Raising the Bar

The Provincetown Theater Community Project Brings New Energy to Bradford Street

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by Steve Desroches

Photo @ Top : Holly Erin McCarthy as Winnie in Happy Days by Samuel Beckett. Photo: William Giokas

Since its opening in 2004, the Provincetown Theater has been a home to the creative and compelling theatrical impulses that still thrive here in the birthplace of American theater. But it’s also struggled to find a clear identity or a distinct artistic point of view within persistent debate of semantics and resources as to what definition of theater applies: a building with a stage or an institution that creates art rather than hosts it.

The Provincetown Theater’s soul searching produced a renewed focus starting with the new year when several new board members joined and Tristan DiVincenzo was hired as the executive artistic director, a position that had been absent from the Bradford Street theater since 2006. These moves gave a palpable new energy to the theater right away with the announcement of a season that runs year round, reaches out to the town’s rich pool of talent, and seeks partnerships with professional, regional theater companies. To paraphrase Maxine Nightingale, the Provincetown Theater is getting right back to where they started from: it’s all about community with the new Provincetown Theater Community Project.

Clyde Shelby Mellert as Sir, Bragan Thomas as the lead in The Dresser. Photo: William Giokas

“As people interact as a community with this building, the Project not only encourages new talent to join, but to fortify those actors who have given years of service to the theater,” says DiVincenzo. “We offered educational resources right off the bat so people could experience more. There wasn’t much of a process here before. We didn’t offer much to the arts community. We now have a broader spectrum of approaches to making theater. ”

DiVincenzo, who is well known for his work in theater circles both here on Cape Cod and in New York, highlights that this past winter free courses and workshops with voice and movement coaches were offered, as well as other specialty offerings, to both amateur and professional actors on the Cape. And the pay-off was noticeable immediately, as actors rose to the occasion and lifted each other up in pursuing stagecraft with this previously unavailable resource.

While ambition is certainly present and accounted for, DiVincenzo keeps one eye on striving for artistic excellence and the other on the financial realities of the theater world in general, as well as the extra challenges of the high costs and competition of the Outer Cape. DiVincenzo notes that around the country community theater is thriving and that there is, of course, no reason why that can’t be true here, too. But the old playbooks just don’t work anymore.

Photo: Bobby Miller

“The numbers are a lot different now,” says DiVincenzo. “This town has changed. ”

It’s not just expenses that have risen, but also expectations. Stages around Provincetown now show big Broadway acts doing intimate one-of-kind stage shows, drag queens with national followings, as well as those kinds of shows that capture the “only-in-Provincetown” magic. That all makes it hard for traditional theater to compete. But what else needs to be acknowledged is competing with legacy and history, as DiVincenzo is acutely aware. With a history that includes theatrical greats like Eugene O’Neill and the Provincetown Players, Tennessee Williams, as well as actors from Bette Davis to Richard Gere to Lily Tomlin to Al Pacino all gracing stages here, audiences look for the next big thing when they buy a ticket here. But theatergoers often forget that none of those luminaries were famous when they arrived. Provincetown’s reputation for a place of experimentation and risk-taking is what helped make them great. We are the incubator that helps give birth to greatness. That’s the ultimate goal of the Provincetown Theater.

“The goal is to create a crucible where we can use the community as a resource for the theater to have a larger reach than just the Provincetown community,” says DiVincenzo. “We want shows to tour. I really want to show there is value in this community of actors, whether they be professional or amateur. They can contribute artistically with just as much value. If we can change the theater’s reputation as an amateur clubhouse and invite in really amazing work, we can do that.”

DiVincenzo points to the Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival as a success story and inspiration for a model for the Provincetown Theater to succeed. The annual September theater fest has brought in productions from around the world, but also created their own, which have then gone on to productions across the globe, but are always acknowledged as Provincetown creations. That’s the goal, but the pathway to that takes time. And the current focus on using local talents allows a template to get a clear picture as to just what it takes to be an entity that produces new works and productions of familiar pieces that grow legs to other stages.

To allow for that to happen, the Theater has five productions on its 2016 schedule. But since most of the actors become swamped with work in the summer and don’t have the time to commit to a demanding rehearsal schedule, the Theater has invited the Peregrine Theatre Ensemble as well as productions from the Cotuit Center for the Arts and the Tennessee Williams festival to complement a busy year that ends with a Halloween production of The Rocky Horror Show and plans for a holiday presentation of A Christmas Carol—A full 12 months of theater keeping the space active and lit for everyone, be they here in August or February.

“It’s a challenge,” says DiVincenzo. “It’s a really big challenge, but a great one. We have such great community and a great community of actors. The drive to really provide actors what they need to succeed will be apparent, as will our productions utilizing technology never used here before. There is just so much going on here. But we need to always focus on the people, the actual individual walking into that door and keep them coming back for more.”

The Provincetown Theater is located at 238 Bradford St. For more information on their productions call 508.487.7487 or visit provincetowntheater.org.