Out & About: Lebanon community theater group celebrates 50 years

Actors rehearse North Country Community Theatre's production of

Actors rehearse North Country Community Theatre's production of "9 to 5" in Lebanon, N.H., on June 20, 2023. (Evan A. Oxenham photograph) Evan A Oxenham photograph

By LIZ SAUCHELLI

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 06-29-2023 3:36 PM

When North Country Community Theatre actors take the stage at the Lebanon Opera House this Friday, they’ll be celebrating the troupe’s 50th anniversary and performing the musical “9 to 5.”

The nonprofit organization, commonly referred to as NCCT, was founded in 1973 and staged its first production, “The Music Man,” that year. Since then, musicals — produced by volunteer actors, stagehands and other contributors — have been at its center.

“It’s really great to continue to be a theater kid,” said Amy Fortier, a Lebanon resident who has performed with NCCT for 15 years.

In many ways, that is the ethos of NCCT: It’s an opportunity for people of all ages who love the theater but chose not to pursue it as a career. For a few months each year, they get a chance to take part in a theater production that is compatible with their jobs and other responsibilities.

“I like to call it summer camp for grown-ups,” Fortier said during an interview with other NCCT participants before a Tuesday dress rehearsal for “9 to 5” at the opera house. The musical, which features music and lyrics by Dolly Parton, is based on the movie of the same title and is about women who stand up to their sexist boss. It is also named for the nonprofit organization 9to5, also founded in 1973, which supports women who push for equal treatment and fair pay.

NCCT draws quite a few people who participated in high school theater productions before, including Fortier and Jason Archambeault, of Enfield, who has also been part of NCCT for 15 years.

“NCCT was just a good fit,” Archambeault said. Rehearsals primarily take place at night and on weekends. “It allows us to still have lives, albeit very busy.”

In 1994, NCCT added a program for teens, where students from around the Upper Valley perform a musical in late February and early March. People who participate as teenagers often jump to the summer musical, where the majority of actors are 18 and older.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Jamie Ellis, of Lebanon, participated in the teen program and, in 2017, began participating in the summer musical.

“It just opened up so many possibilities,” they said.

In addition to acting, Ellis also oversees the cast’s makeup.

And it’s not just theater-related possibilities — it’s also the possibility to build community and make friends. Katie Kitchel, of Norwich, got involved with NCCT in the late 1990s after graduating from Dartmouth College.

“I found my home in community theater,” she said.

People become close working together for a common goal. For each production, they essentially start from scratch learning new lines, songs and choreography. Those who work behind the scenes have to find a new rhythm with changing sets and the orchestra has to learn new scores.

“It’s interesting how age doesn’t matter,” said Margaret Hunton, of Enfield, who grew up in the Upper Valley and rejoined NCCT after she moved back to the area as an adult. This summer’s production includes teens up through people in their 60s.

There are around 60 people total in “9 to 5.” Lanni Luce West, of Thetford, is directing with performances at 7:30 p.m. June 23, 24 and 30 and July 1 (Fridays and Saturdays) and at 3 p.m. June 25 and July 2 (Sundays). Tickets ( $14.50 to $24.50) are available at lebanonoperahouse.org.

“It’s only these six (shows),” Kitchel said. “The finite nature of it to me is so precious.”

One challenge this year has been finding rehearsal space, said Beth Zuttermeister, NCCT’s production manager. In past years, rehearsals took place at Dancers’ Corner in White River Junction, which closed last year and is no longer available for the NCCT to rent. This year, the group has rehearsed in area churches and at Hartford High School.

But the members of NCCT haven’t let that slow them down. The group is devoted to the organization — and to each other.

“We all come together to make something magical,” Ellis said, noting that they are “average people” with “unique abilities.” “Everyone’s here because they do what they love.”

For more information about NCCT, visit ncct.org.

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.

CORRECTION: Jason Archambeault, of Enfield, is part of North Country Community Theatre's production of "9 to 5." His last name was misspelled in a previous version of this column.