BRATTLEBORO -- Among the many cherished memories Jon Mack has of the Hooker-Dunham Theater, one stands out.
"There I was, standing out there in a dress, in my high heels on a catwalk jutting out into the audience," said Mack, who, for the record was playing Madame in the Vermont Theatre Company production of Jean Genet’s "The Maids" last fall. "That’s what I love about that place: You can do some really outrageous pieces; you can do some really interesting pieces."
And if Mack can get out there and wear a dress and high heels, surely you can get out there on the stage and do your thing, too.
It is in that spirit that Mack is inaugurating what he describes as a "performer’s jam." On Friday, June 6, at 7:30 p.m., during Gallery Walk, the Hooker-Dunham will the scene of "Act Out!" -- a kind of theatrical open mike, where actors and performers of all kinds are invited to take the Hooker-Dunham stage.
So far, local performers have committed to running scenes, presenting a monologue, singing a song, and there will be an improv jam at the end. But there’s room for more. Go on, grab a friend and run a scene or do your act. If you’re interested, call 802-254-9276 or e-mail jonmack @svcable.net. Or come and watch. Admission for all is by suggested donation of $5.
"It’s a chance for actors to try something that otherwise they wouldn’t do," said Mack. "Get up and do your thing."
That’s kind of the spirit that got Mack to agree to take the reins of the Hooker-Dunham Theater as manager/director. A veteran of the local theater scene -- as well as a board member of In-Sight Photography Project and former Newfane Selectboard chairman -- Mack saw Main Street’s little 99-seat theater as a diamond in the rough Š a Charlie Brown Christmas tree that just needs a little care and some fresh energy to become something more.
"There are several really good theatrical spaces in our region. Each one has its unique advantages and limitations. I think there’s real room for Hooker-Dunham to play a role with that sphere. Š What I’ve always loved about Hooker-Dunham is it’s truly an intimate space for actor and audience alike," said Mack. "In its lifetime, it’s provided a home for films, all forms of theater and music and more. I think it has been very successful over the years, and I want to continue that. I just think it can be used a hell of a lot more than it is."
Mack has agreed to manage the space for a year and see what happens. He’s changed the fee structure to encourage more use and bolder uses. He sees the Hooker-Dunham as an ideal place for actors, playwrights, writers and anyone else to take a chance on presenting something -- without worrying about filling a million seats.
"I want a space where people are not singularly focused on ‘How big is my audience?’ How about a space where you can try different things you always wanted to try?" said Mack. "We’ve got a very lively culture in this southern Vermont, southern New Hampshire, northern Massachusetts region. People are intelligent theater-goers. I think it’s important that we don’t totally rely on the old favorites."
Not that he’s against old favorites and big audiences, but the Hooker-Dunham offers different opportunities. He’s not in it for the money, and he’s not interested in judging or selecting work to be presented there. "I’m not an artistic director," Mack points out. He just wants people to use the space. Period.
Barry Stockwell, who previously managed the Hooker-Dunham, will continue to be involved, lending his expertise to booking musical acts for the theater.
After a year, well, Mack will assess how things are going, and then decide if he wants to stay on. The definition of success? "If the place is lively, and I’m having more fun than stress," he said.
In the short run, come check out Act Out! Or the upcoming film series in the works. Better still, dream up something to present in the Hooker-Dunham.