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Peterborough Players announces outdoor summer season

  • The late James Whitmore starred in the Peterborough Players most recent production of 'Our Town' in 2008. This summer, the Thornton Wilder classic is being revived. Courtesy photo

  • Keith Stevens, managing director at the Peterborough Players, in the empty theater. Staff photo by Ben Conant

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 5/3/2021 3:18:34 PM

Back in January, Managing Director Keith Stevens said the Peterborough Players were committed to a return to live theater in 2021. With Monday’s summer theater announcement, the Players have a defined path forward as they emerge out of the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown that has forced the organization to go more than 15 months since its last production. Dubbed the “Grand Restart 2021,” the Players will produce three plays beginning in August in front of live audiences, but with one caveat – each performance will be outdoors.

“We have been, as every theater company that I know, trying to figure out what makes the most sense given the lead time to produce a season,” Stevens said.

They looked at every possible avenue that would allow them to produce plays in the iconic Players theater.

“We had scenarios within scenarios,” said Associate Artistic Director Tom Frey. There was just no way to safely welcome people back into the Barn, Stevens said.

“How comfortable are people going to be given when we produce it and how we produce it?” Stevens said. “For this summer, it felt we needed to commit to doing the work outside.”

But with that commitment to return this summer – one that has not wavered since last April’s cancellation of the 2020 season – outdoor productions were the only viable way to bring live theater back.

“We knew it could not be like anything we’ve ever done. We knew we had to produce outside,” Frey said. “When we pulled the trigger on that decision it was a huge step forward.”

And the selection of the three plays that would make up the summer lineup took on a much greater meaning.

“You only get one chance to come back from a pandemic,” Frey said.

So it’s fitting that the first outdoor show will be a production of “Our Town,” the three-act play within a play classic by Thornton Wilder set in the fictitious town of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire. Inspired by the people and places of Peterborough and other towns in the Monadnock region, “Our Town” was the only true way to return to the stage.

“It really kind of started with Tom wanting to do ‘Our Town’ downtown. That was the first big piece,” Stevens said. “Then it was building off of that.”

The production runs from Aug. 4-15 and will be performed on a stage built on the green between the Guernsey Building and the Peterborough Town House.

“The difference with this one is we’re going to be doing it downtown,” Frey said. “So we get to do ‘Our Town’ downtown in our town. I think it’s going to be a big deal.”

There will only be one show a day because it has to start at just the perfect moment “because there’s only one sunset per day,” Frey said.

The other two productions “Beehive: The 60’s Musical” and “Where You Are” are set for a new outdoor stage being built off the Players rehearsal hall, which has also gotten such much-needed upgrades during the forced downtime over the last year-plus.

Frey described “Beehive,” which will be produced Aug. 18-29, as “one of the really good jukebox musicals” about six women living through the 60s, which was filled with social unrest and the civil rights movement.

“And that seems more relevant than ever for me,” Frey said, while at the same time the rocking atmosphere the play creates will be the kind of party that everyone needs.

The production of “Where You Are” by Kristen Da Silva will be making its US premiere when it’s done on the new outdoor stage at the Players from Sept. 1-12. It’s a four-person dramedy and a love story, Frey said, and “a terribly moving piece on a small scale.”

While the summer will be a much smaller version of a typical Players' season, there’s at least something to look forward to.

“Like everyone else over the last year, it’s just been crazy up and down, not knowing what we could do,” Frey said. “We have been looking to the horizon to when and how we were going to be able to produce live theater. We’re all really grateful it’s going to happen.”

The Players have produced “Our Town” seven times throughout the years, the first being in 1940 under the watchful eye of Wilder and the latest in 2008.

“It was kind of time to do ‘Our Town’ again,” Frey said. “And it just became very apparent it would be silly for us not to do it this year. Given all we’ve all gone through, it will be even more poignant.”

After all, it is the play that Peterborough on the theater world map. “We’re the only ones who can bring the Peterborough production to downtown Peterborough,” Frey said.

While the outdoor stage at the Players will allow for productions to move forward this summer, it’s not looked at as a one-year thing. The idea is to use it in the future for specific plays and Second Company works. The project has also included a renovation to the rehearsal hall that will make it a useable year-round space.

“We’re going to have a space that’s going to give us a lot more flexibility,” Stevens said.

Frey said it has been difficult not being “able to do what we really do.” What he’s found is an eager group of directors, actors and designers who can’t wait to get back to work – that feeling of normal. Roles and jobs are still being filled, but Frey is confident it will all come together in the coming months.

“The people who want to work have never wanted to work any more than they do right now,” Frey said. “They’re just thrilled to be given the chance to.”

There will be no Second Company shows this summer, something that Frey is disappointed about, but “we’ve pared it down to the minimum so we can put on those three shows.”

But at least there are shows to put together.

“We’ve got plays to produce, capital projects going on and tickets to start selling,” Stevens said. “It feels like it’s been a long time and it feels good to actually be thinking about producing plays again. We had made commitments, we have raised funds knowing we’d be back producing in ‘21 and it’s important that we do that.”

As of Monday, a new ticket package called the Curtain Up! Pass was made available, while single tickets will go on sale at a later date. For more  information about tickets, visit https://www.peterborough players.org/curtain-up- passes-single-tickets.html.


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