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Lights? Camera? Giant man-eating puppet?!

In Fall 2016, co-executive directors of Bristol-based One Light Theatre, Jason Roy and David Sheehy, approached Tilton School about renting Rome Theater in Hamilton Hall for the company's annual summer theater line up. When the One Light Theatre team explained their ideas to Assistant Head of School Kate Saunders P'17, '21, a few lightbulbs started to go off. Not in the theatre, but in Saunders' ever-creative mind...
After that initial visit, Kate presented the One Light Theatre team with a second, more expansive partnership idea. Using Roy’s Broadway experience and his set-design expertise, along with Sheehy’s acting and directing acumen, would One Light Theatre be willing to work with the theater department at Tilton School on a long-term basis? Task No. 1 - help with lighting and the design of the elaborate puppets needed for the winter 2017 production of Little Shop of Horrors. As theatrical luck would have it, Roy already had experience with this production, having designed the puppets for New London Barn’s version in 2007, and directing the show in 2006 at the Franklin Opera House.

And a partnership was solidified.

During the weeks leading up to the February 2017 Little Shop of Horrors, Roy worked alongside Amy Morse, the show’s producer, and Amy’s husband, Ben Morse, providing lighting design and creative assistance for Ben to create the four different stages of Audrey II, the show’s famous carnivorous Venus flytrap. The final result was an incredibly dynamic production complete with a gigantic final version of Audrey II, which did, in fact, swallow most of the cast whole. (Not really; they all just disappeared through a trapdoor on the back of Audrey II.)

Having One Light Theatre partner with the Tilton theater department was a welcome help, said Amy Morse. “David and Jason were good at breaking the fear of tackling this project, and Jason was really a big help with the lighting design,” she said. “They’re both wicked enthusiastic about theater and the students were really drawn to their energy,” she added. “They’re both hilarious but also very professional.”

Although this was the first time Roy had worked with the student actors at Tilton, he was no stranger to youth theater. The time he spent with Tilton students and theater faculty impressed the seasoned actor and director.

“The dedication of the faculty at Tilton School in regards to their students was amazing,” Roy said. “As someone who has worked in the education theater world for nearly a decade, I was almost dumbfounded by the drive and energy of the faculty members who were part of the winter musical last year.”

One Light Theatre’s partnership with Tilton School continued throughout the summer of 2017 as the company brought five professional productions to the Rome Theater stage. Using a combination of community and professional actors, the company staged an impressive set of productions, including Big Fish the Musical, The 39 Steps, Schoolhouse Rock Live! Jr., Moon Over Buffalo, and Next to Normal.

“The partnership between One Light Theatre and Tilton school was crucial for the success of One Light over the past year,” said Roy. As fall 2017 rolled around, the partnership deepened when David Sheehy joined the full-time teaching faculty at Tilton School. Math teacher by day, theater guru by night, the Hampton Beach, NH native worked with theater teacher Jason Harrington on the school’s production of The Odd Couple (November 2017). He then directed the Seussical! The Musical. (February 2018), with Amy Morse heading up music direction. Roy continued with his participation as well, designing the whimsical and detailed sets and costumes for Seussical!.

Having Sheehy as part of the full-time faculty at Tilton has in itself been a wonderful partnership. He brings a vibrant sense of energy to everything he does, whether it’s teaching complex math problems, posing for a photoshoot, teaching students how to create their own puppets, or delivering his own lines on stage, his energy is infectious. And in return, Sheehy has enjoyed being part of the Tilton community, both as theater partner and teacher.

“The students and faculty of the Tilton drama program have really welcomed me in as one of their own this year,” Sheehy said. “Not only are they kind and receptive, but they are willing to learn and grow in their talents.”

The partnership between Tilton and One Light Theatre continues to go both directions, benefitting each side. In November, the company used Rome Theater again to put on the children’s theater production of Cinderella: A Pop Musical, and the professional production of Heathers: The Musical. 

What started as a simple request to rent theater space has blossomed into a mutually beneficial partnership for both the school and the fledgling theater company.

“Tilton was fantastic in letting us use Hamilton Hall this past summer,” said Sheehy. “The space was exactly what we were looking for—small, versatile, and unique. And the faculty were willing to help us whenever necessary, going out of their way at times just to ensure our experience was a positive one. It was the perfect setting for our inaugural summer, and hopefully many more to come.”

One Light Theatre is on campus in Rome Theater once again this summer with five great productions. View their Facebook page for event details and to purchase tickets.