Hometown Heroes: Jared Mezzocchi builds joys of summer at Andy’s Summer Playhouse
|Published: 08-28-2023 3:47 PM
Of the nine years Jared Mezzocchi has been the producing artistic director of Andy’s Summer Playhouse in Wilton, he said the recently completed season at the summer youth theater – which included five main-stage shows, three workshops and a new makerspace program called “The Tool Shed” – was the best yet.
“It was great. We had our largest enrollment in decades, and it went really well. Everything was great,” said Mezzocchi, who has been on the Andy’s staff since 2009. “We’re hitting 100 kids now, where in years past, we were hitting 40 to 45. It feels like it’s finally found its traction in the community.”
The increased enrollment, from 32 towns this summer, has come in the three years since Andy’s went tuition-free, charging a one-time $150 registration fee for the whole summer instead of $500 per participant for each show.
“That’s always been a dream of mine, to make it full-access to all kids in the area,” Mezzocchi said.
Mezzocchi, who turns 38 on Sept. 2, is the is the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript’s Hometown Hero for August after being nominated by Andy’s board president Beth Gibney.
“To say it’s life-changing for these kids is an understatement,” she said of Andy’s.
One of those children whose life has changed is Gibney’s daughter Riley Dunham. Gibney said her daughter’s confidence, leadership abilities and love of learning have skyrocketed since joining Andy’s in fourth grade, and that has translated to the classroom. Riley is entering her senior year at Souhegan High School, but only just turned 17, so she will be eligible for one more year at Andy’s next summer before turning 18, and Gibney said she plans on going back.
“She’ll be going into performing arts after high school,” Gibney said. “Without (Andy’s) and without Jared, I don’t think that would have been an opportunity for her.”
Mezzocchi grew up in Hollis, and attended Andy’s from 1996 to 2003, ages 11 to 18.
“It changed my life. It showed me the way,” he said. “It allowed me to do backstage stuff. It allowed me to write and direct.”
Mezzocchi earned a bachelor’s degree in theater and film from Fairfield University, and a master’s in performance and interactive media arts from Brooklyn College. His work as a director, multimedia designer, playwright and actor has taken him to Europe and around the United States, and he was also picked to create the curriculum for multimedia performance at the University of Maryland.
A two-time fellow at the MacDowell artist colony in Peterborough, he works mostly in New York City, but when he saw the chance to come back to Andy’s, he took it.
“It was my way to give back to a community that greatly impacted me and ensure and protect the legacy and mission of Andy’s,” he said.
At Andy’s, professional artists work with children ages 8 to 18 to produce new works, and Mezzocchi said both groups learn from each other.
“It’s with great joy when an 8-year-old says, ‘Just go for it,’” he said. “We all just learn in that kind of environment.”
Mezzocchi said “it’s just an incredible feeling” to see youths show not just their parents, but other adults in the community what they can do.
“Community has become real important to me,” he said. “It’s just really cool to see how many people are attending. It’s not just children’s theater. It’s theater for all ages.”
Converting to a tuition-free program had its roots during the pandemic in the summer of 2020, when Andy’s received enough COVID-related grant money and donations to do 322 projects in 14 weeks with 91 artists from around the world, all of it online and all for free.
“We did poetry with an orphanage from South Sudan,” Mezzocchi said.
Although it no longer receives any COVID-related funds, Mezzocchi said grants and donations have greatly increased the past three years, to the point where donations are higher than they’ve ever been. Andy’s also still offers financial aid for youths who struggle to pay the registration fee.
“It’s an incredible statement by the community,” he said. “Gifts have doubled, tripled, sometimes quadrupled.”
At the end of each season, Mezzocchi said “it feels like this amazing camp energy of ‘See you next summer,’” but the board is working on raising money to both acquire more property and winterize its current building in order to expand the program.
“The demand is there, so I wanted to find ways to supply that,” he said.
Gibney would love to see the program not just expand, but turn into a school.
“I’ve said to the kids, ‘This is how school should feel. You should want to fight to get into the school and stay there,’” she said.
And even though this season has just ended, Mezzocchi said he has artists pitching plays for next year.
“We will be announcing in the January/February time period for the summer season,” he said. “We have some big, awesome names coming through and some returning names where the kids have taken to some of these artists.”
Each month, the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript will recognize one of our region’s many Hometown Heroes. Nominate a Hometown Heroat ledgertranscript.com/SpecialPages/Hometown-Heroes.