As a rule, finding employment as an actor or actress isn’t easy. Yet so devoted as they are to their craft, most actors will wait tables, take second jobs or commit themselves to frighteningly modest intakes of food to play it out. Providence, fortunately, has an incredibly robust theatre scene for a small city. As an aspiring actress (and board member of Barker Playhouse) here are some of my modest thoughts on the subject.
To someone looking to work as an actor in this city, what would seem to be the two most obvious choices are Trinity Rep and Providence Performing Arts Center. However, PPAC only brings in touring shows from outside the city and while Trinity does (on occasion) cast non-union actors in their season, most of the roles will go to the company members first and other equity members second.
The Pawtucket-based Gamm Theatre offers a few more opportunities, though you will still see many of the same faces each season. One great thing Trinity and the Gamm do offer are classes for both new actors and those more experienced who simply seek to expand their acting skills. Performance classes also serve as a great networking tool for those trying to break into the business. Some local community theatres, The Players at Barker Playhouse for example, have recently started offering classes to their members as well. Community theatres offer a great opportunity for both working actors and those who just pursue acting as a hobby.
What is perhaps most exciting is that in the last few years several new groups have suddenly popped up in the Providence area, bringing with them numerous opportunities for local actors. Elemental Theatre Collective was started by graduates of Trinity Rep’s conservatory program in collaboration with Brown University. It continues to produce both well-known and new works, while also providing the chance for local playwrights to submit. The Kevin Broccoli Monologues often will hold open auditions for all actors interested in being a part of something new. Providence has seen the appearance of the Wilbury Group and Burbage Theatre Company, both groups started by graduates of local colleges. Theatre of Thought provides site-specific theatre, including the H.P. Lovecraft-inspired Executor. The creative spirit remains alive and well in the capital city.
The main problem for those looking to create theatre in Providence is, of course, a financial one. Providence Black Rep was forced to declare bankruptcy. Most recently, Perishable Theatre became a victim of debt and a lack of funding and support but is finding new life in its collaborative venture, 95 Empire. They are in the midst of putting together a performing arts school that will offer many of the classes seen at Perishable prior, but also a new opportunities with advanced classes. These will be geared towards the professional actors and performers to hone their craft and they have just hired a program manager for this project who will be working hard to provide a unique learning experience. Very few actors are able to support themselves solely on their performance work. Not every theatre is able to pay their actors, so many will have to pursue their craft for free. Auditions for those pursuing more opportunity are available if you know where to look. Many jobs can be found online on sites like CraigsList, but those lead mostly to extras work in movies. The key in this small state is getting a foot in the door, and this is easier than it sounds. Joining a community acting group requires no experience and the people you meet usually have connections to other venues. Once you start auditioning at different theatres you may find yourself on e-mail lists for audition notices or mailing lists with newsletters. It requires patience and passion to make a living this way, and most have to take a second job with more consistent pay.
But, as long as the need for art and the will to create it exists, there is no stopping Providence from becoming one of the places your mind immediately goes to when someone brings up theatre.