Provincetown Tennessee Williams Festival to Present THE HOTEL PLAYS from Providence

Provincetown Tennessee Williams Festival to Present THE HOTEL PLAYS from Providence

The Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival (September 21-24) will present a new staging of scenes from Tennessee Williams and William Shakespeare by the Spectrum Theatre Ensemble (STE) of Providence, Rhode Island, in association with Trinity Repertory Company.

The Hotel Plays will combine the two iconic poet-playwrights under one roof at the historic Gifford House Inn. In the "hotel play" format, first developed by the Festival in 2009, audiences will move from room to room, where surprises wait behind every door.

This year, audiences will enjoy two of Williams' most lyric texts: Mister Paradise, along with Talk to Me Like the Rain and Let Me Listen... Waiting down the hall will be scenes set in inns from Shakespeare's Cymbeline and The Comedy of Errors.

The Hotel Plays has a cast of 14 and will feature actors Leslie Fray, Jim O'Brien, and Jason M. Shipman. The show come to the Festival from Providence, Rhode Island, staged by Trinity Rep's Artistic Leadership and Inclusion Fellow, Clay B. Martin. His company, STE, is made up of theater artists along the autism spectrum, in collaboration with "neurotypical" actors who are not on the spectrum.

A Portal to the Poets

"Environmental theater has become a signature of what our Festival can bring to the world of Williams," says Festival Executive Director Jef Hall-Flavin. "Since 2009, when we first began producing short plays by Tennessee Williams in hotel rooms, the beauty and power of site-specific stagings has caught on. In recent years, theatergoers have discovered the joy of seeing Williams plays performed in hotel rooms around the globe, from Boston to London to South Africa."

In a Festival year that presents full productions of plays by Williams and Shakespeare side by side, Martin and co-director Erin Cawley see The Hotel Plays as a chance to more deeply connect our understanding of both playwrights.

"One thing we found, and really love, is the fluidity of both writers' styles," says Martin, "and how they can so easily navigate between comedy and tragedy, within almost the same breath. Mister Paradise can easily be done as a tragedy, but we're finding such wry humor in it. And even though The Comedy of Errors is a comedy, it's full of dark subject matter."

Martin and Cawley both studied in the School of Theatre and Dance at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, and they are alumni of the annual Tennessee Williams Institute (TWI), an immersive University-level symposium offered during the Festival.

TWI was founded at the graduate level to share the study of Williams with current and future theater artists and opinion-makers - including critics, teachers, and directors - who will leave Provincetown ready to share and build on what they've learned.

Martin attended TWI in Provincetown in 2013; Cawley attended in 2015. In addition, both selecTEd Williams as the focus of their thesis projects at Texas Tech.

"To come out of a program like TWI, and then to be invited back for our first festival production with STE - that is an exciting opportunity, and a wonderful thing," says Martin.

Cawley is trained in Shakespeare, and she assistant directed the Williams play Kirche, Ku?che, Kinder at last year's Festival. During her thesis work on Williams, she says, "I was fascinated to see how many times he set his work in way stations, like boarding houses and hotel rooms. For me, this is an opportunity to explore this sense of being somewhere in the middle - and to put it on its feet in a practical setting."

The Birth of a Company

While he was studying in Texas Tech's fine arts graduate program, Martin's desire to work alongside students with autism led him to co-found The BurkTech Players - a collaboration between the School of Theatre and Dance and the Burkhart Center for Autism Education and Research - in 2014. The company produces shows and leads performing arts classes for elementary, middle, and high school students with autism.

Soon after, Martin began to learn more about the country's largest theater program designed for people with autism: Trinity Rep's Active Imagination Network (TRAIN), run by Trinity Repertory Company at Brown University. During a visit to Providence, Martin met with TRAIN founder JorDan Butterfield.

The meeting grew into an application, co-written by Martin and Butterfield, for a grant from Theatre Communications Group's (TCG) Leadership U. Last summer, soon after earning his Master's degree from Texas Tech, Martin received the grant for $75,000. This allowed Martin to join Trinity Rep as the Artistic Leadership and Inclusion Fellow, and to collaborate with Butterfield on the creation of STE - a sibling company to The BurkTech Players in Lubbock - through early 2018.

"For the last seven years, TRAIN has been reaching children and adults on the autism spectrum through theater, playwriting and improvisation," says Butterfield. "These art forms are inherently social and require empathy and understanding, but also allow you to be introspective, creative, and in tune with your own body."

Many of the young artists who are now part of STE, she adds, are TRAIN alumni. "This group will not only make powerful productions, but also help to create a more sensory friendly season at Trinity Rep, and teach theater workshops out in the community," she says. "It expands the TRAIN network while adding access for many people who would not otherwise see or partake in theater."

"STE is diverse," agrees Martin. "The group includes adults on the autism spectrum, as well as professional actors who are neurotypical, some of whom have been performing at Trinity Rep for years." The group, he adds, will live on past the end of his grant in early 2018.

Advance Showings in Providence

In advance of their arrival to Provincetown, STE's actors will present a scene from The Hotel Plays at Trinity Rep's season opener event on the evening of Sunday, September 10. Entry is free.

Then, from September 14-16, STE will perform The Hotel Plays in full at Providence's historic Barnaby Castle. This will be a fundraiser for the company as well as for the Victorian mansion, which was built in 1875. Ticket prices will be announced later this summer.

The following week, from September 21-24, The Hotel Plays will run in Provincetown at the historic Gifford House. Constructed in the mid-19th century at one of the highest points in Provincetown, the Gifford House Inn was the last stop for the stagecoach as early as 1858.

The Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival was founded in 2006 in Provincetown - the birthplace of modern American theater - where Williams worked on many of his major plays during the 1940s. The TW Festival is the nation's largest performing arts festival dedicated to celebrating and expanding an understanding of the full breadth of the work of America's great playwright. Each year, theater artists from around the globe perform classic and innovative productions to celebrate Williams' enduring influence in the 21st century, hosted by venues throughout the seaside village. For more details, visit twptown.org and follow the Festival on Facebook.


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