Member Highlight: Kim Bent and Kathleen Keenan at Lost Nation Theater

Mar 13 2024

How did Lost Nation Theater get started in Montpelier, and what motivates you to create your annual programs at City Hall?

Lost Nation Theater incorporated as a professional non-profit Vermont theater company in Bristol, Vermont, in 1977, when 6th generation Vermonter and Founding Artistic Director Kim Bent came back home for the 5th time and made peace with the idea that if he wanted to make Theater his life’s work, he would have to do it in Vermont because that’s where his heart was!

LNT started out as a touring company dedicated to the creation of exclusively original work, so we relocated to Montpelier in 1985, to make our programs more conveniently accessible to a statewide audience. 

Our enduring commitment is to: 

1) create and present high-quality professional theater performances; 

2) design and teach challenging, inspirational theater education programs;

3) and to forge meaningful, mutually beneficial partnerships with businesses, human service organizations, and schools.

We believe Theater can transform individuals and communities. Our productions:  

  1. celebrate the hopeful possibilities of human relationships;
  2. use language in rich, evocative, heightened ways;
  3. and seek to showcase the wide variety of all genres of theater.

One of LNT’s abiding priorities has always been the creation and development of original work–work often created by Vermont’s own playwrights, composers, songwriters, & choreographers–and work that tells Vermont’s story.


How did LNT end up creating and producing Theater at City Hall, and what is it you like about Montpelier?

In early 1989, the City of Montpelier put out an RFP for a Theater Company to produce a season of summer theater at City Hall. LNT’s Co-Artistic Directors Kim Bent and Kathleen Keenan responded by collaborating with other central Vermont theater artists and companies to craft a proposal that was unanimously approved by the City Council, and that turned out to be the beginning of LNT’s 35-year tenure as Montpelier’s Resident Professional Theater. 

When we began working in the Auditorium at City Hall, it was a basketball court with massive backboards at either end, no curtains on the windows, and a decaying plaster ceiling. Those first few years, in early June, we’d bring in everything we needed to build our performance space, and then we’d take it all back out again at the end of August. At that time, LNT served on the City Hall Improvement Committee whose charge was to come up with a plan to renovate the Auditorium to make it a functional multi-purpose space, and to fulfill its original mission as Montpelier’s “central gathering place”. In 1994, voters approved a bond to finance that renovation, and the dream of “City Hall Auditorium Arts Center” became reality!

In addition to LNT’s role as Resident Professional Theater, we’re contracted by the City to manage the Auditorium. Our responsibilities include:

  1. coordinating the annual calendar;
  2. providing technical support services for other users of the space;
  3. and working with the City to raise funds for its maintenance and improvement. 

Montpelier is the ideal, human-scale, Goldilocks community––not too big, and not too small. It’s just right! Combined with its sister-city Barre, it’s the economic and cultural hub for all the surrounding towns of central Vermont, which turns out to be an audience base just large enough to support one of the smallest professional theaters in the United States––but one that, as it turns out, is a perfect fit for the Nation’s smallest state Capitol!


You said you first came to Montpelier in 1985. That’s practically a working lifetime ago! How would you summarize your experience here, and how do you see the relationship between LNT and the City of Montpelier continuing ‘down the road’?    

Well, that’s a huge question, but thanks for asking it!  First, it’s incredibly important that we acknowledge, appreciate, and amplify the fact that a community’s performing arts organizations are one its strongest assets! LNT, for one, is deeply proud, honored, and thankful to be able to work in such a supportive place. Dynamic, vital, vibrant community only exists when we all work hard to create it––and it’s powerful! Wherever it exists, people notice it and appreciate it! 

Without solicitation, Montpelier was first recognized in the early ‘90’s in an annual publication entitled “The Best 100 Small Arts Towns in the United States”.  Professional performing artists come here to work with us from all over the country. Some have stayed long periods of time, many come back again and again, and a few have made Vermont their home. 

In that way, Theater literally builds community, but every time we see a play, we have a communal experience. Our hearts beat in the same rhythm. We laugh and cry together, and even breath in and out at the same time. When that happens, we celebrate our common humanity! And, Lord knows, we need that now more than ever!

So, as long as our community keeps supporting us, we’ll do what we do as long as we can. But, yes, spoiler alert, we are working on a succession plan and hope to be able to begin to unveil it at the end of this year. For now, all we can say is that our long-term goal is to ensure that LNT, or something very much like it, will continue to be an integral part of Montpelier and central Vermont for a lifetime or two to come! 

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