TriArts Sharon Playhouse is theatre by and for everyone. It is a "teaching theatre" (like a "teaching hospital") designed to further the growth of artists, both onstage and offstage. Novice actors of all ages are trained and mentored, experienced actors find opportunities to enhance their careers and emerging writers showcase their work. It is a professional theatre – producing quality musicals with Broadway caliber talent. It is a place where musical theatre is celebrated and tomorrow's generation of actors and audiences is born.
It all began with two inspiring stories of community dedication and passionate commitment, part of which goes back nearly seventy years. It involves two generations of what you might call 'stage parents.' In the late 1920's and 1930's, a group of stage-struck Sharon dreamers formed a play-reading group – at first for their own pleasure and then as they hoped, for their friends' and neighbors' entertainment.
It worked; people in the area appreciated the idea of a local place where they could hear the words of famous playwrights interpreted by talented readers. After a few years, and with a growing audience, the original group was taken over by the well-known mystery writer Judson Phillips, who created a small regional Equity theater in the red barn that stands today as The Sharon Playhouse. During the 1980s and 1990s, however, management and directorial guidance at The Sharon Playhouse lost continuity, a vital factor for any theater's survival. Season after season outside companies came and went. The Sharon Playhouse was too often dark. But something theatrically dynamic and exciting was beginning to happen right in the tri-state area.
In 1989 another group of passionately dedicated young people–like a generation before them – joined together to create their own tri-state regional theater. Their artistic director was the inspired director, Ray Roderick, an original member of the Broadway cast of CATS, who, together with his wife Sarah Combs, were community-minded residents of Pine Plains, New York. In the summer of 1989, Ray directed THE MUSIC MAN at The Sharon Playhouse. Meeting with tremendous enthusiasm and community support, Ray and a group of dedicated volunteers decided to form a new theatre company that would be based in Pine Plains, New York. This new regional theater was named the TRI-STATE CENTER FOR THE ARTS – popularly known today as TriArts.
The following summer, TriArts was born. In Pine Plains – under a big tent for two years and later, in the Carvel warehouse for seven – TriArts produced ANNIE GET YOUR GUN, BARNUM, OKLAHOMA! and FIDDLER ON THE ROOF and more. By then the company had built an enviable tri-state reputation, with Kevin McCollum acting as Executive Director. (Kevin went on to produce RENT, among other shows, on Broadway.) TriArts was able to move to Sharon in 1999 when the Sharon Playhouse became available. The first season in The Sharon Playhouse was a resounding success, with productions of GREASE, GUYS AND DOLLS (starring Barry Williams of "The Brady Bunch"). Michael Berkeley, who had been Music Director in Pine Plains became Artistic Director at the new location, and worked very closely with Executive Director Pamela Chassin. The TriArts Board made the decision to purchase The Sharon Playhouse and launched a capital campaign under the leadership of Board Presidents Pat Best and David Sims.
In February of 2003, TriArts completed the purchase of the Sharon Playhouse complex, ensuring a long-term, permanent home. The Bok Gallery was completed in September, 2003, providing year-round performance space, offices, workshop space, and on-site rehearsal space. Alice Bemand took over as Executive Director in 2006 and was committed to professionalizing the operation of the theatre and revamping the existing youtheatre program, shining a brighter spotlight on youth in the community.
In 2011 John Simpkins joined the staff as a second Artistic Director and was able to put in place a program that Bemand had conceived: offering college-aged students the opportunity to earn two college credits for performing, working, and learning at TriArts. As a faculty professor at NYU, John secured New York University as the educational partner. TriArts board enthusiastically revised the mission statement to include the words "teaching theatre, (like a "teaching hospital") designed to further the growth of artists both onstage and offstage."
TriArts has continued to elevate the quality of their performances, using community performers, Equity and professional actors along with professional creative teams (SDC directors and choreographers). Under John's leadership the Bok Gallery Concert Series was created and Patio Cabarets were added to the calendar. John also has made a firm commitment to New Works as well as developing a summertime Collegiate Company. As a teaching theatre, TriArts Sharon Playhouse's commitment to community and youth continues as strong as ever.
Bill Suter, Board member, Broadway producer and Tony award voter says, "Based on my experience, we have succeeded in creating this professional quality theater at TriArts and are committed to maintaining or exceeding it at The Sharon Playhouse."