“No one can whistle a symphony. It takes a whole orchestra to play it, ”the minister Halford E. Luccock once said. Collaboration is key in the theater as well. Whether onstage, backstage or seated in the audience, participants must work in harmony to create a successful production. But theaters don’t always collaborate with each other. In a state as small as RI, teeming with performing arts groups, competition for ticket sales, funding and resources can be stiff. So it’s exciting to see Epic Theatre Company, Mixed Magic Theatre and the Contemporary Theater Company band together in the new Rhode Island Theater Alliance (RITA).
“We are very di!erent companies, but we have a lot of similar goals, challenges and opportunities,” explains Christopher Simpson, the artistic director of the Contemporary Theater Company (CTC). One challenge shared by the theaters of RITA is exposure – getting out the word on shows, standing out from other groups, attracting new audience members and new talent. Notes Epic Theatre Co.’s artistic director, Kevin Broccoli, “Forming this alliance is helpful because it allows our three theaters to combine our resources and our knowledge and help each other progress as organizations while maintaining our individual identities.”
Separately, Epic, Mixed Magic and the CTC have contributed to the vibrancy of the local arts scene for years. Simpson founded the CTC in the summer of 2005 to produce a specific show. Since then, it has grown into what he calls “a full-service community institution” in Wakefield. Jonathan Pitts-Wiley, the artistic director of Pawtucket-based Mixed Magic Theatre, took over the helm from his father Ricardo three years ago. His parents started the company in 2000 with a focus on promoting literacy and as a way, as he puts it, “to diversify the pool of stories being told and who was telling them.” Broccoli, whose company neighbors Mixed Magic, launched Epic while in college. He jokes that he named it both “ironically, because it was me and two folding chairs (although years later, we’re now up to five folding chairs), and sincerely, because the task of mounting a show on my own seemed like a massive undertaking.”
The three companies have collaborated before on previous shows. The alliance formalizes their continued efforts to exchange ideas, lend support and work together to o!er innovative fare. Through RITA, the companies plan to provide new opportunities for actors and technicians, and even share some full productions. Mixed Magic may remount its powerful Fences on the CTC’s stage this June, and Epic Theatre’s recent Six Degrees of Separation is slated for a revival there in November. Epic’s upcoming production of Andre Gregory’s Alice in Wonderland (starting May 24) features actors from the CTC, as does Mixed Magic’s Much Ado About Nothing (July 19 – 28). And at Mixed Magic next month, Pitts-Wiley directs the world premiere of The House in Providence (June 5 – 23), an adaptation of Uncle Vanya written by Epic’s Broccoli.
By joining forces, the three companies in RITA hope to bring more theater to the masses and more masses to the theater. Simpson reveals that, over at the CTC, “Every night we hear another audience member say, ‘I didn’t think I was a theater person, but I had a great time tonight!’ Our brand of theater is real, fresh and engaging. We have to tear through a lot of ingrained resistance to help folks see that we’re worth the risk. RITA empowers our audiences to check out the work of our fellow theaters with a little more trust. If you’ve taken the risk on us, have faith that you might like these guys, too.”
RITA’s concept of collaboration may be catching. A new network called the Rhode Island Performance Exchange (RIPE), in conjunction with RITA and other theater groups, is planning a general audition for local performers on June 1. And hopefully that’s just the beginning. As Broccoli muses, “A lot of people talk about collaborating, but how many theaters are actually doing it? How many theaters share information about what their seasons are going to be? Coordinate opening nights so that they don’t overlap? Share designers, actors, directors? We’re three very di!erent theaters, but we all have a great respect for each other’s work – that respect is what this alliance is built on.”