Alex Duckworth, Valerie Westgate and Jeff Church met as undergrads in the Theater Department at Rhode Island College. They formed a fast friendship due to their shared passion for theater arts. They have now formed a new stage production company, based near Providence, RI, called the Burbage Theater Company, or the BTC for short.
While college provides a wide variety of experiences for students, no program can accommodate all of the paths each student wishes to explore. Duckworth, Westgate and Church were so driven to fulfill their own creative needs and desires that while still pursuing degrees, they have given their time, talent and energy to their new venture as well.
The mission of the Burbage Theater Company is to present a wide variety of plays, ranging from the contemporary and the absurd, to the classics – except for Shakespeare. Duckworth and the rest agree that the work of Shakespeare is, of course, great theater; however, says Duckworth, “plenty of groups in our area are performing Shakespeare. We want to do something different and give the audience a more intimate experience”.
Most colleges train theater students for the large stage and a large audience. The BTC wants to focus on bringing the whole “Method” of acting down to a more intimate scale, which is a better fit for the venues available here in Rhode Island and nearby Massachusetts. The BTC also wants to bring an intense emotional honestly to their work and will use exercises designed by Lee Strasberg, creator of “The Method,” to attain that goal.
Duckworth, Westgate and Church also want the opportunity to pursue their own ideas for design elements, play choices, and give their fellow thespians a chance at more directing opportunities. Those opportunities aren’t always available to all students at school, and students can learn a lot from each other in a collaborative atmosphere.
While it is not easy to form a new stage production company, there are many frugal ways the BTC has planned to get their productions up and running. Duckworth, who has the most “business” sense (all of these young people are quite talented on stage) reveals, “we are using my basement for storage right now and our attic for rehearsal space.” The BTC does not have a “home” location and must seek out a fresh venue with the best fit each time for the production they are currently at work on.
The group firmly believes in the importance of collaboration. “If you never reach out to new people, new audiences, new works, you can’t expect to grow” says Duckworth emphatically. While performing at a different venue each time may seem like a challenge, and it is – artistically, it allows the BTC to bring their work to a new and broader audience each time.
Valerie Westgate houses an enormous acting talent within a petite frame. Westgate seems to grow larger on stage somehow, embodying her characters with an amazing amount of energy and focus. She is quiet in person, fierce on stage. No microphone needed for Miss Westgate.
Jeff Church is stretching his playwrighting skills within the group – which performed his original work, “Stalemate”, along with “The Bald Soprano” this spring. The BTC performed the shows as a benefit for Bishop Connolly High School in Fall River, MA. Church is also currently at work on a comprehensive study about “The Method” of acting.
The next BTC production will be August Strindberg’s masterpiece “Miss Julie” starring Valerie Westgate. A searing exploration of class, gender roles, sexual desire and consequences, it will be directed by Kristina Drager. The play will be performed at The Artists’ Exchange, 50 Rolfe Square, Cranston, RI on September 23, 24 and 25 at 8pm. Seats can be reserved ahead by emailing BTCTheater@gmail.com.
In addition to directing the play, Kristina Drager will also perform the part of Kristine. The part of Jean will be played by Providence acting heavyweight Nick Thibeault. Adriana Cabral is Stage Managing.
The controversial “Pillowman” will be their winter production and will be performed at Perishable Theatre. The cast includes Jeff Church, Andrew Iacovelli, Alex Duckworth, Matt Dionisopoulos, Nick Thibeault, Kelli Noonan, Olivia Harrison and Andrew Cavanaugh. Performance dates will be announced soon, along with ticket information.
The BTC still faces challenges, of course. If you are cleaning out an attic or basement and have an odd piece of furniture, clothing or Aunt Fannies old hat collection, please contact them to donate at BTCTheater@gmail.com. For more information about the group please visit their website at www.btctheater.webs.com, or check them out on Facebook.