By Annette Hinkle
As an actress, Anita Sorel has worked on stages around the world. As a theater director and teacher, she has done likewise — most recently in Africa at the International School of Kenya where she spent more than two years designing IB theatre arts and acting programs for students.
So when Sorel came back to East Hampton, it didn’t take long for her to notice that something was missing here.
A community theater.
“I found out a lot of people don’t even know what a community theater is,” notes Sorel. “It’s a theater made up of volunteers who do everything — and they do not get paid. It’s important that that’s clear. The entire community can belong, every age, every job, everyone who lives here should be part of it.”
“I’ve yet to see it not succeed,” adds Sorel. “People come in shy, end up loving it and they grow.”
In fact, there is a long tradition of community theater in East Hampton, beginning with the Maidstone Players in the 1950s. That troupe was followed by the Village Vanities and the Guild Hall Players, who used the John Drew Theater for many years. More recently, East Hampton had CTC Theater Live and the Springs Community Theater Company. But history has shown that when funding is lost and members move on or lose interest, the company fades away.
Sorel is now on a mission to change that by revitalizing community theater in East Hampton. With that goal in mind, she hosted a forum last Wednesday at LTV studios in Wainscott — the site of a new community theater venture to be known as the Studio 3 Playhouse. As the name implies, the theater will indeed be housed in Studio 3 at LTV — a roomy black box space that can accommodate up to 150 audience members.
The theatre will be run under the auspices of LTV and Sorel will take on the role of artistic director in the new company, overseeing casting and directing. Helping to run the theater will be fellow East Hampton residents Elena Prohaska-Glinn, Rosalind Brenner and Serena Seacat (the resident director of CTC). Also throwing support behind the effort are Josh Gladstone, artistic director of the John Drew Theater at Guild Hall and Gerard Doyle, director of the Ross School Theater department. As Actor’s Equity members, neither Gladstone nor Doyle will be able to appear in productions, but they are eager to lend their expertise and support behind the scenes.
“There’s been no consistent presence of community theatre here,” notes Gladstone. “For me, I’m happy to be here because a rising tide floats all boats. If we have an interest it all feeds into a vital theater community.”
“The more the better – it’s always a struggle for an art form at any level. I’m happy to help with resources at Drew,” he adds.
For Brenner, an artist, the possibilities inherent in starting a new theater go far beyond the final production — she sees Studio 3 Playhouse as a means to truly get residents involved with their community.
“Like much contemporary art, it offers an opportunity for participation and it can be in all elements — from set design and costumes, to acting or helping with rehearsals,” says Brenner. “It’s one of the great opportunities for team art, as opposed to working in the studio alone. It evolves to that moment of play where people are depending on one another and working together.”
“More people are living here fulltime. We may have the stars here, but we have us too, and I think that’s a wonderful thing,” adds Prohaska-Glinn. “This community could really use something people can get involved in. To give them one-on-one experience in the theater is very much needed here.”
The theory behind making community theater successful is the notion that with local residents producing and acting in the shows, businesses will soon follow suit and jump in by donating goods and services for productions.
“It engenders a sense of community, because everyone feels involved,” says Doyle. “The tentacles spread and draw people together in an extraordinary way. That builds the audience. People who own companies that have donated supplies come and check it out.”
“We hope to support ourselves,” explains Sorel. “I’ve yet to do a show where I’ve come in in the red. I’m always in the black. LTV is donating the space. We’ll charge for tickets, and that money will go back to LTV.”
For all would-be actors, set builders, costume designers and theater lovers, Studio 3 Playhouse’s inaugural production will come in mid-June when the company presents the 1959 Broadway musical, “Destry Rides Again” with music and lyrics by Harold Rome and book by Leonard Gershe. The production will be offered over a single weekend, with three performances, Thursday through Saturday.
“It’s one I love and few people know it,” says Sorel. “We want to start with a big cast. It can be as large as you want. There are 18 speaking roles. It’s a western and the singing is fun — not operatic.”
“The next step is auditions,” she adds. “We’ve scheduled them for the Monday after Easter.”
And beyond June’s production? Sorel says she is keeping all options on the table for Studio 3 Playhouse.
“I’d love to see it grow,” says Sorel. “I’d like to have free classes for kids or seniors who can’t afford them. I’d also love to do original plays by local people down the road.”
But for now, Sorel is taking it one step at a time and at this point, is just putting out the call for committed and enthusiastic people ready to get behind the fledgling company. Costumes, administrative tasks, set building, acting — all are roles waiting to be filled.
“If you build it they will come,” says Sorel.
For more information about Studio 3 Playhouse, email Anita Sorel at email@example.com.