BRATTLEBORO >> On Saturday evening, March 12 , at Dalem's Chalet in West Brattleboro, New England Youth Theatre (NEYT) Founder Stephen Stearns will be honored with a gala dinner and fundraiser event worthy of the man who has built one of the premier youth theatres in the nation right here in Brattleboro. The occasion marks both the 17th anniversary of NEYT's first ever performance, A Midsummer Night's Dream, which premiered at the Greenhoe Theatre, Landmark College, on March 12, 1999, as well as Stearns's new title of Trustee Emeritus, NEYT.
Tickets for the Stephen Stearns: A Celebration fundraiser are $50 each with proceeds going to NEYT's acclaimed "Angels in the Wings" program that underwrites a portion of the tuition for a significant number of all NEYT students. Tickets may be purchased on the NEYT website, neyt.org.
Performers at the gala include the beloved comedy duo Gould & Stearns, as well as improv impresario and filmmaker Jane Baker, solo performances by Stearns's longtime partner Peter Gould, a song by Peter Amidon, skits by familiar NEYT teachers and alumni, as well as the unveiling of an official portrait of Stephen Stearns by local artist Catherine Nunn. The portrait will hang in the NEYT lobby. The dinner will be catered by HardyFoard Catering with a cash wine & beer bar providing a selection of fine wines and locally brewed craft beer.
"It's important to remember that NEYT started with a dream—Uncle Stevie's dream. And today, that dream has grown to support not only our community's children, but to be a cornerstone of our cultural life here in Southern Vermont," says NEYT Board President Sadie Fischesser. "So many parents can testify to the positive effect that New England Youth Theatre has had on their children. So many young people who have passed through NEYT programs can attest to the
boost it has given to them in all areas of their lives."
A PhD in theatre and voice, Stearns, his wife Bonnie and son Dylan arrived in Brattleboro in 1975 after Stearns's post doc studies at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art and a stint as what he calls a "professional auditioner" in New York City. Stephen met Peter Gould, a man who would become hislifetime creative partner, at the Town Dump in 1976. Soon after joining "farces," the pair's Gould & Stearns, The Clown Jewels of Vermont was booking gigs all
over the country. Their collaboration on a play A Peasant of El Salvador, won them accolades as well as both the Queens College Goodman, Chaney, Schwerner Award and the Denver Global Justice & Peace Award for Making the World a Better Place to Be. The play has been and was performed widely for over 35 years by both Gould and Stearns, as well as many other acting troupes.
In 1998, Gould began doctoral studies at Brandeis University allowing Stearns to pursue a long held dream of his—to run a youth theatre "of, by and for kids." In December, Stearns hung a poster asking for interested children to "show up and audition" for the "New England Youth Theatre," an unknown, untested acting school for children. Hoping for 16 – the minimum he would need to mount the play – Stearns was delighted when 35 children answered the call, rehearsing for several weeks in the Centre Congregational Church's community room.
NEYT has come a long way since those days of borrowing and begging favors for space, for costumes and props. Today, with an annual budget upwards of $800,000, NEYT employs 46 full and part time theatre professionals and artists. In 2016, over 500 students will be involved in more than 20 performances, and are taking over two dozen classes, workshops and theatre intensives. The NEYT facility will draw people to downtown Brattleboro on 36 weekends and be
rented out to 18 community groups for their own performances.
NEYT also runs the theatre program at the Gifft Hill School in St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands. The two programs in Brattleboro and St. John have graduated over 1,600 young people to date.
Tickets are still available for Stephen Stearns: A Celebration at neyt.org.