Joanna VanTrees is a force of nature who showers Pleasantville with energy, verve, warmth, and community spirit. She seems to be everywhere all at once.
President of the board of Pleasantville Community Television (PCTV), host of her own TV show, What’s Up Pleasantville? and regular participant in ARC Stages shows, often with her children, VanTrees has become an important part of the community.
Arriving from southern California with her two children, two cats and a service dog, VanTrees purchased a house in Pleasantville in 2018. Her mother grew up in Chappaqua and went to Greeley High School. VanTrees has a large, extended family living on the East Coast, and she had a friend who suggested that VanTrees settle in Pleasantville.
To meet people, she took her pug, Hamlet, to the town’s Starbucks, and sat down. VanTrees’ open, welcoming manner and easy smile, plus Hamlet’s natural charisma achieved her goal of making tons of new friends.
From there, VanTrees and her children, Julia, 24, and Will, 19, auditioned for ARC Stages shows. Mother and daughter landed parts in Avenue Q in the community stage wing of ARC in 2019. Will, reluctant at first to audition, won a part in Urinetown, and got bit by the acting bug. He has appeared in six ARC Stages shows and three Pleasantville High School productions.
VanTrees joined the PCTV board and started her own talk show in 2021, called What’s Up Pleasantville?
The show “kind of took off,” the peppy VanTrees said. She’s hosted about 40 shows. VanTrees’ shows have focused on a variety of topics, including what kids want for Christmas, the shows ARC Stages is putting on, honoring our armed forces’ veterans, residents’ comments about new developments in the village, the impact of the war in Ukraine, and promoting many local businesses. She has interviewed boy scouts, American Legion members, restaurant managers, fish store owners, pizza chefs, jazz singers and actors of all ages.
“I feel like I’ve got a little following now,” she said. “People shout out to me on the street, saying, ‘What’s Up Pleasantville?’ I’m gregarious and goofy.”
VanTrees’ goal as PCTV board president is to expand the connections between the station and the community. She’s helped set up a video production class for children, 9 to 11 years old, and is in the midst of creating “a hang out spot” for the kids at the station, where they can create their own videos. The station is putting on a studio clean-up day as a first step toward making a classroom for the kids.
“My fantasy is that we become an information highway for residents to create, educate, communicate and collaborate, so people can develop their own programming and build a tighter community,” VanTrees explained.
“We want people to do their own shows. We want to film local bands. My dream is to make a space for free speech. We welcome everyone. We’re collaborating with Pace University’s film department to do a young director’s series. Pace students can show their films and talk about how they made it, their process. My role at PCTV is highlighting all the things that are amazing and beautiful in the village.”
To help achieve her goal, VanTrees is organizing fund raising events to increase the amount of money the station has available, for general operating costs, video production and promotion. In October 2022, the station held a fund raiser at Lucy’s Bar in Pleasantville, to generate funds for both the station and Break the Hold, a local nonprofit that helps shed light on depression and suicide.
The next fundraiser will be at the station itself.
“We want to do a fundraiser for PCTV, on the grounds of the station, to let people see what we can do, how PCTV is connecting the community,” VanTrees said.
“How can we connect with each other on a human level? Especially after the pandemic, we got isolated. What is there out there in the world and in the village?”
VanTrees, who was a therapist for several years in L.A., started a women-only group called “Chick Chat” at her house, which meets once a month.
“We talk about family, friends, work, relationships,” she explained. “I’m a mother of all this. I love caring for people and connecting.”
VanTrees, who seems to hum and vibrate with energy, is one of the biggest boosters of life in Pleasantville.
“Two days after I moved in, my cat got lost. The neighbors went looking for the cat. They brought me brownies. I love having a porch that I can wave hello to people. On Halloween, a million kids come to the porch.
“People are authentic here, as opposed to L.A. Pleasantville is an amazing place. It’s a fun place to shop and go see live music. As a newcomer to Pleasantville, I didn’t know all of the resources we have here.”