by Steve Desroches
For actor Patrick Riviere his forty-plus years in show business has of course been about life on the stage and in film and television. Throughout that time, he’s worked in almost every aspect of theatrical life, from arts administration to teaching to writing to production. Riviere learned long ago to be successful and happy in a life in theater one needs to be resilient and nimble, but always focused on what it is that drives an artist. In his case, it’s a love of performance and theater. His resume runs multiple pages as he has worked in large markets like Chicago and New York City as well as small locales like Buffalo, Santa Fe, and of course here in Provincetown. His love of theater and art runs deep. He recalls that while working as the director of development at the Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater (WHAT) he’d occasionally sit alone on the stage with just the ghost light illuminating the house and think how lucky he was to work in the theater, no matter the capacity.
That passion and zeal has served him well, as while he’s always had goals and pursued them, he never kept his focus so narrow he didn’t see untraditional opportunities or new ways to challenge himself. And after 12 years of living in Provincetown as a working actor and theater professional he’s decided to turn the spotlight, or more specifically the lens, onto two of his fellow artists that call these creative shores home as he begins filming his new documentary short Artists at the Edge this week.
While Provincetown is home to hundreds of artists, Riviere’s first big task was to narrow it down to a more bite-sized narrative and chose Darlene Van Alstyne and Kenny Lockwood, two longtime residents known for a variety of roles, including as artists working in a variety of mediums. His sophomore effort in filmmaking, Riviere’s voice crackles with excitement with this new pursuit to add to his long list of creative exploration.
“I love documentaries most of all,” says Riviere. “I love documentaries of all kinds. But I wanted to make a documentary about people who are still here. Don’t get me wrong. I love documentaries that look at the past and examine people who have passed. But for me I love hearing the stories of people first hand, rather than through digging through the past. I wanted to talk about the process of being artist, about people who are still working artists and about what they are creating now.”
For this project Riviere chose two artists he knows, but perhaps surprisingly to some, they don’t know each other. Many assume that with Provincetown being a small town for most of the year everybody knows everybody. But that is so not the case when it comes to Provincetown, a town that continually surprises, defies convention, and can often be contrarian especially in the face of assumptions. So, in Artists at the Edge Riviere will use the film as an opportunity for Van Alstyne and Lockwood to meet as the documentary tells their individual stories.
Van Alstyne is a well-known singer and actress in Provincetown who has appeared on the stage at the Post Office Cabaret, Provincetown Theater and with the Peregrine Theater Ensemble and Cape Rep as well as being a frequent featured singer at the famed Scream Along with Billy with Sue Goldberg and Billy Hough. Van Alstyne also worked in the Town Clerk’s office at Town Hall for many years and issued Riviere and his husband Shane Adams their marriage license. And Lockwood is known to many in town as a healer, as an acupuncturist and a practitioner of Chinese herbalism, but he is also an accomplished painter, musician, and an actor, currently appearing in the hit performance of Casa Valentina at the Provincetown Theater as Bessie. But there’s more to the story. Provincetown has long been a home to not just artists, but also the outsider or the “other” says Riviere. People who don’t fit in or are not included elsewhere have often found Provincetown a sanctuary or a safe harbor. So, for Artists on the Edge Riviere purposely sought out two LGBTQ artists, but wanted to explore inclusivity, equality, and community further and as such will also include explorations regarding each artist and their identities in totality, with Van Alstyne being a Black woman and Lockwood a senior citizen.
Riviere fell into documentary filmmaking quite by accident. Back in 2010 he was appearing in an off-Broadway production of the Michele Willens’ play Family Dinner with one of his co-stars being Mary Ellen Ashley, an actress who made her Broadway debut back in 1943. Ashley, who is now 85 and still a working actor, has had an illustrious career on stage, radio, television, and film, but never necessarily the recognition of a headliner. As Riviere got to know her, he thought that people needed to know her story.
“I started to find out the fascinating life of this woman,” says Riviere. “It started out as an idea to just make a film, or a project, just for her. A gift. Kind of like a This Is Your Life. But once I watched the footage I thought, ‘Wait a minute! There’s something more here.’”
Riviere hired a small editing team to work on what would become the 2021 documentary short Just a Broadway Baby: Mary Ellen Ashley, which in Riviere’s own words became a surprise hit on the film festival circuit being chosen for over twenty festivals worldwide and winning awards at several including Best Picture at the Oregon Documentary Film Festival and the Upstate New York Film Festival. And Riviere’s goal with Artists on the Edge is to have it largely done by February 2024 so he can begin the submission process for the film festival circuit again.
“With Broadway Baby we were just stunned by its success and obviously grateful,” says Riviere. “I think I’ve found a great story again and can’t wait to get started.”
For more information on the Artists at the Edge, visit artistsattheedge.com.