PROVIDENCE – When COVID-19 abruptly shut down the theater world in March 2020, local theater veterans Tyler Dobrowsky and Taibi Magar had to find a new outlet for their talents.
So now they’re essentially turning several areas of central Providence into huge outdoor settings, with members of the âaudienceâ moving through them one by one.
Called âA Pageant for Providence,â the event takes place on August 13, 14 and 15. It begins with an âaudio walking tourâ of participants in one of the five neighborhoods and ends with a festive performance at Kennedy Plaza.
Dobrowsky, former associate artistic director of Trinity Rep, and Magar, who directed “The Prince of Providence”, also at Trinity, recruited approximately 75 artists, poets, writers, journalists, storytellers, historians, educators and various musicians from Rhode Island. to create a brief sound vignette over the city.
They then woven them into soundscapes to cover each of the five areas – Broad Street, State House, East Side, Federal Hill, and the new pedestrian bridge over the Providence River. Soundscapes can be downloaded to phones or other mobile devices.
Among the writers was Mike Stanton, professor of journalism at the University of Connecticut, former reporter for The Providence Journal and author of Buddy Cianci’s biography “The Prince of Providence.” Stanton said he knew Dobrowsky and Magar from their work on the theatrical version of his book to Trinity.
Stanton wrote a brief article on the former head office of Mafia kingpin Raymond LS Patriarca at 168 Atwells Ave., now a taco shop called Tacos on the Hill, with a Turkish owner. Stanton said it was a chance to speak not only of a familiar piece of local lore, but also to illustrate the changing Federal Hill tapestry.
Various voices and formats
Dobrowsky said he and Magar sought out diverse voices that were representative of the city – including indigenous peoples – using a variety of different forms, including songs, poems, stories, memoirs and personal stories.
One tour, which begins at the State House and then winds through Waterplace Park, includes a âland surveyâ by Narragansett tribe member SherentÃ© Mishitashin Harris; a meditation on the Independent Man by Darcie Dennigan; a song by Dave Rabinow; a tribute to Providence by Jonathan Pitts-Wiley, artistic director of the Mixed Magic Theater; and a story by Charity Bailey, a pioneering black music teacher who was denied an early opportunity to teach in Providence schools.
To take a tour, register on pageantforprovidence.com and select one of the tours. Start times are 11 a.m. on Friday August 13 and 6 p.m. on August 14 and 15. There is no charge. On the day of your choice, you will receive an email or text message containing a link to the audio tour. (After consulting with Brown University School of Public Health, Dobrowsky and Magar will require proof of COVID-19 vaccination.)
Participants will then stroll through the neighborhood of their choice, listening to the presentations, before meeting at Kennedy Plaza for a short communal ceremony and performance. Each visit lasts approximately 35 minutes. (There is a separate audio presentation for those who cannot or do not want to walk.) The exact number of people who will participate in the âContest for Providence,â Dobrowsky said, is still unknown.
Celebrate RI after a difficult year
Dobrowsky and Magar said they saw the project as a celebration of Rhode Island’s artistic community and a love letter to Providence during a historic period that has seen the fight against COVID, a renewed quest for justice race and a hotly contested presidential election.
After COVID eliminated Dobrowsky’s position at Trinity, he became a âpractitioner in residenceâ at Brown University’s Swearer Center in the spring of 2021. âA Pageant for Providenceâ was Dobrowsky’s project proposal at the Swearer Center.
In creating the project, Dobrowsky and Magar consulted with a âdream teamâ of advisers.
Among them was Marisa Brown of the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities & Cultural Heritage. Brown said she wanted tours to include forgotten pieces of Rhode Island history, such as Snowtown, a 19th-century multiracial neighborhood that was the target of riots and was ultimately destroyed to make way for railways.
She also wrote an article for the Federal Hill Tour about a city ordinance in the 1930s that attempted to ban food carts. But opposition from street vendors and community members forced the city to back down.
Another advisor was Christina Bevilacqua, director of programs and exhibits at the Providence Public Library, who has known Dobrowsky since they both worked at Trinity.
âProvidence is an old city, and it has been a city of immigrants throughout its history,â she said. âWe are looking for a geographical location, but also a detachment of the layers. The city can open up wide for a while, and you get a feel for the number of layers.
The total funding for âPageant for Providenceâ is just under $ 40,000. Dobrowsky received a $ 5,000 stipend from Brown’s Swearer Center, along with other funds from the New England Foundation for the Arts, Rhode Island State Council for the Arts, Providence Department of Art, Culture + Tourism, the Providence Streets Coalition and Rhode. Island Latino arts.
Contest contributors received modest compensation for their work.
Dobrowsky has said he does not know whether the “Contest for Providence” will be a one-time event or something that will repeat itself in subsequent years.
âIt’s a chance for the city to look back and reflect on itself, and hear its different voices,â said Dobrowski. “It seems like something that can happen more than once in a lifetime.”
Bevilacqua pointed out that Dobrowsky and Magar are theater people, whose past experience is leading a limited group of people in a confined space. Now it’s a lot of people in large urban spaces.
âAt a certain point you let go and let people do what they’re going to do,â she said. âI congratulate them on their bravery.