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Power at the Playhouse


There’s a new sheriff in town. Actually, three new sheriffs, and together they will create a dynamic, three-pronged leadership model designed to launch the Sharon Playhouse into its 2023 season and beyond.

The theater, which carries forward a tradition of cultural enrichment nearly a century old, is poised to grow yet again under the leadership of new Managing Director Rodney Christensen, new Artistic Director Carl Andress and Associate Artistic Director/ Director of Education Michael Baldwin.

Over the years the Playhouse has overcome many financial and leadership challenges but since 2013 has undergone tremendous growth and change. Its season has been expanded to offer a nearly year-round experience with plays and musicals on the Main Stage during warmer months and the Bok Gallery staging more intimate plays and musicals. Late-night cabarets are presented on the Patio following shows, and a commitment to new musical development has been put in place.

This substantial growth is laudable but the sky is the limit for the venerable regional theater, according to Christensen who joined the management team four months ago. With more than 25-years’ experience in the nonprofit arts sector, he envisions closing the small gap in the theater’s current programming to create a true year-round cultural hub for the community.

“It’s going to be a year-round theater and offer straight plays, musicals and readings as well as educational programming,” he said. The current arts education programming “has gone gang-busters” and has enjoyed a meteoric rise. “We envision a year-round educational program as a teaching theater,” he said.

Indeed, the Playhouse just announced 16 winter classes that will reach all ages from toddlers to adults under the direction of Michael Baldwin. Baldwin has performed in dozens of productions at the Playhouse and has taught at The Brearley School, Hunter College High School, Skidmore College and more.

“Michael is teaching very young children to adults. It’s wonderful to provide that for all ages; I love that,” said Christensen who began his own career in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, teaching adults with developmental disabilities.

“My love, my focus, has always been steeped in arts education,” he said. “Here, I will be back to teaching, this time 6- to 8-year-olds.”

Christensen, Andress and Baldwin will act collaboratively. “It’s a wonderful and unique model, a three-pronged leadership model and I’m thrilled by it,” Christensen said. “We’re still a lean team which is primarily why the board is so engaged and participatory. The three of us are in leadership positions and all three of us report to the Board of Directors.”

All three leaders have deep roots in the arts world. Since 2008 Christensen has been the managing director at Southgate Education in New York City, an arts education company that creates audience enrichment resources. Prior to his work in New York City, he spent eight seasons at Canada’s prestigious Shaw Festival Theater. He also served as executive director and director of education at TADA! Youth Theater in New York City and held a leadership positions at the Warner Theatre in Torrington.

“During Covid, as so many did, I decided not to be in the city,” he reported. “My last post before Sharon was at the Warner Theatre. I miss a lot about New York but don’t miss the day-to-day of being in the city.”

Andress, a theater and film director and producer, joined the team Monday, just as the Playhouse announced its summer productions. “We have a full complement now with Carl here and our new leadership model,” said Christensen. “We’re back for a full season. There will be something for everyone this summer.”

The summer/fall lineup includes the playhouse premiere of the musical comedy, Something Rotten by John O’Farrell, Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick (June 23rd-July 9th); the classic Oliver! by Lionel Bart (August 4th-14th), and Our Town by Thornton Wilder (July 10th-26th). Also to be staged are the Broadway hit, The Lifespan Of A Fact by Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell and Gordon Farrell (September 29th-Oct. 15th) and, during the summer, the youth theater productions of Peter and the Starcatcher, A Year With Frog and Toad, Kids, Disney’s Newsies JR and Sharon Playhouse Stars.

Because of the lengthening of the season into colder months, Christensen said winterizing the “barn,” which houses the Main Stage has become “a hot topic of discussion because of the burgeoning programming.”

“We’re really interested in exploring winterizing the barn with a wonderful gift from a past board member,” he said, noting that air conditioning was only installed last year for the relief of patrons and performers.

Still he does not want to lose the iconic feel of the historic summer theater. “It’s so charming and romantic. I really want to maintain that charm for our patrons to come and enjoy. It’s really the little red barn that could.”

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