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The Community Players: Championing the Performing Arts for Over 96 Years

By Marina I. Jokic

"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" reads the mission of The Community Players theater in Pawtucket. The season usually consists of two musicals and two comedies or dramas, a little something for everyone.

"We have a core member group that will come to all of our shows, and at the same time, we realize that there is an audience out there for all types of shows," Ed Mastriano, the theater's president, said. "We have been around for 96 years, so we must be doing something right!"

The concept of this community theater was born out of a desire to spur public participation in the performing arts. To that effect, Community Players offers a variety of participatory opportunities to local residents. From acting and singing roles to behind-the-scenes work like carpentry or painting, the theater can use all the help that comes their way.

"You can be an audience member who gets to experience it from the seat in the auditorium or from so many volunteer opportunities behind the scenes," Mastriano said.

The theater enlists the talents and services of acting students, retired artists, hobbyists, costume designers, and craftsmen among others.

"Many of the friends you make while working in a community theater setting turn into lifetime friendships," Mastriano said.

As director of the theater, Mastriano encounters aspiring actors all the time, and the key advice he gives to performance hopefuls is to try out for as many auditions as possible and accept small roles. There are a limited number of roles for a given play and lots of competition along the way, but candidates should not lose heart easily, he points out. Getting experience under one's belt is highly advisable, and also reading and watching plays and witnessing good acting in person are a must.

"You can learn a lot from being 'in the wings'," Mastriano said.

The 2016-2017 season includes a variety of performances including Cabaret, directed by Paul Morin, Rabbit Hole by David Lindsay-Abaire and directed by Eric Barbato, Tomfoolery directed by Lee Rush Schwartz, and Kaufman and Hart's You Can't Take It With You, directed by Patricia Hawkridge. The Community Players' 2017-2018 season will open with the classic musical Annie, which tells the story of an adventurous orphan girl living in 1930s New York City. In the spirit of community support, Community Players donates proceeds from their first show of the season to a local charity and also sponsor food drives to aid the local food pantry.

As a token of their gratitude to the local community and aspiring artists, Community Players has established the annual Larry Reedy scholarship, a sum of $2,000 awarded to a graduating senior from the Blackstone Valley area who will pursue a degree in the performing arts or the technical performing arts such as design and lighting or has worked with the theater in some capacity. The scholarship goes a long way in helping aspiring artists and technical artists reach their professional goals.

"Some of our past winners have gone on to perform professionally throughout the country and a recent winner was lighting designer at the recent Democratic National Convention and the Grammy Awards," Mastriano said. "Another is a renowned national composer whose work will be featured in an upcoming PBS special."

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