SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — Writers, directors, entertainers, musicians, performers and any other variety artists looking for a “springboard” for their creations to jump-start a production can find that chance at the Contemporary Theater Company in Wakefield.
In a special community-based program run January through March, local artists with all levels of talent can showcase their work, tryout new techniques or approaches, and even just have some simple fun with no other agenda through the Main Street theater’s Springboard season. Recently 14 candidates were chosen to stage their productions next year for a live audience.
“We work hard to make sure that everyone feels welcome and that this is a place that they can take chances and try things and that they can be who they want to be,” explained Maggie Cady, general manager of the CTC about the self-styled weekly program, which in 2020 includes a monologue by insects, a tribute to Stephen Sondheim and a spinoff on the fantasy game Dungeons & Dragons.
CTC uses its roots in community commitment to give South County artists — from newbies to experienced actors — a chance to experiment. Springboard’s eighth season begins in January when productions go live Friday nights on CTC’s main stage.
“People can propose pretty much anything that can happen in a theater,” explained Cady about the program. She pointed to this year’s selection that will include new plays, musicals, improvised shows, an opera and some special performances such as “Gay Seinfeld,“ and “Shakespeare for Doofuses.”
“It’s a way to get a project off the ground, if you want to pursue it, and try to develop it overtime,” she added.
Getting a project, as the productions as called, accepted starts with an application to CTC. Individuals, and occasionally a team, propose the project by a September deadline. And then applications are reviewed through the early fall.
Cady said that 76 projects have been run in last seven years, with 14 more selected for the upcoming 2020 season among 25 proposals submitted. The program draws about 50 to 100 people annually in these project-productions.
Variety is the Hallmark
Past projects have included a 24-hour meditation marathon during which people could meditate with the project creator. There also has been a clown show, artist manifestos with different performers sharing what they liked about art in all forms, such as drawings done live, dancing and cooking live on stage.
It also has had original plays offering perspectives on life. For example, Cady said, a University of Rhode Island student designed four short scenarios about different lesbian, gay,
bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) relationships.
Among those accepted this year is the monologue by insects, such as a ladybug, ant, butterfly, queen bee and mayfly. It will be performed by Miles Martin of South Kingstown, who explained that in his production the insects have been captured and each responds to a fate of dying in captivity.
“This is a project I have already done a fair bit of work on as part of my master’s dissertation. That dissertation involved a staged reading to a very small number of people. Springboard will be the first time this project is presented to a regular audience of theatergoers,” he said.
“Additionally, the somewhat strange premise of the play makes me optimistic that it’s the type of unusual, experimental project that audiences have come to expect from the Springboard Season,” he said, adding, ”I have seen plenty of Springboard shows and have participated in a few as an actor, but have never led one myself.”
A birthday tribute to American composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim will be directed and performed by Jean Maxon Carpenter, of Wakefield. She has also done other Springboard productions.
“I am really into celebrating birthdays,” she said about choosing the composer’s birthday as a project, noting, “I did a celebration of Leonard Bernstein’s birthday in August 2018.” Her plan is to play Sondheim songs on the piano with other instrumental accompaniments as well as with a dozen or so singers. She also plans to buy and serve a large sheet birthday cake to the audience, too.
“The original concept (of Springboard) was to come in and do new things…It’s a really rich experience. Every Friday night during the Springboard season the theater is hopping with exciting new ventures and programs. You never know what you’re going to get,” she said.
The spinoff of Dungeons & Dragons, a contemporary fantasy game with improvisation and character development, began with friends getting together weekly and then morphing into improvisors creating worlds and characters as they played out roles and scenes, said Maddie England of Kingston who is co-sponsor of this project.
“We quickly realized that not only were D&D and improv one in the same, but they could both help to enhance one another,” she said. This fall her friend, Katherine Tivin, suggested they bring their home-brewed stories to the stage in an improvised long-form fantasy show, with nods to D&D.
“Both Katherine and I are excited to be directing our first ever show together, and to bring the fun and silliness that we’ve found through D&D to the world of improv and theater,” she added.
Tivin said, “For us, this is our way to learn how to not only work with many different moving parts, but to also learn how to captivate the thrill of adventure and fantasy on stage. We hope to succeed in sharing a world of imagination and creativity that connects with our audience and encourages them to explore their own stories.”
Theater as Community
Cady said that these examples illustrate both unique and new opportunities in local theater as well as how the non-profit CTC fulfills its mission of fostering community through theater experiences and performances.
“We all believe that coming to the theater, and having a robust live performance space in town, makes this a better place to live. The more you connect to the community, as an individual, the better for your health, better for your well-being, happiness, and all these things,” she said.
Embracing the community also means a big hug for diversity among performers, artistic presentations and perspectives, said Cady.
“We want this to be a place where everybody feels comfortable,” she said, “so we work hard to make that central to everything we do. A project like Springboard is what we want for community members, for people who do not necessarily always have somewhere where they can speak their voice.”
“We want them to know that they can come, feel safe trying something and that they can feel like they can be part of it, “ Cady said.