Professional Nonprofit Theater on Martha's Vineyard
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The year in entertainment 2020

by Gwyn McAllister, The MV Times

As always, Vineyarders and visitors were kept hopping from venue to venue this past year to catch a wide variety of options in theater, dance, and more. Thanks to a dozen or so Island cultural organizations, there’s always plenty of entertainment in the summer to provide a full schedule of evenings out. You couldn’t possibly have done it all, but here are a few highlights from the year in live theater, dance, readings, lectures, opera, and more.

The Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse staged four full productions during the summer. On the main stage, audiences were treated to the two-person show “Dear Elizabeth” by Sarah Ruhl, centering on the nonromantic relationship between poets Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop; a reprisal of the Tony-winning comedy “Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike” by Christopher Durang; and an original cabaret musical called “Low Down Dirty Blues,” featuring dozens of both well-loved and lesser-performed blues songs from the past. The outdoor amphitheater hosted a production of “The Winter’s Tale,” one of Shakespeare’s less-produced plays.

Island Theater Workshop once again hosted a large-scale, pull-out-all-the-stops musical featuring local talent. This year the production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical comedy “Once Upon a Mattress” boasted a cast of 34 community actors, dancers, and singers, live piano accompaniment, and professional-level sets for a rousing week-plus run of the fractured fairy tale version of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Princess and the Pea.”

The Vineyard Arts Project, the Edgartown-based dance and theater residency, hosted an impressive lineup of nationally recognized dance troupes and choreographers, along with two theater companies. Each residency culminates in a public performance of a work in progress. Theater offerings this year included a reading of scenes from New York City’s Public Theater developmental project, a play called “Cullud Wattah” set during the water crisis in Flint, Mich., and a selection of songs from a new musical from the creators of the Emmy- and Golden Globe–winning series “Transparent,” centering around a family with a transgender parent.

The Yard of Chilmark, the longstanding dance and choreography residency and performance space, hosted an impressive schedule of no less than a dozen different troupes and individuals for public performances of new work in contemporary dance. Among the highlights of 2019 were return visits from Malpaso Dance Company from Cuba, and Ronald K. Brown/Evidence, a group whose mission is “to promote understanding of the human experience in the African diaspora through dance and storytelling.” The Yard also hosted musical performances by John Forte, solo artist and former member of the Fugees, and the Island’s own Isaac Taylor. Once again, in June the Chilmark-based organization hosted the popular weeklong Pride Not Prejudice festival, celebrating diversity.

Wendy Taucher Dance Opera Theater found a new home at the Katharine Cornell Theater, where the organization hosted an English-language abridged version of the beloved Strauss operetta “Die Fledermaus,” featuring world-class singers from New York City and beyond.

Last year the Noepe Center for the Literary Arts moved its base of operations to Featherstone, where the two organizations collaborated on a series of workshops and classes. As always, the two arts organizations teamed up with Pathways to host the popular Summer Festival of Poetry. This year’s lineup included the former U.S. poet laureate, poet Billy Collins, Susan Kinsolving, and others. Noepe also hosted readings by acclaimed authors Brad Anthony Johnson and Naomi Jackson.

Every year the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center hosts a Summer Speaker Series, bringing a very impressive schedule of national figures to the Island to speak on politics, media, social issues, and more. This past summer was no exception, with a lineup of a diverse range of guests, including New Yorker staff writer Adam Gopnick, Congressman Adam Schiff from California, and Jeffrey Toobin, chief analyst for CNN.

Islanders Write, The MV Times’ annual writers’ festival, relocated its two-day series of events to the Featherstone Center for the Arts this summer. Over 30 authors, poets, academics, and more participated in multiple panel discussions, workshops, readings, and interviews. Among those taking part this year were Alexandra Styron, David McCullough, Doug Liman, Geraldine Brooks, Elizabeth Benedict, and Sarah Kernochan.

If you managed to even catch a handful of these events, you have some idea of how lucky we are on the Vineyard to have so many arts organizations bringing exciting entertainment from off-Island to audiences during the season. If you missed it all, don’t worry. There are still many options for off-season offerings from the Yard, the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse, Pathways, and others. Check out these organizations’ websites for more info, or keep up with all the upcoming happenings with the Times calendar of events at mvtimes.com/things-to-do-4/#!/.

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