There’s a new captain at the helm of Rutland Youth Theatre, who is returning to her grandparents’ home and that of her alma mater, after a life teaching theater in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Sarah McGee’s grandfather taught at Castleton State College, where she and her husband attended and met on the set of “As You Like It,” and McGee’s mother was living alone in the family home in Castleton.
So in August, the McGees decided to move.
“We’ve gained an amazing community,” McGee said. “The people here are so intentional; ... people here inconvenience themselves because it’s the right thing to do. ... I admire people who realize that, if things are going to get better, it’s going to take the community.”
She left a much larger, much more diverse neighborhood to settle in a small Vermont town, but McGee said even in the smaller communities, she has everything she needs.
“This is rare,” McGee said of the Rutland Youth Theatre and the community support behind it. “This is really incredible, what they’re building here, and I just can’t believe I get to be a part of it. ... This is the future. We’re going to take care of each other.”
Immediately upon finding their new home, McGee decided they needed to expand their family, so she adopted two alpacas and a miniature donkey, which she named Gertrude, in addition to their small flock of chickens and four dogs.
It was one fateful day when her son came home giddy with excitement, having discovered a flier advertising Rutland Youth Theatre’s production of “Newsies.”
Walking into the audition with her son, McGee said she was astounded by the number of young men trying out for a part, and found herself drawn to the hidden gem that was the Rutland Youth Threatre.
“I just kind of gravitated towards her,” said Nikki Adams, program director for arts and theater at the Rutland Recreation Department.
As fate would have it, Adams said a position had just been created for a community-outreach leader for the RYT, and though McGee had come to mind, she also decided to show up in Adams’ office.
“It was crazy,” Adams said. “Like she heard me thinking about her.”
The executive director’s seat hadn’t been offered yet, so McGee asked first if she could volunteer with the RYT just to be involved.
But, in her brief time in Rutland, McGee had already made an impression, and community members time and again brought her name to Adams as a potential candidate for the position being left by longtime director Saskia Hagen Groom.
“With the rebirth of the Rutland Youth Theatre, I think she’s absolutely perfect,” Adams said.
RYT sets a high bar for community theater, McGee said, and hopes to set an example for other communities to admire and strive to meet.
“There is a place for the arts,” McGee said. “For these kids ... I want people to see how amazing we can be as a community when we include everybody. That means the artists, the athletes, special needs, adults ... where art is celebrated and we create great things together.”
While McGee said she appreciates all forms of theater, youth theater holds a special place in her playbill.
“They’re the most honest because of how it makes them feel,” McGee said. “It’s pure. That’s art at its purest form ... doing it because you love it.”
McGee said she feels blessed to be leading a program that’s bigger, more community-based, and more developed than her own theater company back in Michigan, and is looking forward to the long nights, costume fittings and hours of rehearsal in a company leagues ahead of many she’s seen.
“Artists are never satisfied,” McGee said. “My favorite play is the next one. ... After the play runs for three days, it’s done. Now it lives in other people.”
The recent release of the rights to “Frozen” has both Adams and McGee particularly excited, but neither would reveal what the RYT has planned for their next big show.
McGee said she hopes to help grow Rutland Youth Theatre to include more young actors, but also more people interested in learning about set design, lighting and production to provide an even more inclusive, well-rounded company.
“It’s a scary world, and these kids are not stupid,” McGee said. “We would have 12 school districts on one stage. ... I want these students to know their family and their friends are out there. ... Just hang on.”