New theater troupe breaks boundaries on US-Canada border

July 30, 2018

DERBY LINE, Vt. (AP) — Next month a new theater troupe, the Borderline Players, will put on its first summer musical. You can see the show in the U.S. or Canada — depending on where in the theater you sit.

If you look up the address for the Haskell Free Library and Opera House, you’ll find it’s both on Caswell Avenue in Derby Line, Vermont, and at 1 Church Street, in Stanstead, Quebec.

Outside the building, the international border is marked by a row of potted plants and decorative stones.

Inside the building, the first-floor library serves patrons in both countries, as does the second-story opera house, which is home to the Borderline Players.

Chris Planetta is president of the theater troupe’s board of directors.

“Well, we’re in a turn-of-the-century opera house,” he said of the theater that opened in 1904. “The building’s a hundred years old. There’s solid wooden seats everywhere; there’s a balcony section that’s very decorative. There’s a painted curtain right behind us. There’s a line physically separating two countries in the middle of the floor.”

To be clear, you don’t need a passport to sit in a section outside of your home country. In fact, in some seats you can be sitting in the U.S. and stretch your legs into Canada.

For the past quarter-century, the Haskell has been home to the international theater company QNEK Productions. When QNEK founder Lynn Leimer retired last year, the Borderline Players formed to take the company’s place.

“We still had people interested in being in shows,” Planetta explained. “We still had the facility, the Haskell Opera House, and we still had interest in people wanting to come and see shows here. So, you know, all the other pieces of the puzzle were still in place. We just needed someone to keep the ball rolling.”

So Planetta stepped in and did just that. And without missing a beat, the new company planned its innagural three-show season.

Both Planetta and board member Ross Murray are from Stanstead. Murray said the Borderline Players address a particular need in that town.

“There’s a vibrant English theater scene in Montreal, but outside Montreal it gets very sparse to find English theater,” he said. “So we’re filling that void.”

But, Murray is quick to add that the “community” for this community theater troupe is as international as the building it calls home.

“It’s a really unique building in terms of not just sitting on the border, but in terms of the community it serves - American, Canadian, French, English, Quebecers, Vermonters — so it’s a real hybrid,” he said.

While the Haskell is celebrated for being a unique public building intentionally situated on an international border, Murray said that can pose challenges:

“Even just building sets - we get supplies from Vermont, and we bring them in here and then, you know, we’re struggling with, well what do we do with materials? Where do we put it? Can we bring it to Canada and store it somewhere? Or do we have to find a place in the U.S.? And so, there’s always a struggle to just trying to make things work logistically around here.”

With the first show of the Borderline Players’ premiere season under its belt, Planetta says the troupe is now in rehearsal for Little Shop of Horrors - a musical comedy that features a man-eating plant.

“We have plants that — well, plant puppets — that have been purchased and on their way here from Winnipeg,” Planetta said. “Tickets are for sale in both countries and online. And they’ve been rehearsing for a couple of months.”

The final production of the season will be Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, which takes the stage in October. Planetta said there’s still time for folks to participate.

“It is a community theater, and we encourage the community to get involved,” he said. “So if they want to be more involved, if they want to be on stage and try out for a show, or if they’re a carpenter or a painter and want to add some skills to our sets, then we appreciate it. And if they want to buy a ticket and just enjoy the show, that’s great too.”

Little Shop of Horrors opens on Aug. 10. After this season wraps up, the Borderline Players plan to be back for a second season next spring.


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