The small community of Dorset, Vt., has deep roots in the theater world. So does Dina Janis.
Executive director of the Dorset Theatre Festival since 2009, Janis grew up near Chicago, where she immersed herself in the business as a teenager, creating the highly acclaimed Steppenwolf Theater with a group of high-school friends that included actor Gary Sinise.
More than three decades later, she’s still involved in making quality theater, luring professional directors and actors — from both New York and Hollywood — to the Vermont countryside each summer for a little change of pace.
“I’ve had a long life in the theater, and I know a lot of playwrights, directors and actors who are interested in developing new plays and getting away from the center of the storm that is New York City,” said Janis, who has spent two decades in New York City, part of that time working with Philip Seymour Hoffman at the Labyrinth Theatre.
“All these actors have friends who are writers and they love to work on new stuff. And coming up here to Vermont, it’s like the old-fashioned summer stock model, and people really do enjoy it.”
WHERE: Dorset Theatre Festival, 104 Cheney Road, Dorset, Vt.
WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday; 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 3 p.m. Sunday. Shows Wednesday-Sunday through July 6
HOW MUCH: $59-$20
MORE INFO: 802-867-2223, www.dorsettheatrefestival.org
Alfre Woodard and Judd Hirsch are among the popular actors who have worked with Janis at the Dorset Theatre.
This summer, Tim Daly, the star of “Wings” and “Private Practice,” will be returning for his second consecutive summer in southern Vermont, where in 1979 he graduated from Bennington College.
Daly will play artist Mark Rothko in John Logan’s Tony Award-winning play “Red,” with Charles Socarides performing as Rothko’s assistant, Ken. Adrienne Campbell-Holt is directing the production, which opened Wednesday night and runs through July 6.
“It’s a very interesting play that looks at the dynamics between artists, the mentor and the apprentice,” said Janis.
“They both have strong opinions about what art should be, and what the responsibility of the artist is.”
Daly, who will be starring with Tea Leoni in “Madame Secretary” beginning next fall on CBS, earned an Emmy nomination in 2009 for his guest-starring role in HBO’s “The Sopranos.”
“I’ve worked with him before, so I know he’s dedicated to the theater, even though he’s very busy with TV and films,” said Campbell-Holt, who also directed Daly at Dorset last summer in “The Scene.”
“He’s probably the best-looking actor to play Rothko, and people will really be surprised. He goes through quite a transformation.”
Socarides is a young New York City-based stage actor with plenty of experience, including roles in “Sons of the Prophet” and “The Marriage of Bette and Boo,” both at The Roundabout Theatre.
“He’s an incredibly gifted man in his young 20s,” said Campbell-Holt. “Dina has done an amazing job attracting this great talent to Vermont during the summer.
“She gets people from New York, she has interns from all over the country, and she’s also tapped into the local resources. The caliber of stuff you see here is very high.”
The Dorset area has long been a supporter of the arts. Before Jill Charles and John Nassivera founded the Dorset Theatre Festival in 1978, the town had its own community theater group as far back as 1927. A major renovation of the theater costing $3 million began in 1999 and was completed in 2001. Charles, however, died that same year at the age of 52.
“She ran the festival for many years and was a wonderful theater person,” Janis said of Charles. “She was a director and actor who lived in Dorset but also had New York City roots.”
Janis became familiar with the Dorset Theatre Festival soon after she began teaching at nearby Bennington College, and was recruited by the board to become the company’s new artistic director. She agreed in early 2009, and has overseen the group’s rebirth.
“Things were a little rocky for a while after Jill passed away suddenly, but I think we’ve come a long way in the last few years,” said Janis. “They had this amazing state-of-the-art facility and weren’t sure what to do with it. I could see the potential.”
Along with “Red,” this summer’s lineup includes “Out of the City” (July 10-19), “All in the Timing” (July 24-Aug. 9), “The Mousetrap” (Aug. 14-30), and “Travels with Mark Twain” (Sept. 18-20).
“We get a lot of our audience from the southern Vermont area, but our audience is also growing and it includes the Saratoga and Albany County areas, and the Berkshires,” Janis said.
“We also get people from New York and Boston, tourists, and I think people who come here love the place. We have an expanded theater space with tiered seating and a bunch of rehearsal spaces throughout the building. It’s still an old barn, but it’s also a beautiful modern facility.”
Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or firstname.lastname@example.org.