krauss Pizzorno said. “I was immediately hooked.”

Krauss Pizzorno said she loves the diversity of the project and participates in something pretty much every day – and usually more than one.

“It’s something to look forward to every day when I wake up,” she said.

Mezzocchi estimates they’ve written 10 plays, offered workshops in dance, puppetry and spoken word, and others centered around editing, creating Instagram filters, software design and creating a project time capsule.

What Mezzocchi has really found is there is no boundaries when it comes to sharing a creative space online. There are even plans to host a baking show.

“We’re just trying to get creative,” Mezzocchi said. “Because it’s a space to be really creative during a time period that can be very chaotic.”

On any given week, Mezzocchi said there could be 30 projects going.

“I’m really thrilled because of what’s been able to be achieved,” Mezzocchi said. “It’s been totally phenomenal to watch.”

They have put on some plays, “Social Mirror,” which was a puppet piece and “Thank You For Listening,” inspired by conversations around the dinner table. And they still hold their fireside chats, but the kids have taken over the interviewing process.

Originally, the Digital Renaissance Project was intended to be a space filler, where it was the only option to keep from canceling the season. But there are already plans to have it continue.

“I think it’s really cool that for the 50th season they’re doing something really different,” Clemens said.

Mezzocchi said the plan is to take a few weeks off after its conclusion on Sept. 4, but the goal is to pick it back up after the school year resumes. And while there are only a few weeks left, local kids interested can still sign up. It costs just $50 and that opens up the entire catalog of workshops and meet-ups.

“There have been families emailing us saying please keep this going into the school year,” Mezzocchi said.

And as for Andy’s big 50th, the idea is to make 2021, 50 years since the first production took place, the year celebration, honor the past and look ahead.

For more, visit https://www.digitalrenaissanceproject.com.


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