We brought you the news last week that Barbara Orson, one of the founders of Trinity Rep in Providence, passed away. Orson’s legacy extends beyond the characters she played onstage.
When she helped found Trinity in the 1960s, the theater decided to employ a resident acting company. That means the theater uses a constant roster of actors from season to season. Trinity is one of the few American theaters that still use this model.
“In other theaters the artistic directors are choosing the acting company for the season, we are choosing the season for the company,” said Tom Parrish, Trinity’s executive director.
When Trinity began, regional theaters typically used resident companies.
“It’s definitely more challenging to manage and produce in this model, than it is to go out and bring people in for each project,” said Parrish.
It’s tough financially, because the theater commits to employ actors over time, regardless of ticket sales. Parrish said the model presents an artistic challenge since there are a limited number of performers to cast in shows.
“In our case our pool only has 16. And so we are challenging the artist and we’re challenging the audience to look at the character in a different way through a different lens,” said Parrish.
That might mean a female Ebenezer Scrooges in the annual production of A Christmas Carol, or adults playing children in a recent staging of To Kill A Mockingbird. So why hold onto the model? Parrish said a resident company allows actors to live and work in the same town, fostering a sense of familiarity between artists and their neighbors.
“So our audience members will see our actors at the grocery store and build those relationships which add another dimension to the theater-going experience.”