Posted at 3:01 AM
The query in the headline was recently posted to Facebook by Charles Hauck. It struck a chord, and seemed worthy of follow-up with a cross-section of persons in the know across the SouthCoast theatrical world.
Based on Hauck’s question, they were asked the following: “What would it take for New Bedford to be recognized as a New England theatre destination or hub?”
All answers have been edited for space. And, in the age old debate whether it is “theater” or “theatre,” I have decided to largely go with what was submitted by each respondent, and thus drive the S-T copy editor insane.
Charles Hauck is, if any reader isn’t aware, the long-time driving force behind the city’s Gallery X on William Street. It’s a cooperative art gallery and multi-purpose venue. That alone commands respect for his opinions on any arts-related subject.
But what makes this question from Hauck especially pertinent is the fact that he is part of the team transforming the First Baptist Church just down the street from Gallery X into the Steeple Playhouse.
Indeed, a crew brought together by WHALE is working hard as this is being written to make that renovation happen. Other posts from Hauck and the crew are capturing the resurrection of this historic building in images — and its exciting to see.
YOUR THEATRE, INC.
The Steeple Playhouse will soon be the new home of New Bedford’s venerable Your Theatre, Inc. The community theater has been in continuous operation in a variety of venues since 1946.
Board member Mark Fuller has served in that capacity for the last 10 years, as well as assumed duties as varied as set and costume design for even longer. He also acts, and will portray Henry the VIII in the company’s next production, “A Man for All Seasons,” opening May 9.
He answers the question this way:
“Speaking from a community theater perspective, I feel that there needs to be a large variety of affordable shows that audiences want to see, including classics, contemporary, drama, comedy and musicals.
“You can’t be a major theater center without the audiences… patrons may come once to support a cast member, but they need to enjoy the entire experience in order for them to return on their own, especially if they will be traveling a distance to regularly attend performances.
“I also feel that a major theater center requires the productions to raise the bar to higher levels with well-written scripts, innovative interesting stories, proper directing, casting and production crew, and of course the best scenery, lighting, sound and costumes available.”
THE COLLECTIVE NB
Kevin Mitchell is a founding member of a company that is bringing innovative and interesting stories to the stage. The Collective NB is now into its fourth season, in residence at Gallery X.
Mitchell states in reply to the question, “Yes, of course I think New Bedford could be a hub of theater in New England. We already have the most important ingredients, a lot of talented artists and a community that is interested in and supportive of the arts.
“As The Collective NB has grown, we have been pleasantly surprised with how the community has supported us with attendance and also with people who are interested in getting involved in the performances as well. There are a lot of people here in the city that just don’t want to see theater, they want to take part, too.
“However, we do need some things to make the step to a theater hub. We need more access to performance space. The abundance of warehouse space in the area offers a lot of opportunity for just that.
“Another big thing we could use is something like Jazz Fest or Folk Fest, but for theater. A theater festival where all the local theater organizations get together to celebrate what we do and perform for the community and tourists.
“I believe that New Bedford can be a hub of theater not just in New England but the country…”
Another staple of the local theatrical scene is Culture*Park. Their signature event is an annual all-original short play marathon. The next will be the 17th edition, the Culture*Park Short Plays Marathon on Saturday, Nov. 23 at the New Bedford Whaling Museum Theatre. (From June 1 through September 1, writers can submit a short play – 15 pages/minutes or fewer – to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Co-founder and Artistic Director Patricia Thomas and co-founder and Executive Director Rebecca Schade submitted this joint answer…
“What would it take for New Bedford to be recognized as a New England Theater Destination/Hub? Support new plays, collaborate, and educate!
“Support the NEW. While we in New Bedford have a valid reason to embrace the old, the groundwork has been constructed here, short play by short play, for the support of the new — new plays and new works in theater.
“To many playwrights, directors and actors from outside of the city, the Culture*Park annual Short Plays Marathon is a known and trusted event that supports the development and presentation of new plays. Many of the same plays find further development or production elsewhere, such as the Humana Festival, Louisville, or Boston Playwrights Marathon — and the provenance reaches back to New Bedford.
“Reaching outside of the city with works originating in New Bedford creates awareness and recognition of New Bedford as a destination with a thriving, creative theatre community.
“Culture*Park presented ‘The Water Widow,’ by Ray Veary, a play culled from oral histories of the New Bedford fishing community, at the Trinity Rep Season Kick-Off in Providence a couple of years ago, and New Bedford was a character on stage alongside the actors that day in the Theatre at Trinity.
“And hosting a First Works or Fringe Festival, in addition to the Culture*Park Annual Short Plays Marathon, could create even more energy and awareness.”
The two also stress the importance of education by noting, “Bristol Community College’s training program for actors, educational in-school programs like Shakespeare 4Kids, or the Zeiterion’s Page to Stage programs, provide awareness and access and whet appetites for theatre and drama as a means of creative expression.”
NEW BEDFORD FESTIVAL THEATRE
The annual New Bedford Festival Theatre summer musical at the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center is a much-anticipated cultural event. This summer, the Festival Theatre will present the regional premiere of “Mamma Mia!” in a professional production featuring many actors from New York under the direction of New York director Jennifer Swiderski, who has performed in the original Broadway production.
Festival Theatre Producer Wendy Hall answers, “More community involvement! Community integration is key, going beyond just purchasing tickets (although that is VERY important). Support through volunteerism, donations, and corporate sponsorship fortify every person and every organization in the New Bedford arts community.”
Festival Theatre Artistic Director, Armand Marchand writes, “There is a definite summer musical circuit including most notably the Ogunquit Playhouse in Maine and the North Shore Musical Theatre north of Boston. The New Bedford Festival Theatre is part of this summer theatre circuit attracting wide audiences from all of the South Coast and Southern New England.”
“In short, the New Bedford Festival Theatre ranks as one of the foremost producers of professional musical theatre in the entire New England area.”
GLASS HORSE PROJECT
Korey Pimental is the Artistic Director of the Glass Horse Project, a newer addition to the scene which established itself with Shakespeare in Buttonwood Park productions. Its next staging is of Neil LaBute’s “The Shape of Things” this May 30-June 1 at the Co-Creative Center downtown. (All shows at 7:30 p.m., viewer discretion advised; free admission — to reserve limited seating, email email@example.com).
He answers, “Infrastructure and artistry.”
“When I hear the phrase ‘major center for theatre in New England,’ I’m thinking about a sustainable infrastructure that bolsters New Bedford theatre to the next level: Are we able to create a transactional relationship with other theatres in the region and the major theatre centers (namely NYC and Chicago)? Are we able to provide training programs to young artists that will give them the necessary foundation to go out into the world and come home? Are we able to have institutions sustain five-, six-week runs of a play?
“Part two is artistry: are we taking risks with the work that we’re producing? Are we allowing new or marginalized voices to be at the helm of these older plays that have been done to death and allow these artists from a marginalized group the opportunity to breathe new life into them for a 2019 audience? How effectively are we engaging with our audiences in order to ensure they’re being challenged and responding to the work we make in a way that is constructive to our growth as organizations and individual artists?”
Bringing it back to where we began — on William Street- and broadening it out, Jessica Bregoli, executive director of the coming Steeple Playhouse places the question into a larger cultural context.
“As Executive Director, my job isn’t solely focused on theatre. It’s about creating a sustainable environment in the larger diverse New Bedford arts community in which theater is a thriving component.
“I personally think that an artist residence program would be a vital building block in spreading the word about New Bedford. If there were a way to attract a high profile artist / actor / musician to the city for a time period, and pay them to do workshops or classes, then let them spread the word to their communities in Boston or NYC or wherever, there’d be a lot of press opportunities and those artists could post/blog about the experience and push New Bedford’s reputation to the next level.”
Finally, Charles Hauck answered his own question, “Could New Bedford be a major center for theater in New England?” with an emphatic, “You bet it could it could!”
Some of these responses just may be the roadmap to drive it there.
Steven Froias blogs for the coworking facility, Groundwork! at NewBedfordCoworking.com. Email: StevenFroias@gmail.com.
Original story here.