Meet the cast of characters who make the Theatre Workshop of Nantucket possible.
When it comes to pulling off a performance at the Theatre Workshop of Nantucket (TWN), there’s a whole lot happening behind the scenes. Stage hands jockey props on and off the set. Makeup artists feverishly give actors touch ups while costume designers fine tune their wardrobes. There are lighting technicians, sound engineers, choreographers and a director orchestrating the actors’ every move. But behind this talented troupe, there’s another cast of characters who have helped make the Theatre Workshop the longest running theater on Nantucket. Meet the producers.
Each show at the Theatre Workshop depends on the generosity of a group of around twenty devoted producers who champion the performances through financial support. “Everything we do depends on these people who are willing to take a creative journey with us,” says TWN’s artistic director Justin Cerne. “Along with the incredible importance of financial support, our producers are also some of our biggest advocates and truly believe in what we are able to breathe life into on the stage.” Thanks to this group of passionate producers, the Theatre Workshop continues to thrive sixty-two years after its first show.
“The early days were more different than today,” says Judy Seinfeld, who has supported TWN since back when rehearsals occasionally took place on her home stage on Orange Street. “TWN was small, intimate and brilliant at times. There was a marvelous sense of commitment.” Seinfeld has seen TWN grow from those humble beginnings to showing world-class performances with the same intimacy she remembers from the early days. “It has taken all kinds of people to keep the glass half full,” she says. “We have celebrated, kept growing, refused to knock things and yes, sometimes we flipped out!” she laughs. “But, we continue to dream on and have passionate desire to build on the sixty-two years of effort from a multitude of caring people.”
One of these people is Max Berry, a high-powered lawyer from Washington, DC who started coming to Nantucket in 1967 and began supporting TWN shortly thereafter. Every Friday, Berry holds court on a bench on Main Street, where he reads the newspaper and occasionally gives out free legal advice. One of his frequent visitors over the years was actor John Shea, who served as TWN’s artistic director before Justin Cerne took over five years ago. Through his conversations with Shea, Berry came to realize how reliant Theatre Workshop is on financial support.
“To the best of my knowledge, TWN has always struggled to survive,” says Berry, who attributes the financial challenge in part to the large number of nonprofits TWN competes with for funding on the island. “I thought it was important to the island’s quality of life to not let this theater die.” Joining Berry in this commitment is fellow producer Annie Bissinger, who has been a longtime advocate of children’s theater on the island. “TWN is among the myriad of threads that are woven to create our community and enhance its creativity,” Bissinger says. “It is a vital artistic organization that provides the island with cultural exposure and experiences that engage, inspire, entertain, challenge and educate.”
While producers like Berry and Bissinger have witnessed the tremendous value of TWN from their seats in the audience, others like Jane Condon and Ellie Gottwald have experienced it from the stage. “I support TWN because they supported me,” says Condon, a working comedian who has performed her act on TWN’s stage over the years. “Theater is my favorite way to relax. When I’m not on stage, I like watching others — and there are so many talented actors on the island.” One of whom is fellow producer Ellie Gottwald, who got her start as an actress in Hollywood horror films, most famously Halloween 4 and 5.
“I’ve done five productions with TWN, and I’m always blown away by the caliber of the actors, whether they’re Equity actors from New York or islanders,” says Gottwald. “The strength of the actors ultimately comes down to our artistic director Justin Cerne’s incomparable leadership. He has an uncanny ability to cast well. The quality of the productions raises my game, allows me to take risks and grow as an actor, which carries into my artistic life off-island.”
Justin Cerne has been manning the helm of TWN as artistic director for five years and has succeeded in reinvigorating TWN by bringing thirty crowd-pleasing productions to the island, including The Sound of Music, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Footloose, which is the centerpiece production this summer. “What these people support with their time and treasure are truly Nantucket productions,” says Cerne of TWN’s producers. “We are a regional theater that brings together local talent with off island talent, to create incredible theatrical experiences for audiences to enjoy.”
Sharing the leadership role with Cerne is Susan Lucier, TWN’s current president. An accomplished Equity actress in her own right, she has many performances under her belt. As president, Lucier takes a hands-on approach. Yet, beyond her immediate role at the theater, she, like her fellow producers, views TWN as a vital stitch in the cultural fabric of Nantucket, one that they’re committed to continuing. “Theatre Workshop is a lynchpin of the island arts community,” Lucier says. “The company has been a creative inspiration to generations of Nantucketers by providing a place to learn, to think, to make friends, to laugh and cry and to express their views of the world around them.” And if the past sixty-two years are any indication, the drama will continue to unfold thanks to this group of producers who know that, above all, the show must go on.