IN THE BEGINNING ...
In the late spring of 1920, a few impractical dreamers in Pawtucket, Rhode Island got together to stage a play for the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA). They had so much fun doing it that they decided to continue the fun by forming a permanent organization to present a series of plays each year. They would help "...carry the torch of culture to the Blackstone Valley and enrich community life by presenting locally the best that theatre had to offer." (In fact, Players constitution reads: "The purpose of this organization shall be to encourage interest in dramatics by the production and reading of plays and by such other manner as may serve this end.")
But the primary motive, as the group was formed, was to have fun. Among that founding group were Flora and Philip Curtis, Bob Chase, Mable Woosley, Howard Kelly, Francis Crowell, John J. Sullivan and Florence Bray. Our founders realized that certain essentials were needed for a successful beginning --- public support, money and an audience --- and they worked tirelessly towards that goal.
Thus, on May 9, 1921, The Community Players came into existence with our first presentation -- "Milestones" -- performed at the Old Star Theatre on Main Street in Pawtucket, and staged for the benefit of the Associated Charities. It was a successful opening. The Pawtucket Times, in its review, reported: The Community Players last evening proved conclusively the value of the amateur theatrical organization in the social life of a community.
That performance actually turned out to be a "milestone" in the cultural history of the city. More than eight decades later, the Players present a yearly program of plays that help constitute the cultural base for Pawtucket and the Blackstone Valley area.
ALONG THE WAY ... Our direct collaboration with city activities began immediately. In the fall of 1921, when the City of Pawtucket was observing its 250th anniversary, Players were asked to open the celebration and they responded with "Hamilton," a play about the Revolutionary-era statesman. It played to a packed house.
Fifty years later, in 1971, as the city marked its 300th anniversary, the Players (also observing our own 50th anniversary) provided some of the highlights for the city's tricentennial and, in 1976, we worked with the Bi-Centennial Committee to enrich its treasury. A commemorative celebration for the city's 100 incorporation anniversary was co-celebrated with our 65th Anniversary Season on May 17-18, 1986 at Jenks Jr. High School Auditorium.
Players have also presented special Christmas plays for the Retarded Children's Association of the Blackstone Valley, and were proud recipients of a special award in 1975 for our contribution. We've entertained community organizations such as PTA's and Women's Councils, Lion's Club, Quota Club, Kiwanis, Friends of the Library, Rotary, League of Women Voters, etc.
Over the years, the Players have performed all over the city on the way to our present quarters, After the Star Theatre, there were the old Bijou Theatre on Broad Street, The Grand Army Hall on Exchange Street, then to the former Jenks Junior High, the Pawtucket Senior High School buildings, and the Oak Hill Tennis Club. It was in 1968, with the approval of the City Council, that the Players moved into the upper floor of the Slater Park boathouse, which we named the Flora S. Curtis Playhouse, for one of the groups founders. For 12 years, we grew in members, talent and resources.
In 1980, vandals set fire to that historic building, which destroyed the interior and most of the contents. Again, Players fell back on the good will of the community while searching for a new home. The Pawtucket Congregational Church and St. Martin's Church loaned their auditoriums and, for one production, we found ourselves back at Jenks Jr. High, but in their new facility. That initial collaboration extended into months of working with the School Committee and the City Administration to convert the Jenks Auditorium into a working theatre. In 1982, we moved into Jenks Auditorium and started to rebuild our resources. That same year, past president, Larry Reedy, received the A.T. Cross Community Action Award for heading our efforts in the development. His prize money was donated to Players and initiated our scholarship fund which helps young people in the area extend their education in the performing arts and to date Players have given out over $26,000 in scholarship monies . In addition to the scholarship, Players performed acts of charity such as helping raise funds and food for The Blackstone Valley Emergency Food Center, which feeds the needy in the Central Falls-Pawtucket area. One season during the run of the musical "Nunsense" a basket was passed (part of the show) through the audience requesting donations for The Blackstone Valley Emergency Food Center and they collected over $1,000 for the center! We are continuing to donate each season with the proceeds going to a charitable organization.
AND NOW ... Today, our membership nears 600 and we offer nine nights of performances for musicals and six nights for non-musicals during four yearly productions. The Community Players have been performing for the past 26 years in the Jenks Auditorium, Pawtucket, RI. Anyone can join by paying the annual membership fee and just about everyone does. Our performing members are average citizens -- teachers, nurses, lawyers, factory workers, students, housewives, secretaries, mechanics -- just "people" who enjoy the atmosphere of the theater, where the stagehand is as important as the actor. They know the joy of being part of a working unit, and seeing something they've worked on develop. They experience the satisfaction of their efforts being appreciated and they respond. The results? Well, a recent Pawtucket Times editorial commented "...The Players have been consistent and exciting in bringing good theater to the area."
We continue our "open-door" membership policy, restricted only to the willingness to participate -- as performers and behind the scene workers, of course -- but as audience members as well. By the end of this 87th year, as the oldest community theater group in the State of Rhode Island, The Community Players will have presented well over 325 plays, a formidable achievement for a non-profit organization held together only by a mutual love of theater and the community it entertains.
Claire L. Beauregard