Island Arts Community Unites
Rhode Island Performance Exchange Takes Root
The Rhode Island performance community-at-large has joined together to form The Rhode Island Performance Exchange (RIPE). The community-based organization has a mission to create greater awareness about all activity in the Rhode Island performance community, while connecting people working in the sector to each other in hopes of encouraging new collaborations and resource-sharing -- all with the ultimate goal of building better performance through a stronger community, and a stronger community through better performance.
RIPE’s Chief Advocate, Rebecca Noon, who also runs local company Strange Attractor with her husband Jed Hancock-Brainerd, commented, “Last summer I kept hearing these stories that rubbed me the wrong way. People kept referring to competition between theatre companies; that artists shouldn’t go see each other’s shows; and that there wasn’t room for all the new companies cropping up. Having spent my first years out of college in a much bigger theatre community, I felt like this was crazy. I wanted to do something to dispel these myths and prove that, not only is there room for all of us, there is room for more.”
Noon contacted every theatre and performing artist she knew and asked them to contact everyone they knew to meet and face these questions head on.
“The first meeting was at the Wild Colonial last June,” Noon recalled. “About 20 people showed up and we just talked about everything people saw as a challenge to making work here while also brainstorming on the really simple steps we could take to make it better. We talked about what it would look like to form a coalition of sorts and it all just went from there.”
Since then the group has met once a month at venues ranging from AS220’s restaurant FOO[D] to Trinity Rep’s offices. The Mathewson St. Church recently hosted a meeting as a way to connect with potential artists who might rent the top floor black box.
At each meeting different people show up with new topics to discuss. Every agenda item has led to a small but powerful change in the community. From having a centralized website where people can see all the companies in the state and a calendar listing all performances, to an audience-review podcast of local productions and a general audition for performers in Rhode Island, the grassroots organization is full of activity and ambition, and has garnered the support of many of Rhode Island’s arts leaders.
According to Curt Columbus, Artistic Director of Trinity Repertory Company, “Great theater is all about collaboration, and RIPE is a great example of what is possible when performing arts companies collaborate. The Rhode Island Performance Exchange signals a new era in what is possible in our amazing Rhode Island theater community.”
Among the many positive and supportive comments:
Tony Estrella, Artistic Director of the Gamm Theater -- "In the upside down economy of the arts and with minimal public resources available to artists, organizations like RIPE make it possible for performers to share resources and collaborate on a range of issues from advocacy to best practices. RIPE is a welcome addition to the Rhode Island arts scene."
Jonathan Pitts-Wiley, Artistic Director of Mixed Magic --"Why is RIPE important? It's simple really: If we don't develop and replenish the resources the performance community in Rhode Island has, there soon won't be much of a performance community in Rhode Island to speak of."
Josh Short, Artistic Director of The Wilbury Group -- "In just a year, RIPE has already proven to be an invaluable resource for those of us in the performance community. Most importantly, though, by encouraging the exchange of ideas between artists and companies RIPE has enabled Providence artists to make their work even better by working together, and exemplifies what it means to be a true community resource made for artists, by artists."
David Rabinow, playwright and founding member of Elemental Theatre Collective --“RIPE represents the next step for performing artists in Rhode Island—finding ways to bring us together and strengthen an already close-knit community.”
Vanessa Gilbert, Providence theatre-maker and Artistic Director of Blood from a Turnip -- “The Rhode Island Performance Exchange is the public manifestation of the camaraderie and generosity that has long existed between performance groups in Rhode Island, now extending its arms to the public. That artists and companies are coming together as a sector, rather than only being measured as one, is having significant benefits for performers and audiences in the Ocean State.”
Randall Rosenbaum, Executive Director of the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts -- “I have followed the growth of the Rhode Island Performance Exchange with interest and admiration over the past year. Rhode Island's greatest strength is its arts community, and its ability to collaborate together for the ‘greater good.’ RIPE is a prime example of a community that can learn and grow from one another, and we're proud of its accomplishments.”
While RIPE benefits the artists and companies currently working in Rhode Island, it is also a resource for people new to the area. Without a centralized location to find information on casting, productions, and other resources it can be challenging for artists just moving to Rhode Island to access the community. By establishing a common network, Rhode Island can also become more attractive to new artists seeking a friendly place to live and make work.
Actor/Director Clara Weishahn moved to Providence from Portland, OR last summer, and says, “When I was first planning my move to Providence from the West Coast, I hoped to discover a resource for theatre artists in Rhode Island. RIPE is exactly what I was looking for. By providing an artist network and directory of companies, resources, events, and more, RIPE has been an invaluable introduction to the Rhode Island arts community.”
Rhode Island’s proximity to Boston has often allowed performing artists to work in both regions, and many Rhode Island artists are members of Boston-based organizations such as StageSource and Small Theatre Alliance of Boston. However, Rhode Island and Boston-based artists face very different challenges, which is another example of why RIPE has been meeting a necessary call.
Adara Meyers, Providence-based playwright and Managing Director of Sleeping Weazel, said, “I'm energized by RIPE's commitment to showcasing artists and organizations to audiences across New England (and beyond) through the RIPE website and the podcast series. RIPE is instigating and encouraging more creative collaborations, networking, and professional development opportunities, while also allowing the space and time at monthly meetings for people to casually discuss their experiences in—and questions about—the sector. This ethos of resource sharing is critical to the continued expansion of our state's cultural landscape.”
Julie Hennrikus, Executive Director of , has also noticed what RIPE has done for the Rhode Island performance community, particularly the smaller organizations. “Though not all organizations or artists are the same, the needs of specific-sized theaters, organizations and individual producers are unique, and an organization like RIPE can help support a larger conversation within the community. StageSource considers the small and fringe community as a vital element to our overall health as a sector, and RIPE helps strengthen that community in Rhode Island. I've been thrilled to watch them grow over the past year, and look forward to what they will bring to the region."
One of RIPE’s main tenets is that everyone involved in making live performance in Rhode Island is automatically a member, even if they don’t know RIPE exists. Other regions with these types of advocacy organizations often charge membership fees to belong, but Noon says that she hopes RIPE never has to operate that way.
According to Noon, “Everyone is invited and everyone belongs. If we all agree that we’re in this together; that our work influences each other; that the way I function as a performing artist in this community affects the way every other organization functions -- then the only thing left to ask is, am I willing to work to make everything better for everyone? We don’t need to pay monetary dues, we need to show up for each other and be honest about what we see. If we the artists aren’t championing and encouraging every sector of this performing arts community, then how can we expect anyone else to?”
Committed to furthering community, in its first year of creation RIPE members have developed a podcast (RIPE Reviews: http://riperformance.org/ripe-podcast/), a work-in-progress night (Glimpse), a general audition site (http://riperformance.org/gigs/), and a community resource website (www.riperformance.org).
-- OnStage Boston
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