Zoe Bradford is the co-founder, Artistic Director and President of the The Company Theatre in Norwell, MA. Zoe and her family have lived in Hingham for 20 plus years. The award-winning Company Theatre is a treasure on the South Shore - producing Broadway quality performances throughout the year.
They foster an amazing environment for people of all ages through the Academy of the Company Theatre program (A.C.T.) to learn and grow through the arts. We are so grateful that Zoe (and her team) landed here and that she continues her artistic craft here in Hingham and the South Shore.
This weekend (3/15) The Company Theatre begins it's latest production of the musical "Evita."
Hingham, meet Zoe.
Take us back to 1978. What inspired you to co-found The Company Theatre, and how did you select the South Shore as its home?
My theatrical partner Jordie Saucerman and I moved from the Midwest to Boston – I was taking classes at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts (SMFA is now a part of Tufts’ School of Arts and Sciences). We didn’t know a soul here, but New England’s history and arts culture lured us to stay. After college we found a little cottage to rent on Hough’s Neck in Quincy. This was the beginning of our planting roots on the South Shore. We were freelance artists and, in order to make ends meet, house cleaners. One of our jobs was to assist a small theatre production at the YMCA in Weymouth, and the teens involved showed up at our cottage and begged us to start a theatre! With no money or resources, we began in a church basement. We grew so quickly we were confident we had found our life’s work and mission. From 1978 to 1987 we formed a nonprofit organization, began producing sold out plays and musicals in a much larger venue (a 600-seat auditorium in Weymouth), cofounded our educational academy (Academy of the Company Theatre, or A.C.T.), and began searching for a permanent home. In 1992 our dream came true when the former Nickerson Theatre in Norwell became available, and we were able, through tremendous struggle and prejudice I will add, to convince the bank that we could take it over with the goal to purchase the building – and we succeeded!
Theatre is just one of your passions in art. You're also a painter, filmaker and set designer. What do you enjoy most?
I love all the visual arts and have my degree in film direction. I have loved photography, painting, drawing, filmmaking and writing since I was a kid. I didn’t seek out the theatre, the theatre found me. Once I discovered that I could apply all these medias into one art form, I fell in love with theatre and never looked back. I am a storyteller at heart (Jordie, too) and theatre is the perfect vehicle for that. It is also a team effort. Having grown up an only child, I love the opportunity to work with large groups of creative people who, for a moment in time, become your second family.
You chose Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" for your directorial debut. Not exactly baby steps. Tell us about that.
The answer is easy: we didn’t have any money behind us and Shakespeare is free – no royalties! As a kid I fell in love with the 1935 film version of “Midsummer,” directed by Max Reinhardt, with use of the score by Felix Mendelssohn. The film captured romance, mischief and enchantment, so we thought it would be fun and challenging to recreate that experience live… all with no budget, but plenty of creative ideas. We’re bringing it back to our main stage this October. After all these years, it is an amazing gift to be able to bring this beautiful and humorous play, in an accessible edited form, to the community with our current talent and technical resources. Fairies will be flying, and the production is sure to sparkle, with a sexy, fun and diverse cast, magical lighting, and the highly recognizable score that puts you in the mood for something truly magical. I can’t wait to see it actually happening.
What is the most challenging part of your role as artistic director?
Theatre on our level is super challenging. Beautiful theatre with memorable costumes, lights, scenery and live orchestras makes for a great experience, but is expensive to produce. For example, a royalty for just one show typically costs more than $25 thousand dollars, and that is just for the rights to the show. It is vital to keep grounded in the past with your eye constantly on the future. People’s entertainment interests are changing and it is always a great challenge to select an entire year of shows that will appeal to a large and diverse demographic.
Which show are you most excited about this year?
“Paragon Park,” our 2012 original musical, is being revived for the summer of 2019 – due to popular demand, I’m pleased to say. It was the fastest sell-out in our 40-year history and won the coveted Moss Hart Award from the New England Theatre Conference. We are currently editing and making small updates to the script and score. One part of the set is the recreation of the carousel in Hull, so we are adding a few more painted horses to the set. The town of Hull, celebrating its 375th anniversary this year, is very excited to see this show relaunched. It’s an historical piece and a fictional love story combined, which spans time periods from its opening in 1905, to the park’s closing in 1984, and features the 1920s and 1960s. With elaborate costumes, lighting, scenic effects backdrops, a 16-piece orchestra, and a talented cast, this production is a don’t-miss.
Is Theatre a lost art? How can kids interested in theatre join in and learn more?
I am delighted to say that theatre with us is thriving. Now more than ever, theatre arts are playing a vital role in extracurricular education for youth. Many schools have cut art, music and theatre programs, and we are able to provide an environment for creativity and community. Our young people today need to get off their screens and interact with each other. For the youth or teen who is different, unique or shy, or who has creative energy and needs to interact in a supportive, safe environment, our Academy of the Company Theatre is their go-to place, their home away from home. For decades, many have found their experiences in our educational programs life changing. The year-round classes and plays, musicals and a summer workshop through A.C.T. all continue to grow. The group has a very high enrollment from Hingham and all the South Shore communities.
If you could spend an afternoon with anyone in the world, alive or deceased, who would it be and why?
I would love to have just one more chance to spend time with my dad. Although he did not quite ‘get’ the arts career I chose to pursue, he really believed in me. Dad started his life career as a tile setter after serving as a very young soldier in WWII. Eventually he started his own tile business and beautified homes all over the Chicagoland area. From him, I learned how to be a good and fair boss, and how to exhibit patience and dependability as a parent. (I helped raise 3 step children). He died before he was able to see our beautiful theatre in person, but I was able to show him a video.
If you had a different career, what would it be?
It would have been something in the arts for sure. I would say a feature film director. Women in that industry have an extremely challenging time getting work past one token movie, even if it’s an award winner. I may have been an indie filmmaker. I love all the fine arts and writing, but those are typically solo careers, and I enjoy working with others. I love the outdoors, wildlife preservation and marine life, especially. I have strong interests in education and theology, and wonder if I would have ended up in some kind of creative, philanthropic work. It has been very rewarding for me working in the nonprofit world. I believe I could have been happy rescuing sea turtles or working with dolphins, as long as creativity was involved. The most important thing is to love what you are doing for work and to look forward to approaching each new day.
How do you share your passion for and expertise in the arts with your Hingham community?
Whether it's me or one of my creative and dedicated staff members, being an ambassador for the arts is nothing less than awesome, and we all embrace it! The Company Theatre is truly a part of the community, and is uniquely intergenerational. A 7-year-old can be working with a 70-year-old and everyone is treated with importance. It is incredibly rewarding to watch people grow – beginner actors have opportunities to work with and learn from professional actors. Much training is going on behind the scenes, working on sets, learning how to be a backstage crew or a stage manager, creating props, assisting our professional costumers and lighting designers, or ushering shows, which students and retirees especially enjoy. Another way of sharing is to provide scholarships for a student in financial need. I enjoy sharing stories about the crazy flurry of activity here, both on stage and behind the scenes ,with my friends, neighbors, members of the church I attend (St. John’s in Hingham), or folks at the local coffee hangouts. People are always asking with interest, “What’s next?” Having the theatre at Queen Anne’s Corner, right in Hingham’s backyard, so to speak, is a real gem and great resource for many.
Name a few of your favorite Hingham spots. Where do you unwind after a long day of rehearsals?
I feel very fortunate to have been a Hingham resident for over 20 years. There’s nothing like walking around World’s End in any season – and with the person you love, romantic! I do love to take a beach chair down to the harbor and study a script or swim at the bathing beach in the summer when the tide is up. In the fall the cemetery behind Old Ship Church is stunning. Walking around our varied architecture of historic homes and churches is very appealing, especially in the downtown area before Christmas. Back to a favorite season: summer. It’s really fun to grab a few boiled lobsters from the Lobster Pound and head to our friend’s deck on Crow Point. Or sit on a bench with an ice cream downtown, or at the shipyard and watch the boats, people and dogs go by. Life is good!
This weekend The Company Theatre will begin it's must-see production of "Evita" which runs from March 15-31 (Thurs-Sat evenings and Sunday matinee). Tickets for the performance are $44. To learn more about The Company Theatre and to purchase tickets for upcoming events visit, www.companytheatre.com or call the box office at 781-871-2787.