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One-act plays at the Black Box

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As of Aug. 1, The Black Box Theatre at the Artists’ Exchange in Rolfe Square turned seven years old. For Artistic Director Rich Morra, it marks what he considers a high point of his twin careers in theatre and human resources.

“When we opened I had every hope of it succeeding,” said Morra. “Now, after seven years, it is become everything I dreamed it could be.”

The Black Box is currently mounting a series of one-act plays submitted from all over the country and even Canada, and that, according to Morra, is evidence that the mission of the Black Box and The Artists’ Exchange has developed a loyal following in the arts community as a serious place to bring your creativity.

The theater, and the Artists Exchange proper, are maintained by Gateways to Change, a private, non-profit organization that has been dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for persons with developmental disabilities in community settings since 1992. But the folks around the Exchange don’t talk much about special needs, unless it’s a special need to provide a venue for the creative products of people of all talents and abilities.

“We have always and will continue to speak of the [arts] community as a whole and offer a place for everyone in it,” said Morra. “It has taken off. More of our people are involved now and professionals and semi-professional theatre are interested in our program…We are recognized as a legitimate venue in the truest sense.”

The program entails bringing Gateways clients together with artists and interns from the arts community and allowing them to mutually explore their creativity, with no one excluded because of a perceived inability to “get it.” Morra sees the response of the playwrights to the invitation to submit a clear and present marker of the Black Box philosophy, gaining mainstream acceptance.

“We had an overwhelming response from playwrights this year, so it has been a very exciting process to select the plays for this year's festival,” said Morra.

This is the sixth series of one-acts at the Black Box.

“I couldn't be happier with the line-up of plays and with the talented casts who are embodying each playwright's vision.”

Whittled down from over 100 submissions from all over the country, the Festival will feature 18 plays by 16 playwrights, including works by locals Kevin Broccoli of Johnston, Barbara Schweitzer of North Smithfield, Joanne Fayan of Barrington and Jim Sullivan of Cranston. Comedy, drama, suspense and a whodunit are included in an array of plays with storylines as varied as their genres.

“We are all about telling stories,” said Morra. “Of course, every play tells a story, but the one-act plays give us an opportunity to tell many more stories.”

The series will run between Aug. 5 and 28.

Plotlines include an illuminating encounter between a home invasion victim and his recovering drug addict invader, an impassioned debate between two heavy metal band members over the incorporation of love ballad into their repertoire, the comedic contemplations of a woman juggling the pros and cons of a younger or older husband, and the nail-biting account of a reporter risking everything for the truth as he interviews a female assassin.

The Black Box Theatre produces four plays each year, with its annual “Christmas Carol” as a continuing success, while fall, spring and summer productions vary each season. A measure of its success can be seen in the fact that two Gateways “Christmas Carol” cast members were nominated for best supporting actor in a local critics poll that included professional and semi-professional actors in supporting actors roles. One of them won.

Morra continues to stress the importance of all community members being judged on their merits, without condescension, not because it’s the right thing to but because it’s the sensible thing to do. Morra said a great deal of his satisfaction comes from seeing local high school students who have polished their skills at “The Box” go on to careers in the theater and arts, and even more satisfaction when they come back to volunteer at the theater after they have moved on.

For Morra, satisfaction also comes from his joy in the theater and his delight in improving the lives of people in his community.

“I couldn’t have wished for a better job,” he said, “It is a marriage of the two things I love,” and then went on to quote a personal hero of his, playwright George Bernard Shaw:

“‘This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.’ That’s from Man and Superman and it’s good advice for anyone.”

The One Act Play Festival will come in two waves, played across two weekends. The first will run Aug. 5 through 14 with the second wave running Aug. 19 through 28. Performances are Friday and Saturday evenings at 7 p.m. with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15 for each wave or $25 for both waves. Buy tickets by calling 490-9475. The Black Box is located at 50 Rolfe Square in Cranston. For more information about the Artists’ Exchange, visit www.artists-exchange.org.

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