BRATTLEBORO -- What should you do if you need to raise money for an artistic/environmental venture?
Send in the clowns.
That's the plan for Gould & Stearns, a pair that bills itself as the Clown Jewels of Vermont and has scheduled two shows for the New England Youth Theatre today to benefit a portion of the construction work slated for the site. NEYT is set to receive a facelift that begins in about two months.
"Come August, the entire property [except the theater] is going to be bulldozed down two feet --everything taken away -- and then the parking lot is going to be completely repaved," Stephen Stearns said, "and there's going to be new median strips in it with trees and scrubs and there's going to be a gardens and new LED lights making everything beautiful and safe."
He told the Reformer all the proceeds from today's shows will go toward the LED lighting. The shows are scheduled for 2 and 7 p.m. Tickets are $5 for children and $10 for adults and they are sold at the door only.
Peter Gould said the shows will consist of solo and duet acts that include clowning, mime, physical comedy, juggling, audience participation and magic. Today will also mark the 4,000th show he and his partner have performed together, having created Gould & Stearns in 1980.
Stearns described it as being like "a family vaudeville show."
He also said the construction work at NEYT is expected to begin at the end of August and last about a month or so. He hopes to have everything done by mid-October. He said the project will involve tearing down some structures and repaving the existing parking lot. Stearns said the property holds a brick building that used to house Tri-State Automotive and a paint company, which used lead, arsenic, mercury and pentachlorophenol that has since seeped into the floorboards and soil. And next door is a building built in 1846 as a blacksmith shop, and though it is an historic landmark, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said it must be torn down because it stored similar hazardous materials.
Stearns said NEYT, which he and Gould founded, has been spent thousands of dollars testing everything and has worked with the EPA, the state government and the Windham Regional Commission. He told the Reformer financing for the project is coming from the county, state and federal governments, as well as funds from NEYT. He said NEYT got a $200,000 donation two years ago to do research and a $400,000 donation last year for the construction work set for August. Though not all the soil is contaminated, Stearns and Gould said it will be replaced.
"The way that the soil is now, it would be perfectly fine for a playground and for car parking and stuff like that, but we're going to do it according to what they (the EPA) say," Gould said.
Stearns also said the groundwater has been tested and is clean.
The two clowns told the Reformer NEYT submitted a feasibility study on June 1 detailing what NEYT plans to do to develop jobs and boost the economy once the old blacksmith shop comes down.
"We've worked for six year to get this underway and going," Stearns said of the project.
He told the Reformer NEYT is now 15 years old and has produced 150 shows. Gould said 500 children have been taught the art of theater there
"It's a real hub," Gould said. "Hundreds and hundreds of local children and youth have come through the doors ... and it's just the most exciting thing for young people."
One of the shows was "Under Milk Wood," a play crafted by legendary Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. Director Doran Hamm said three shows were show last weekend and 160 people attended. He said $1,300 was raised for the NEYT Alumni Association. Stearns and Gould acted alongside 10 of their own students and Ben Stockman served as the assistant director.
Hamm told the Reformer the play, first written by Thomas as a radio drama before adapting it to the stage, is about Milkwood -- a fictional forest situated near a fictional Welsh town named Llareggub -- and a day in the lives of the characters.
"It's an absolutely beautifully written show. It's layered with poetic verse and the way (Thomas) creates such depth in his writing, it is delicious," Hamm said. Stearns and Gould starred as narrators and told the Reformer the show was a smash.
"It went great -- one of the top receptions ever. We just had people leap to their feet and so many comments about ‘what a skilled acting force (you had)' and ‘what a great script,' and ‘we could understand every single word' and ‘beautifully crafted,'" Stearns said.
Gould said people told him it was a joy to see the pair on stage with their students.
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.