Mezzocchi: Andy’s Summer Playhouse a rare place

WILTON – Jared Mezzocchi just completed his fourth year as artistic director of Andy’s Summer Playhouse. It also was his 11th year as a writer or director, and it’s been 19 years since he began as a participant as one of “Andy’s Kids.”

This year was the theater’s 48th season, and he has begun planning for next year, with an eye on the following year – the 50th anniversary.

“I want to use the 49th as a reflective tool,” he said recently while talking about this year’s programming. “What Andy’s done for the community and the children. There is an emotional response and an objective response. The biggest thing for me is making sure it is better now than when I came and will be better when I leave.”

Mezzocchi’s contribution for the past season was the musical “The Things We Keep,” in which he teamed with composer Duncan Pelletier to explore the effects of dementia on an extended family.

His goal, he said, “is to find ways to make the theater sustainable, change the relationship with the community.”

One way to do that is to make the program tuition free.

“Right now, we are a snake eating its own tail – parents pay the tuition and are the ticket holders. We have a strong alumni base. We have a strong artistic foundation. We need to be more balanced, deal with deeper issues,” he said.

The productions have been dealing with community issues, he said, “Immigration, video game violence, sexual orientation.”

The stories are through a child’s perspective, engaging the younger generation, a chance to answer their pivotal questions.

He asked, “How can you not support that?”

He added, “We appreciate the diversity of the families that come through here. We feel we can accommodate all points of view.

He sees the future as restructuring the program, creating programs year-round.

“It’s hard to pull the plug for nine months and start over. There’s a deep appreciation for the arts in this town. We created a new logo to show that we are a new program,” he said.

All of that leads up to the 50th year.

“How do we celebrate a 50-year-old children’s theater, the amazing artists who have gone on to great careers. I’ve been talking with alumni, what do they think? There should be a lot of them here next summer. I’m bringing in my community from New York and Washington, but that is not as valuable as the local community,” he said.

Getting the locals more involved is one of his main goals.

“We are seeing people (at shows) beyond families. It’s easy to come to see your child perform,” he said.

The average age of those attending is going up, he added.

“What can we present that appeals to children and appeals to adults? If a story is about a ten-year-old, that solves the problem of why children are in it.”

They called this season “the Summer of Rebellion,” Mezzocchi said. “We wanted to explore What is Andy’s? How do we break the mold leading up to our 50th? We have more proposals than we can produce next summer.”

He wants to create workshops for those kids who can’t commit to four weeks. “This summer was very serious and we want to laugh more. I’ve been chatting with writers and directors. Keeping the conversation going, to be ready for spring. How to appeal to the kids and their parents.”

The program tries to involve the parents, he said. “We do family guides, games and forums people can do. We make sure we are equipping parents with the vocabulary, make sure both sides are being expressed, and neither side wins. We want a legitimate experience with some of the more complex themes. Parents are made aware of the themes (at the start of the process) so they canchoose. We are being transparent.”

He added, “I need to be a barometer, know what the community is and push the needle toward a deeper conversation. I spend the fall looking at responses and ticket sales. We were in good shape for ticket sales and that tells me we can continue.” Most shows were close to sold out, he said.

“But they need to remove the dollar sign at the door,” he said, “excluding people who can’t afford it. I think we are missing a significant number of local families.”

So the directors are looking for donations, for corporate sponsorships, charitable foundations such as N.H. Council on the Arts, not-for-profits, “and our alumni.”

The program has been growing, which is encouraging, he said.

“We need grants because of not asking the community. We need a very dramatic change in our structure,” he said.

There is a perception, he said, “that Andy’s is an elite, exclusive club. We want to change that.”

Tuition was reduced last year, he said, “and there are scholarships available.”

“Andy’s is a very rare place,” Mezzocchi said. He wants it available to more children.