~ by C. Oscar Olson ~
Incorporated in 1641, Nantucket is easily one of the oldest towns in the country. One would assume that in the span of 375 years, all the “firsts” would be taken, and that there simply weren’t any new or notable trails to blaze. Think again.
In 2012, an ensemble driven theatre company of like-minded artists brought their talents from the big city of New York to the small island of Nantucket. Since then, their performances have been held in a humble tent behind the whaling museum. But this summer, coming to an island near you, Nantucket is getting its first official purpose-built theater in the town’s long, long history. Located at 5 North Water Street, the same site where the original tent was erected, the venue will forever be an asset to Nantucket’s downtown historical district.
Known as the White Heron Theatre, the first summer season in this new venue will undoubtedly be one to remember. Unforgettable stars from stage, screen, and television will be on the Playbill. To name just two of the critically acclaimed actors and directors, Edie Falco and Olympia Dukakis are on the lineup. Falco became a household name after her performance in HBO’s The Sopran os and more recently was a hit o n the Netflix series Nurse Jackie. Oscar-winner Dukakis is a veteran of the classic and contemporary stage and is equally well known for her roles on film. She will be performing her onewoman show, Rose, as a benefit for the theatre on July 25. The act was made famous in London and then on Broadway, and it will no doubt be a hit here as well. Some of the many other shows on the marquee include The Underp ants, a German farce adapted by Steve Martin, and a reading of N apo li, Brook lyn, a p lay about sisterhood, freedom, and forgiveness set in 1960s Brooklyn.
When the construction is complete, the Nantucket community will have world-class flexiblespace theatre with seating for 155 audience members. The space will be complete with rehearsal and dressing rooms, box office and refreshment bar, even an outdoor garden and classroom setting fit for outreach programs and more. Such programs will be designed to provide a foundation for learning and developing certain life skills that can only be attained through the theatrical process.
White Heron is a standout in the world of theatre due to their unique process of artist collaboration and undeniably tight professionalism. The ensemble was founded in 2002 by actor/director Lynne Bolton and renowned theatre educator Earle Gister. The two were brought together by shared aspirations and a love for the art. Today, Lynne Bolton is still at the helm of White Heron and its affiliate organization, the Nantucket Theatre Institute, as President and Artistic Director. She has been joined by actor/director Michael Kopko, Executive Director. The two are both longtime residents of Nantucket and are devoted to furthering the same sensibilities that bring works both old and new alive for audiences of all ages and backgrounds.
Nearly 20 years on and the group is still producing top notch and transformative productions of both classic works and more modern pieces. The goal of every performance is to bring the play to life and make it possible for each audience member to live through the actors on the stage. This magic makes them not just witnesses to the unfolding drama but rather active participants in a living theatrical journey.
Recently, the group was invited to be a part of the Sundance Theatre Lab, a prestigious group of only seven other members internationally. The Lab supports a diverse group of original theatre makers like White Heron. There is a focus on developing new works and creative exploration. “It’s a real honor,” says Lynne Bolton. “It will give us a rare opportunity to create new work, and eventually export that work off the island and onto the global stage.”
This is all coming to fruition after nearly half a decade of hard work. “Would I start from zero again? Absolutely,” says Michael Kopko. Due in part to the foresight of architect Andrew Kotchen and the dedication of contractor Scott Anderson, there were no significant delays since the dream started taking shape. He compares the journey to the invention of the light bulb: “Edison had 249 failures trying to find the right substance to make his light bulb a reality. When asked about them, though, he said they weren’t failures; rather 249 successful experiments.” It’s this kind of outlook that will ensure the success of the White Heron theatre for years to come. He added, “We’ve always had faith, and we focused on the art.”
White Heron Theatre is asking the public to help the show go on with a donation. You can “Pave the Way” and buy a brick or “Take a Seat” and “purchase” a chair. They welcome donations in any dollar amount, be it $1 or $1,000,000. To date, White Heron is well on their way to reaching their goal. For details on donating as well as on upcoming performances and how to buy tickets, visit whiteherontheatre.org.