WESTON, VT – This edition of Your Hometown Stories brings us to the Weston Playhouse, the building that’s been at the heart of this Windsor County community for more than a century. But like so many other places statewide, it was destroyed by this July’s flooding, and needs extensive repairs.
Looking around the basement of the playhouse, much of the damage from July’s flood can still be seen months later – Pipework hanging from the ceiling, cracks in the foundation, and electrical components spray-painted pink by firefighters to signify they are no longer usable. All told, the basement had roughly 12 feet of mud and water in it at the worst point of the flood, which is three feet more than the basement received in 2011 during Tropical Storm Irene.
“There’s nothing we could have done,” said Susanna Gellert, Executive Artistic Director at the Weston Theater Company. “It was the entire basement, which is where all of the theater operations, dressing rooms, scene shops, etc. were there, but also all of our electrical equipment.”
Gellert remembers the July flooding all too well, being woken up at 3:30 a.m. by text messages telling her homes in downtown Weston were being evacuated and the basement of the playhouse was underwater. She and her colleagues had been enjoying their first normal year back on stage since the pandemic, just to have all of their hard work washed away.
“When I look back on those days, I didn’t realize how much I was actually in a state of denial,” Gellert said. “People were sitting on the steps out front crying, not only because all of their hard work had been lost, but because the reason that we’re here is to bring people together and tell stories, and we couldn’t do it.”
But instead of throwing in the towel, they got back to work again, and came up with a plan to rebuild the playhouse in a way that protects it from future floods. One of the largest and most challenging parts of that plan is moving everything that was in the basement above ground, including boilers and breakers.
“All the conduit has to be yanked, all the breakers, the electrical wiring, everything has to be replaced after being flooded,” said David Howald, a retired carpenter from the neighboring town of Andover who’s helping rebuild the playhouse. “We’re prepping a room. All the mechanicals that got damaged, huge money damage, are moving up here on the first floor now.”
With that work underway, the playhouse will live to see another day, even though it comes at a cost. Construction will take at least another full year, meaning the 2024 play season will be another abnormal one for the Weston Theater Company. That being said, everyone’s in agreement that it’s worth the wait to keep the historic playhouse as the town’s centerpiece.
“It’s sort of the hub of the town,” Gellert said. “When we’re not here doing theater, this is where our town meeting is. It’s where our town gathers a lot.”
“This is a special place, and magic happens here,” Howald said. “We have some really fantastic plays here. It’s going to be a while before anything gets back to where they can have a play in here again … But we’re going to do it!”
To help move construction along, the company is still accepting donations online at westontheater.org.