“Writing is like being in a dream state. It’s hard to get there with ringing phones, emails popping in, kids and dogs and laundry. A writer’s retreat has been vital for me to stay in that dream state and to write.” — Stephen King
For the Cape Cod Theatre Project, a lot has changed in the past few months in anticipation of its 26th season. The theater company, which produces staged readings of new American plays each July, has gone virtual for 2020, moving most of its season to online platforms in response to the current global pandemic.
But what has remained undimmed this season is the Theatre Project’s mission to provide a haven for playwrights with its annual artist-in-residence program. Conceived and created by Cape Cod Theatre Project Artistic Director Hal Brooks, the program is an opportunity for playwrights to come and retreat to Falmouth for a week in July to write, relax and enjoy Falmouth’s beaches and shores. For playwrights, a writers’ retreat of this kind is indispensable: playwrights are able to get away from the fast pace and distractions of city life and focus solely on their work.
“There was this really amazing repetition of getting up, writing, packing the coolers, going to [the] beach and sitting there all day, thinking and reading and writing,” said playwright Sharr White about his residency. Mr. White finished his Broadway play “The Snow Geese” while he was an artist-in-residence at the Cape Cod Theatre Project. “It’s time away from the world,” he said about his stay in Falmouth.
Many other noted playwrights have also benefited from the Theatre Project’s artist-in-residence program. They include Academy Award Nominee Lucy Alibar, writer of “Beasts of the Southern Wild”; Whiting Award winner Mona Mansour; 2019 Pulitzer Prize winner Jackie Sibblies Drury and Heidi Schreck, the star and author of the hit Broadway play “What the Constitution Means to Me.” Ms. Schreck’s play had an unlikely journey, initially being performed in smaller New York venues and then reaching larger audiences in a major house on Broadway.
The artist-in-residence program, however, is not just about playwrights producing great work. “What we have here in Falmouth is a quiet and old-school summer community with independent restaurants, small coffee shops, town beaches, kettle holes, lobster rolls, beach fires and biking,” said Cape Cod Theatre Project board member Teresa MacRae.
The Cape Cod Theatre Project feels that its artist-in-residency program may be more important now than ever. Despite the risks involved with inviting writers to Falmouth during the ongoing pandemic, the board of directors has not shied away from inviting artists to the retreat because of COVID-19. “Many artists,” Cape Cod Theatre Project board chairwoman Claudia Nimas noted, “have no work” right now and “have lost jobs and valuable salaries.”
Artists are not usually well-to-do; they live in very small spaces and some are feeling desperate and worried. Offering the retreat in 2020 may be a life saver, Ms. Nimas said, not only for the productivity of their work, but also for their mental and spiritual health.
The Cape Cod Theatre Project’s artist-in-residence program has been such a success that it is now looking to grow. Through generous grants from the estates of playwrights Noel Coward and Sir Peter Shaffer, the Theatre Project is planning to offer residencies to playwrights beyond July. These extra opportunities will allow more writers to enjoy the benefits of a residency, especially during this time when it may be needed most. Growing its artist-in-residence program also allows the Theatre Project to honor the long-held tradition of writers coming up to the Cape for retreat. For more than 100 years, writers such as Eugene O’Neil, Tennessee Williams, Henry David Thoreau, Norman Mailer and E.E. Cummings have all come to the Cape to tuck themselves away in cottages on the beach and write the plays, poems and novels that have come to define American literature. The Cape Cod Theatre Project’s residency program lets living playwrights follow in the footsteps of these writers, allowing them to relax, reflect and write the great stories of today in one of the country’s most beautiful vacation spots.
The Cape Cod Theatre Project will be opening its 26th season with the work “Moses” by Michele Lowe on Friday, July 3.