Building a dream always has its share of surprises and challenges. However, with determination, hard work, and more than a touch of luck, those sought after dreams can become a reality. Sleepless Beyond the Stage explores the reality of making that dream come true, whether by building an organization, finally bringing that dream production to life, or starting a group that makes a difference.
Richard Bento, Executive Director and President of South Shore Theatre Works (SSTW) checked in with Sleepless Critic a few years ago as the theater was just getting on its feet. Boasting a successful run of Seussical in December, SSTW’s upcoming productions include Blithe Spirit, Ordinary Days, and Chicago. Richard Bento talks about how this Massachusetts theater has grown in a short time. Click here for more information, auditions, and for tickets.
Sleepless Critic: Please tell me about your background and what inspired you to start South Shore Theatre Works?
Richard Bento: I’ve participated in community and semi-professional theater throughout Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Georgia, and San Francisco. One of my goals was to have a group of my own who share the same mission and passion I had for the arts.
A few years ago, I decided to participate in theater here and assist another community theater group. I fell in love with the people. We shared the same passion. When we were at a crossroads needing to decide whether we were going to bring this other group to another level or start our own with other people who shared that same drive, I decided to put together South Shore Theatre Works.
JD: What would you say to those who are considering starting a community theater?
RB: I wish them a lot of luck and determination because starting a community theater is difficult. It is not an endeavor for everyone or for the weak-hearted. Like an actor who wants to perform professionally and make it on Broadway, 99% of that actor’s experience will be rejection. When you’re putting together a theater group, you will also face rejection, people who feel threatened, or don’t understand why you’re creating this new project. What’s important is to make sure the reason behind this endeavor comes from a place of love and passion.
JD: How do the particular shows this season fit into this year’s mission?
RB: The hardest thing is deciding where we want SSTW to be at the end of that year. Going into the third season, we chose shows that celebrated the talent we have at SSTW.
We kicked it off with the musical, Urinetown. Not very successful on Broadway, but the SSTW actors were passionate about the show and Urinetown shows off an actor’s strengths. Seussical was about bringing wholesome family fun back into community theater. We’ll continue the fun with our upcoming spring musical Chicago, which was a dream of mine to direct.
JD: You once said you hope South Shore Theatre Works would become “a home where we can perform all year round, where people can feel comfortable, and share their talents and passion for the craft with audiences from all over.” Is that plan being fulfilled and where do you see SSTW in the future?
RB: The word “home” can be defined in many ways. I think a home theatre company is a comfortable place where I’ll also be challenged and empowered to try new things. South Shore Theatre Works has accomplished that in three short years. We have new actors and actors who return show after show not just for their dream roles, but to be part of our family.
Of course we have a long way to go. We have to evolve with the times and change with what is happening around us. We have performance space in Holbrook and Randolph with rehearsals in Stoughton. By changing our accessibility off the highway, it is easier for people who are coming in from the city to perform with us.
We do many projects as an all-year-round group and keep adding more shows that have purpose. We launched Second Saturday Cabarets the second Saturday of every month which includes five or six performers. They do their own set in front of a live audience like the Don’t Tell Mama venue and nightclub in New York City.
We’ve had success with the SSTW Youth Division. We decided last summer to do not just one youth production, but to divide it into ages 6-13 and a 13-19 division with Aristocats and Heathers. This year we’re even more excited to do the same with The Lion King, Jr. and Carrie the Musical. We’re asking these kids to take an active part in choosing the shows. We also took on a new challenge by doing a summer camp last year and we’re looking forward to continuing it this year.
We had wonderful opportunities to empower some of our actors from different shows to take on new roles. Urinetown actress Stephanie Wallace and I co-directed Seussical because she took an interest in directing. Urinetown actress Jaclyn Cleary choreographed a couple of numbers in Seussical because took an interest in choreography. We give people a well-rounded experience to be onstage in one show and offstage in another and still feel that same passion in those experiences.
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