Giving the people what they want for 30 years and counting
We are fortunate to have theater enthusiasts throughout the state of Rhode Island. In fact, the demand for the arts has grown larger over the years. And within the past 10 years, residents finally have given in to travelling outside of their own neighborhoods to places other than Providence for theatrical entertainment.
Second Story Theater in Warren, the Contemporary Theater Company in Wakefield, and the Courthouse Center for the Arts in South Kingstown have enjoyed a growing body of patrons. But there are also theater enthusiasts North of Providence. In fact, The Theater Company of Rhode Island in Harrisville (Burrillville) has been running full seasons non-stop for 30 years. March 23, 2014, marks the 30th anniversary of the founding of The Theater Company of Rhode Island by life-long resident Michael Thurber, who also serves as artistic director and actor.
For Thurber, the work has always been a labor of love. In a recent interview he said, “There aren’t many theaters that can say their company has continued in the same location, with the same artistic director, the whole time.” And the initial mission of the incorporated entity is the same now as 30 years ago: to provide quality theatrical entertainment and an outlet for community members who wish to pursue the art. We all know plenty of talented folks in Rhode Island who still wish to do a little theater, knowing Broadway is not for them.
The many generous patrons of the theater company are listed in the program. “And I listen to them,” reveals Thurber. While the company has produced some newer and unusual works, “We give the people what they want,” says Thurber, quoting his collegiate mentor, Oral Roberts.
Thurber, also known to the Rhode Island film community for his urbane and witty presence in film, is thankful for their wonderful venue. The Assembly Theater was designed and built by Austin T. Levy and is now owned by the town of Harrisville. It’s a gem left by the generous Levy, a forward-thinking town businessman and philanthropist. The June Rockwell Levy Foundation, created by Levy’s wife in his memory, still works to grant funds to 501(3)c organizations. Austin T. Levy played the cello in weekly Sunday afternoon concerts at the theater he built. He was also the highly successful owner of several mills. Austin and June Levy were devoted to the people they worked with. Thurber follows much the same path, crediting his volunteer collaborators and patrons with the continued success of the company.
The next production for the Theater Company of Rhode Island is The Lion in Winter, for one weekend only in April. The final production of the season will be Camelot. A talented musician himself, Thurber brings in a pianist and a musical director for those kinds of large cast musicals.