BRATTLEBORO—New leadership gives new hope to revitalize live theater and other artistic endeavors in the Hooker-Dunham Theater and Gallery at 139 Main St. as Shannon Ward and Cameron Cobane take on duties as the managers of the iconic space.
And the old leadership is happy about the change.
“I’m very excited that they’re taking it on so it becomes a transition and not a finale,” says former Manager Jon Mack, who retired from the position this spring. “I think Shannon and Cameron are perfect for the task.”
In fact, when he left the theater management job, Mack gave his blessing to try to put a new management team together that included Cobane, whom Mack had at one time invited to serve as his assistant manager.
That was in 2012, when Cobane was part of an ongoing local project, the Young Shakespeare Players, which has since moved to Turners Falls, Mass. At the time, Cobane, whose day job is in construction, took on the role of maintenance and cleaning and has been helping since at Hooker-Dunham.
Ward was Cobane’s number-one person to co-manage with him, “and thankfully she had time to do it,” he says. “We’re very excited.”
He adds that the two served together on the Vermont Theatre Company board of trustees and that in 2019 he had directed a production of MacBeth at Living Memorial Park in which Ward performed.
The new managers, who are volunteers, say they appreciate Mack’s support.
“He’s been so helpful talking us through everything and making sure the transition is really smooth,” Ward says.
“He’s a great and supportive guide,” says Cobane, noting that Mack “has already, very enthusiastically, taken my bait to return to acting.”
They also appreciate the help of building owner Mark Berman, who is helping them “get on our feet without any cost to us,” Cobane says.
The target date for a grand reopening of the theater is Oct. 30, but first the duo is looking to raise $5,000 to improve the space, including installing new flooring in the lobby, freshly painting the gallery, modernizing the lighting system, and making stage repairs and HVAC ventilation improvements.
To do so, the pair have launched a GoFundMe page at bit.ly/617-hooker-dunham. More than $2,000 had already been raised as of June 13.
“As well-loved and old as the space is, it’s in pretty good shape,” Cobane says. “It’s been lovingly taken care of. There are just upgrades to take care of now.”
The new team plans to continue programming “known and beloved by the Brattleboro community,” as they say on the theater website, including presentations by the Vermont Theatre Company, the Baker Street Readers, Turbulent Times Theater, and more.
Gallery presentations by local and regional visual artists will also resume, and the duo hopes to make a home for added programs, including literary events, live music, comedy performances, performing arts classes, workshops, and other educational programs.
“It’s a labor of love,” says Ward.
The producer/actor for the Vermont Suitcase Co. — which brings “live, active theater to Vermont towns — will tour with that troupe this summer. She has held a variety of jobs, but says she is currently pursuing theater “as more of my day job than it has been in the past.”
“Not having live theater during the pandemic has made me see how important it is to me and to the community, so I’m really excited,” she says of her new co-managing role at Hooker-Dunham.
And the two are clearly in step with restoring theater programming, and supporting each other.
“I think Shannon is beyond compare when it comes to diversity of skills, when it comes to theater and theater programming,” says Cobane.
“I feel the same with him,” says Ward, who will focus on media and technology as Cobane, who has also directed performances, focuses on the physical plant.
“We have a lot of complementary skills,” says Ward, who has one other special connection to the theater she will now co-manage.
“My first play that I was ever in was in this theater,” she says. “I was about 5. I think it was The Snow Queen.”
That performance of the Hans Christian Anderson play, staged by the Village Theatre and directed by Carol Macy, indeed took place at the Hooker-Dunham in 1997.
“It’s a really special place,” Ward says.