2016-09-22 / Front Page

‘Studio’ Theater Launched at Edward King

By James Merolla

Sharon Coleman, an actress of a particular vintage with a face full of light and a boatload of talent, is available, she said, for anything.

Coleman entered the theater space atop the Edward King House that is a “black box” in name only. The room was filled with afternoon sunlight that seemed to represent the hope she held for her chance to be chosen to play the female lead in A. R. Gurney’s “Love Letters.” It will be the first official offering of The Studio, a new theater ensemble that has been launched at the King House.

Having played the part years ago, Coleman would love to play it again – or anything The Studio wants to offer.

The Edward King Senior Center sought actors over two nights of open calls – on Sept. 8 and 11 – in order to cast Gurney’s popular two-person exploration of a relationship, unfolding over a lifetime, through the exchange of personally charged written correspondence. The play will be performed in early November.

The Studio is helmed by a board of experienced performers, directors and writers, some with four decades of theater time on Aquidneck Island. The new troupe hopes to herald a new direction for the King House, while ushering in something the island hasn’t enjoyed in years: a consistent, well-done community theater.

One of the goals of the group (beyond producing and staging plays ) is to explore the literature of theater and performance in the upstairs meeting room that organizers thought would be a perfect backdrop for locally produced shows. “Love Letters” will be followed by a production of area playwright and arts writer David Christner’s comedy, “Red Hot Momas,” currently being performed in Russia and Italy.

The Studio is an offshoot of the center’s weekly Tuesday night play- and script-reading club that has taken hold in the past year with the same group, which includes directors

Rob Reimer and Lindy Nettleton, Christner, Clive Anderson, Niall Tarrell, stage manager Sharyn Singer, and costume designer Stephanie Lynn.

“Not many people know about the play-reading group,” said Nettleton. “We love it. And it’s not just for seniors; all age groups are welcome. The Tuesday night reading group [ranges from] people who have done nothing to people who have done Equity,” she said. “You don’t have to memorize the lines, and you get to be the character without doing the work.”

The Studio is not merely an extension of the other group. “Though one came from the other, they are morphing into each. The play-reading group will remain and the other will grow,” said Nettleton, a veteran of The Rhode Island Shakespeare Theatre when it was based in Newport.

Nettleton added that people in the play-reading group who have never performed before feel “a bit more comfortable in front of others after a couple of readings. And they have gotten better and better and better, growing by leaps and bounds. It’s extraordinary.”

Actress Coleman, reading scenes with Anderson, shows remarkable range, trying a scene once as a know-it-all, weary of the world, and then repeating the scene as a petulant child.

“One of the things I am looking for from her [the character] is her youthfulness, but I want you to play it like a little kid,” director Reimer tells her. “She’s impetuous, she’s impulsive. They [the male-female leads] are antonyms, if you will, with entirely different personalities.”

Coleman’s second reading is 180 degrees from her first, wowing the board, and even bringing them to raucous laughter when she accidentally misreads a name in the script. The error is actually much funnier than what Gurney had originally written.

“I may keep that in!” laughed Reimer.

The board lamented the departure of local live theater in Newport and the logistics that have prevented local residents or fun-grabbing tourists from supporting it over the past two decades, despite various attempts.

“There are so many talented people in this area, and so many who love theater. Why are we all sitting around not doing anything?” asked Coleman rhetorically, lauding the introduction of The Studio. “I haven’t done an audition this year. It’s good to keep your hand in.”

“I always thought this was a perfect space for black box,” added Nettleton, as the late-day sunshine flooded the Edward King House at sunset.

“Love Letters” will be performed at the Edward King House on the first and second weekends in November. Clive Anderson has been cast as Andy, and Lisa Reimer will play the part of Melissa. Go to edwardkinghouse.org for information.

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