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Constellations Under the Stars: Wilbury’s latest play takes the new WaterFire stage

Constellation rehearsal at WaterFire Arts Center

“Once you do a play like that, it’s basically in your bones, so it all just came back,” says Wilbury Theatre Group artistic director Josh Short of Nick Payne’s Constellations. Wilbury is teaming up with WaterFire Providence to remount and reimagine the play, originally produced in spring 2019, as a COVID-safe, drive-in experience.

Constellations is the fourth outdoor production Wilbury has created with WaterFire since the summer, but colder temperatures have created new challenges. For this production, audience members will stay in their cars, view the actors on an elevated stage, and tune in to the radio to hear them. Wilbury also partnered with Arte Latino New England to produce a simulcast Spanish-language performance for select shows, allowing audience members to tune into a separate FM station to hear the dialogue in Spanish. The production will incorporate live camera footage and pre-recorded projections to increase visibility.

Safety was the number one concern for Wilbury, and they partnered with Brown University School of Public Health to design the most secure experience for both actors and audience members. Initial rehearsals were virtual, as the show’s director, Aubrey Snowden, is based out of North Carolina. Now that rehearsals are live, Short explains, “Everyone gets tested
twice a week.” Constellations was chosen in part due to its amenability to what Short calls the “brave new world” of COVID-era theater: “No set, no props, just two people, and it was something that would lend itself to a staging that was less than realistic, which would help because the actors need to be 14 feet apart at all times or separated by a piece of plexiglass.”

Constellations centers on the relationship between quantum cosmologist Marianne (Rachel Dulude) and beekeeper Roland (Short). Their story is told through a series of fractured, interwoven vignettes, which apply the quantum theory of multiple universes to the equally perplexing complexity of romantic partnership. The cosmic resonances of the script make it the
perfect production to see under the stars, and the story, which deals with illness, distance and uncertainty, has new resonance in 2020. “It’s a play where a woman is sick, and she’s trying to figure out a way forward, and her partner is powerless in the face of it,” says Short. “I think it’s impossible to hear a story like that right now and not think of COVID and the millions of people who have lost someone they love.”

Wilbury has several other upcoming events and productions throughout the winter, including the Culture is Key: Capture the Block program; the premiere of a new audioplay, God Talks to an Agnostic by Don Mays; and the resumption of their online livestreaming program. “We’ve got a lot of stuff happening right now,” says Short.

Constellations will run from December 3 – 19 at the drive-in performance space at WaterFire Arts Center. Tickets are available at thewilburygroup.org

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