Fred Sullivan, Jr., the versatile actor and director at Trinity Repertory Company and the GAMM Theatre, once told me, “Good theater is difficult; great theater, nearly impossible.”
For that, he said, you must suspend disbelief and believe actors are kings, judges, serpents and gods. How does one do that under a mask, while looking at a sea of masks?
But any theater is welcome, especially after an interminable intermission caused by COVID-19. All live theater has been cruelly wounded by the pandemic to the point of shuttered doors and the option of seeing plays like “A Christmas Carol” in a side room on TV while the live actors perform in an adjacent arena. Restrictions for older theater-goers have caused many to give up season tickets.
Locally, Newport’s theater venues have also had to endure other impediments, like hurricanes and scandals among professors and directors.
Can local theater survive? Most are determined, but unsure. Here is what is happening at the area’s theaters.
Edward King House Black Box
Carmela Geer, producer at the theater, promises a return for spring.
“From my mouth to God’s ears, that is,” she said. “We are currently planning a full lineup of in-person and virtual offerings beginning in April. No final decisions yet, but we will have a live stage reading of a local playwright’s work for both a live audience and online from our black box, a full stage production for the big room, and some shorter pieces produced for online only.”
Geer’s hope is to meet her audiences wherever they feel the most comfortable.
“That means more directors, more actors and lots more moving parts,” she said. “Bring it on! We’ve been way too quiet too long. We will follow the rules, no matter what they happen to be at the time the curtain goes up. We’ve become very adept at pivoting on a dime.”
Newport Playhouse & Cabaret
Due to significant damage sustained during Hurricane Ida, the playhouse has been forced to move temporarily to the Wyndham Hotel and Johnny’s Restaurant in Middletown.
The 38-year-old theater hosted its newest comedy and cabaret through Dec. 19, and sold out most nights.
Owner Jonathan Perry should get a medal for perseverance for holding concerts and cabaret shows through the past few months until the windstorm forced them to relocate during the busy holiday season.
“While it may not be our cozy theater we all know and love, it will always be The Newport Playhouse way,” he said.
Scheduled for April 3 is the comedy, “Social Security.”
Seaside Shakespeare Society
The society will remain dark again this year. “It was too iffy with restrictions,” said actress, director and founder Morgan Capodilupo.
Capodilupo introduced theater in the park to Newport five years ago, then piggybacked her Seaside Shakespeare Society atop it, staging a frothy “Midsummer’s Night Dream” at Trinity Church, followed by a provocative “Macbeth” in 2017.
The Bit Players
The Bit Players gave up theater years ago when the owners found the rights to do musicals and plays cost prohibitive. So, they became an improvisation house inside the Firehouse Theatre, winning awards, and never looked back.
No two shows are ever the same. You never know what they will say or how they will say it. In fact, Newport resident and comic giant Jay Leno showed up recently and did an impromptu 30-minute set for the lucky crowd. He then returned and did a week’s worth of shows as a fundraiser for local law enforcement charities.
Their shows are limited this season to Friday and Saturday nights. Order tickets at bitplayers.net.
Newport Children’s Theatre
After auditions, casting and weeks of rehearsals, The Newport Children’s Theatre had to cancel its planned production of “Pinocchio” two weeks ago at the Casino Theatre in Newport. It held auditions for Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Cinderella” last week, planned tentatively for spring.
The Marley Bridges Players, who do clever period whodunits on trains and in museums and mansions, have been on hiatus for nearly two years. The group recently posted on the Newport Art Museum website that a creative adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” set in current day Newport is planned for summer 2022.
Jamestown Community Theatre
The long-running Jamestown Community Theatre is also on hiatus.
“However, we’ve been doing some small group classes, focusing on building skills for when we can return to in-person performances,” said longtime producer Iris Bohensky. “Last winter, we also did a collaboration with the Jamestown Philomenian Library and put out … taped readings of various holiday season stories, poems, etc. that can be found on our YouTube channel and social media pages.”
Hope still lives in Jamestown that a production may be mounted in spring.
“But it is to be determined, as we are still working out the logistics,” he said. “Being a small-town organization and using the town’s facilities, we have to follow the rules and regulations of the town as they set forth, which puts restrictions on lots of things, as you can imagine, especially when it comes to congregating large groups of people.”
Newport Performing Arts Center
The former Newport Opera House is still reshaping its efforts to raise millions to reopen, a project that is two decades in the making, if you include the purchase date that the nonprofit Newport Performing Arts Center bought the shuttered building.
In the recent state cultural grant funding, the center received $50,000.
“We continue to apply for and receive third party funding, which is being allocated to the construction elements of the project,” said John Cratin, chair of the art center’s board of directors in the Jan. 20 edition of Newport This Week. “One project currently underway is the restoration of the historic components, specifically the proscenium arch. These components are critical in order to ultimately receive the state and federal historic tax credits.”
That organization has not yet raised half of its original $26 million goal, efforts further stalled by the pandemic.
Several musical concerts are scheduled, most of them streaming live beginning in April, in an effort to boost fund-raising.