Jared Mezzocchi

Jared Mezzocchi -- Andy's Summer Playhouse

Jared MezzocchiAndy’s Summer Playhouse, the area’s only children’s theater, opened in Mason in 1971, the idea of several teachers at Mascenic Regional. The concept expanded, outgrew the Mason Town Hall, and has been in Wilton Center since 1985.

Andy’s is a lot more than just a theater for children. It includes workshops exploring almost every aspect of theater, both live and digital, and explores all kinds of ideas. They try out new concepts, new ways of communicating, seeing what might work out there in the larger world. Professional artists write the productions, design and stage them, while the young children have the full hands-on experience working eye-to-eye with the adults, a chance to reach their potential.

Jared Mezzocchi has been Andy’s producing artistic director for the past seven seasons. He saw the theater through the Covid pandemic, keeping the theater alive virtually, and bringing it back this year stronger than ever.

Andy's Playhouse“We did stuff during the Covid time,” he said recently. “It was online, and it was thrilling. We did over 320 projects in those 14 weeks. We had a about 100 artists working with the kids.”  (Editor’s Note: For their innovative programming during COVID, Andy’s was awarded a 2021 Silver Linings Resilience Award from the N.H. State Council on the Arts).

During that time, they dropped tuition. The registration fee now covers the whole season so that children can participate in all the events and workshops at no extra cost. “It was a real game-changer for us,” he said, “our members increased, our donations increased, our grants increased. We were afraid because the tuition has been 30 to 40 percent of our revenue.”

Mezzocchi began as an “Andy’s Kid” in the early ‘90’s. “I grew up in Hollis,” he said. “I went to Fairfield University in Connecticut,” where he double-majored in film and theater, “and then moved to New York City to graduate school at Brooklyn College. The graduate program was in interactive media and technology, really challenging. There were 12 of us, each from a different discipline. I went there for art and ended up designing and directing.”

He was invited to Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., to design a show, and then a year later began teaching at the University of Maryland, College Park.

“I built a curriculum in the MFA Design program within the School of Theatre, Dance and Performance Studies, a curricular track in projection and media design.”

His “biggest thrill” while in Washington was writing and directing a show at the Kennedy Center called How To Catch a Star, an adaptation of works by the children’s book author and illustrator, Oliver Jeffers . While teaching, he continues designing and directing shows in New York City, mostly off-Broadway. “I really enjoy teaching.”

But he comes back to Andy’s every summer. “People sometimes see it as a pause in my career, but I learn something every year. It really helps me shape what I’m doing in the professional world. We try new things to see how they’ll work. It has shaped my entire professional career.”

Andy's PlayhouseAndy’s is a “totally different place,” he said. “We try to make kids have ownership of what they do. There are a group of adults who don’t know if a new idea will work and kids who don’t know if the idea will work. We try to intentionally re-invent the wheel. At the end of the summer, I’m very tired but it is always so extremely rewarding.”

“We try to make sure the kids see the joy of it. They don’t always get this type of accountability in the classroom with the structure and, most of all, standardized tests. We have 8-year-olds and 18-year-olds, each with a different perspective. An 8-year-old can teach everyone what it is to be playful, the 18-year-old how to be accountable. Everyone is learning and growing”

Looking ahead, he said, “I think we are hitting our stride right now where Andy’s is financially fit, and we can make it a forever place. We can ask what we can do to make it forever. The pandemic showed how strong Andy’s is, how it can adapt. During that time, we created a foundation so that all children and adults can pick up the baton and run with it. We saw, especially in the pandemic, that this organization shouldn’t just be about us, and that it must last longer than any kid or adult who comes here. There was a huge shift in how we think about the organization. For me, these last few years have shifted my idea of how I can give back to the world, especially to the Andy’s community.”

This year the theater is back fully in person. “We’ve had a great season so far. Andy's PlayhosueOur first show was sold out. Our workshops are strongly attended. Our musical is an incredibly ambitious show.” The season ends on August 20.

It is great to be back live, he said, “but when a child is in a space they have created for themselves, they kind of explode (creatively). They brought that back here in person. During Covid we experimented with ways of communication, how to be flexible and we made some progress. It was really exciting. I think Andy’s did a really good job, something I take with me in my teaching and my career.

Looking at old programs and memorabilia, he said, “I was seeing things from 30 years ago that we could have written now, about our mission and values. It shows a very clear vision. We have to have confidence it will have another 30 years. There will always be children,” he added, “and there will always be Andy’s.”

For more information visit Andy’s website at https://www.andyssummerplayhouse.org/ or call or email at [email protected] or 603-654-2613.

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