A Newcomer’s Guide to RI Theater

Rhode Island is unique for many reasons — quahogs, bubblahs and our tight-knit theater community. However, if you’re new to this amazing area, you can be overwhelmed with all the choices. From a Theatre by the Sea to a 2nd Story, where are you supposed to begin? Have no fear, dear new Rhode Islander. Rhode Island has theater for everyone — there’s bound to be something you like! So, have a seat, grab a Del’s and a pint of Warwick Ice Cream Autocrat ice cream, and dig in!

Uniquely RI

You have to give it to Trinity’s A Christmas Carol for this one. Ask anyone who has lived here, and it will be hard to find someone who hasn’t seen A Christmas Carol on a field trip.

Theater That Not Only Thinks Outside the Box … It Tramples the Box

OUT LOUD Theatre has consistently pushed the boundaries in the three years they have been around. Artistic director Kira Hawkridge has taken theater and made it not only more physical, but revamped the playing space. Don’t go to OUT LOUD if you want run-of-the-mill — go if you want an evening of thought-provoking theater.

The Complete Date Night Package

Newport Playhouse wins this one. You get dinner, a show and a cabaret. This is fun evening for that couple on the run. You can’t go to a show on an empty stomach, and frequently you want a drink after the show. You can do all of that without leaving the building! And maybe it’s because it’s a family-owned institution, or because theater people just happen to be cool, but every server is outgoing and nice. Nothing puts a damper on an evening like bad service, but you don’t have to worry about that here!

Never-Before-Seen Theater

For the last 10 years, Daydream Theatre has operated out of a church in Providence. Now they have a new home! Every show Daydream does is the work of artistic director Lenny Schwartz. Tickets are affordable, and there are always cookies around. Seeing a show at Daydream also gives you that leg up on NYC, as this company travels to the city on a yearly basis with one of their shows.

The Kindest Theater

Academy Players. Not only do they not shy away from showing young adults the ropes in theater from onstage to backstage, their shows frequently have a philanthropic edge to them. If they have a 12-run show, they will choose 12 different local charities to donate to. I went to a show there in August, and they were holding a 50/50 for The Impossible Dream playground, which vandals ruined just weeks before. There is something therapeutic in the arts, and it’s heartwarming to see the Academy Players do their part to spread kindness.

The Shabby Chic Date

So you want to go out and see some theater, but you’re light on funds? You CAN afford Rhode Island theater, you just need to know where to look!  Contemporary Theatre Company in Wakefield has a pay-what-you-can performance for their shows. It’s a wonderful and intimate theater, so get there early for these performances. I have never been disappointed at CTC.

EPIC Theatre in Cranston rolled out what they are calling an Education Initiative; they are offering free tickets to high school students all season. (This is in addition to their pay-what-you-can performances.) What better way to get kids excited about theater? You have to email the theater to reserve your ticket, but this is a must-do for the high school student in your life.

2nd Story in Warren has special pricing for preview performances and a special price for patrons under 21.

Over the summer, Rhode Island Shakespeare Company offers free performances outdoors. What is better than free Shakespeare?

Trinity Rep still does pay what you can, and sometimes — depending on the show — you can get rush tickets at PPAC. The key to this is calling the box office the week of the show to find out, as each show is different.

The Wilbury Group runs the local (and official) Fringe Fest during the summer, and many of the performances are very affordable or pay what you can.

And don’t forget the merit in a night of work. Some theaters will let you usher and in exchange, you get to see the show! It’s an easy way to see free theater and be introduced to a theater family.

Theater You Can Bring Your Kid To

Pick one! There are a lot of options here. Do your research to make sure it’s kiddie appropriate (just because the poster has puppets on it, does NOT mean you should take your 5-year-old to Avenue Q!). One of my favorite theaters to take my son to is Theatre by the Sea. They have booster seats so kids can see the action on stage. I’ve also enjoyed taking him to the Hendricken Summer Series. From Shrek to Into the Woods, these students put on an affordable and family-friendly show. There isn’t a bad seat in the house, and what kid doesn’t enjoy seeing older kids do something as cool as theater?

College Theater

When it comes to RI college theater, most Rhode Islanders look to Brown and RIC. Both schools put on wonderful performances. However, by limiting yourself to two colleges, you’re missing out on some fabulous work at CCRI. The college always has a good showing at the American College Theatre Festival, and just last year one of their performers went on to be a finalist for the coveted Irene Ryan award.

There are just too many Rhode Island theaters to list. In fact, writing this article was almost an overwhelming task, so I did what anyone would do — I reached out to people I know who enjoy Rhode Island theater. I did this via Facebook, emails and maybe if I saw someone out and about I cornered them. What makes RI theater so great? The one thing that kept coming up was the community itself and the diversity of plays. There is so much out there, and so much of it is thrilling, funny, thought-provoking and beautiful. We’re a theater family here in RI. So join us in the audience, onstage or back stage!

Five Productions You Don’t Want to Miss This Season

A Streetcar Named Desire; The Sandra Feinstein Gamm Theatre; September 17 – October 18

Sweeney Todd; Contemporary Theatre Company; October 16 – November 1

Rocky Horror Picture Show; CCRI Knight Campus; October 22 – November 1

Story Theatre; 2nd Story; November 20 – December 20

To Kill a Mockingbird; Trinity Rep; March 3 – April 3 

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