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Home » ARTS AND CULTURE in MA » MASSACHUSETTS (all topics) » Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival
Alison Fraser in “Dirty Shorts”     BY: Josh Andrus
Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival

Celebrating a Southern Writer’s New England Inspiration, Provincetown, Massachusetts

By Peter F. Demers | October 12, 2011

One of America’s premier playwrights has always been thought of as being a Southern writer. Most of his best known works are situated in the South and are focused on characters whose Southern background has influenced their behavior and their lives.

Bruce Holmes in “Once in A Lifetime” at the Gifford House
BY: Geoff C. Bassett

What is not widely known is that Williams spent a considerable amount of time writing, and drinking, with friends like Marlon Brando in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

The Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival was founded in 2006 by Dr. Jerry Scally, Alix Ritchie, Patrick Falco, and David Kaplan and under the direction of actor/director Jeff Hall-Flavin has become an annual event.

The fifth Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival took place between September 22 to September 25, 2011, with 4,148 people attending from thirty-three states and six countries.

This represented a 24 percent growth in attendance over last year, and a dramatic rise since 2006 when attendance was under 1,000 people. Even the eleven parties and receptions, which included a Welcoming Party, a Celebrity Mixer and a Closing Party, saw attendance increase anywhere from 30 to 56 percent.

This year the festival put on ten productions over four days, as well as numerous gatherings and readings designed to allow Williams' enthusiasts to interact and discuss his works.

The festival has grown in popularity principally because the festival organizers have worked to ensure that while the festival program highlights some of Williams' best known works, it focuses on showcasing some of his lesser known works too, including one act plays and works that have not received the attention of his best known works like A Streetcar Named Desire or The Glass Menagerie.

It also attempts to showcase works in non-traditional settings that reflect the experiences that aided Williams in writing a particular piece.

Kaolin Bass in “The Parade”
BY: Geoff C. Bassett

For example, this year two of Williams' works, The Parade and Something Cloudy, Something Clear, were presented on the beach under a tent with one side exposed to the water, the sand as the theater floor, and scaffolding supporting the stage.

As both these pieces were written in Provincetown about his first loves and contained action about going back and forth to the beach, theatergoers were presented with an experience that was reminiscent of Williams' own when authoring the plays.

Once in a Lifetime is a never published, never seen one-act play written by Williams about a mid-Western family stopping at a hotel on a road trip to New Mexico.

This play, together with three other “hotel” plays, was actually presented at one of Provincetown’s most historic hotels, the Gifford House. Theatergoers were issued a room key which got them into the hotel room where the particular play was being presented.

Dirty Shorts was two bawdy short stories written by Williams later in life to celebrate sexual fulfillment. Presented on the stage of Provincetown’s newly renovated historic town hall, the set was a bar and starred Lucille Lortel, award winning and Ugly Betty star Michael Urie, and two time Tony nominee Alison Fraser as the bar patrons regaling one another with the exploits described in Williams' work.

This year theater professor, and Director of BFA Acting at New York’s Pace University, Grant Kretchik, who also directed The Parade, brought along twelve of his theater students from the university.   In an email to festival organizers, Kretchik wrote:

“I want to thank you for an amazing experience in Ptown. To be invited to the festival is thrilling. To introduce our students to an experience like this was absolutely the cherry on top.”

The faculty and students of Pace University that attended the festival

“The week was filled with varied and rapidly changing emotions from the depth of Tennessee’s work to the jovial atmosphere of the festival. I laughed and cried daily. What the week offered our students was beyond anything they could glean from a full semester’s course on TW.”

“There are 12 students at Pace University who cannot stop talking about not only the festival but Tennessee himself. They have a light inside them this week for the theater and what it offers. You've inspired them and certainly ALL of us who were privileged enough to be there.”

“Turning on younger generations gives me faith that the theater is as vibrant and as pure as anything I've known and that it will continue.”

The Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival, and its rapidly growing popularity, is testimony to this small New England town forty five miles out in the ocean.   Not only is it the first American Art Colony, but it’s where esteemed writers like Williams, Eugene O’Neil and former US Poet Laureate, Stanley Kunitz were inspired to produce some of their finest work.

For further details on the festival visit www.twptown.org.

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