Rhode Island has a lot of history. That’s a given.
But it’s amazing to say that Rhode Island is home to two community theater groups that are over 100 years old. The oldest is the Barker Players in Providence – founded in 1909, and about to start their 114th season. Just 13 years younger is the Community Players in Pawtucket, about to start their 101st season.
During that time, the Community Players “have done most, if not all, of our productions in the city of Pawtucket,” says Christopher Margadonna, the group’s newest president. “We’ve had multiple homes but have been housed out of Jenks Auditorium on Division Street since 1981.”
Like every other theater company in the state, the Community Players were put on hiatus thanks to Covid. They managed a full series of shows this past season. “Things are going well,” says Margadonna. “We are on an upward trend and really looking to come back this season stronger than ever with a big focus on the community. It is part of our name, after all.”
This season is split: two straight plays, two musicals.
In September, they opened with “Moon Over Buffalo,” a comedy by Ken Ludwig. In February, they’ll present “It’s Only a Play” by Terrence McNally. December brings “9 to 5” with music and lyrics by Dolly Parton, and they wrap up the season in April with “Something Rotten,” the comedy musical based on the works of Shakespeare.
“It’s a season of light-hearted fun,” says Margadonna. “We know after two years of a continuing global pandemic, people are done with the gloom and doom and just want to get out and see theater again. We wanted to choose shows that would make people laugh and would have audiences smiling as they left the theater.”
The show selection, according to Margadonna, is based on shows submitted by directors. “Usually, if the (play selection) committee likes the show, we invite the director in for an interview to talk more about their concept. We take into account the availability of the director” and the director’s willingness to commit to working in a certain time slot. “On top of all that, we look at a director’s experience and if they have directed for and/or worked with the Community Players.”
Margadonna is unusually young to be president of a community theater group. He’s just 31. He’s been associated with the group since 2010 when he joined the cast of “Thoroughly Modern Millie.”
“I have really enjoyed the fact that (they have) always taken a chance on me,” says Margadonna. “They saw potential in me and helped develop me into the person I am today. They let me direct my first mainstage show at the age of 23, be on the board at age 25, and now at age 31, they have voted me to be president of the group. I cannot be more grateful for all the opportunities. I have met so many wonderful people through this organization and truly have found a place I can call my theatre home.”
Margadonna says that his toughest challenge “has been moving from the old way of doing things. With an organization that is over 100 years old, you can imagine there are a lot of traditions in the way we do things. We are actively working to find a balance between keeping our rich history while navigating an ever-changing world.”
Margadonna emphasizes that the Community Players accepts show submissions from all directors, and they are actively looking for volunteers. For more information, visit www.thecommunityplayers.net.