When I arrived in Cambridge last Wednesday, it was 66 degrees. The sun was high, and there was a slight breeze, which sent leaves skittering across the narrow Main Street. This small town on the border of New York and Vermont is known for farming, beautiful vistas, New Skete and Hubbard Hall, its Victorian Opera House turned center for arts and education. In the back of the Hall, on the first floor, I met with David Snider, Hubbard Hall’s Executive and Artistic Director, to discuss two items–the recent news about their partnership with a local bakery and the opening of The Book Club Play.
“Hubbard Hall makes art and community happen” – that’s their tag line, and fittingly so. The Hall has been operating for nearly four decades, and they’ve stayed uncommonly true to their mission, which is encapsulated in that line. Yes, they develop, produce, and present high-quality art and education opportunities, but they also fully embrace their role as an arts incubator, an artistic and economic driver for the region, and a community gathering space. Collaboration is in their bones, which makes the recent news about their partnership with Round House Bakery Café all the more apt.
Making Community: Round House Moves to the Hall
In April, Round House, which is currently located down the street from the art organization, will move into a storefront at Hubbard Hall Opera House. By all accounts, this is a win-win for both organizations.
Scott and Lisa Carrino started Round House Bakery as an offshoot of Pompanuck Farm, a not-for-profit educational center managed by the Carrinos since 1991. The Farm hosted classes, workshops, and musical events. The food was sourced from the farm and local producers. Eventually, the baked goods were sold at farmer’s markets and at the Cambridge Food Co-op, which was once located at Hubbard Hall. In 2013, they opened the Round House Bakery Café on Main Street. According to their website, the Carrino’s believe “that the dining table is a democratic arena where people can meet, converse, work, or read the newspaper in a safe, welcoming environment.”
Snider notes that bringing the bakery and café into the Hall will “heighten the customer experience and create opportunities to increase foot traffic into the Hall.” The storefront where Round House will be located is currently occupied by Hubbard Hall’s lobby and box office. A portion of the space will remain in use by Hubbard Hall, but more importantly, the collaboration between the two organizations will provide new avenues for cross promotion, complimentary programming, and community building.
One of Hubbard Hall’s goals is to inspire dialogue through the arts, but it’s become increasingly necessary for arts organizations to facilitate this dialogue by providing a gathering space for participants to connect and converse. Snider recognizes that audience expectations have shifted, and that many desire what he notes as “a full experience.” He talks about the potential audience members from 30 to 40 minutes away, who will be able to have dinner at the Hall, see the show, and enjoy drinks after, discussing and digesting what they’ve seen with friends and others. It’s not just about serving drinks and snacks before and after shows; it’s about designing a memorable experience that will create return visitors. And, for the core audience, it’s about bolstering the community and keeping Main Street vibrant. Round House’s relocation helps the Hall address these needs. In so many ways, the Hall’s desire for a new café-style gathering space and the Carrino’s dining-table philosophy are aligned. In other words, the partnership goes well beyond logistics.
As for Round House, the change provides some new possibilities as well. When their current building was put up for sale, they launched a GoFundMe project for a down payment. It raised $75,000, which is no small feat. But the question remained – was buying the current building the best move for the business? After exploring a few options, they decided on Hubbard Hall. “The move of our Café to the Hubbard Hall building serves a number of creative purposes for our business and to Hubbard Hall’s programming,” said Round House’s co-owner Scott Carrino. “The space is a good fit. ” As it turns out, the kitchen is twice the size of their current space, the seating is area is much larger, and Hubbard Hall has a stove and storage areas they’d been lacking. (The funds raised through the GoFundMe will be used to equip the new location.) There is also talk about creating a “teaching kitchen.” The potential to recruit, train, and mentor local youth in the food service industry is something that resonates with Round House’s goals and Hubbard Hall’s mission. These collisions, as Snider calls them, are important to sustaining the cultural vibrancy of the community.
Making Art: The Book Club Play
Of course, the Round House partnership is only possible because Hubbard Hall has a long-established reputation for the quality of its programming. The Hall’s latest show, The Book Club Play, opened on Friday, March 4. The contemporary comedy, which is billed as “Lord of the Flies with wine and dip,” is written by renowned Washington, D.C.-based playwright Karen Zacarias.
Zacarias is the first playwright-in-residence at Arena Stage and has taught playwriting at Georgetown University. She’s won numerous awards, and her plays have been produced all over, including at The John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, Arena Stage, The Goodman Theater, Round House Theater, La Jolla Playhouse,, San Jose Repertory Theater, and many others. The Book Club Play is her most produced work.
Snider knew Zacarias and the play from his previous experience in the nation’s capital. Prior to Hubbard Hall, Snider was the producing artistic director of Young Playwrights’ Theater, an award-winning theater company that teaches playwriting in Washington, D.C., public schools. That company was founded by Zacarias. “I knew that this community – a community that is so smart and so literate – would really enjoy the play,” he said. Book-lovers and book-clubbers will get a kick out of the book name dropping, which involves several dozen titles.
The Book Club Play is a sharp, biting comedy that “focuses on the fun, frivolity, and deeply serious politics found in our beloved book club.” More than that, Snider notes, it plumbs the depth of humanity while making us laugh. Here’s the promotional blurb: “When the members of a devoted book club become the subjects of a documentary filmmaker and accept a provocative new member, their long-standing group dynamics take a hilarious turn.”
The play premiered in 2008 at the Berkshire Theater Festival (BTF) in Stockbridge, Mass. Since that production, it has been performed all over the country, but Snider notes that Zacarias became “obsessed with rewriting” in 2010-2011; therefore, Hubbard Hall’s production is a distant cousin of the 2008 version at BTF. Directed by Kirk Jackson, drama professor at Bennington College, the play runs through Sunday, March 19. You can find more information by visiting hubbardhall.org.