May 16, 2023

Work begins long before curtain rises at Theatre By The Sea

Cast members act out their roles during a rehearsal for Theatre by the Sea's production of "Kinky Boots" last August. This year's slate of shows for the 90-year-old theater begins Wednesday with the premiere of "My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra."

SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — Nearby summer cottage owners have a to-do list before settling in for the vacation season and that's no different from neighbor Theatre By The Sea which has a task list to finish before actors step on its stage to entertain its visitors and regulars.

While the theater staff works all year long, shows stop in September and don't begin again until the following May. When that time rolls around, things crank up at the 90-year-old barn theater.

"There is so much going on right now, it was a bit difficult to find the time to sit down and get a list together," said Karen Gail Kessler, general manager, group sales manager and press relations supervisor. At this small theater, one person wears many hats.

"The items are in chronological order — as opposed to the order of priority — because they must be done chronologically, so I guess, in a way, that could be considered priority order," she explained, with a laugh, and in an email between her many tasks.

So what are the top five?

It may seem that ticket sales are ticket sales, so no big deal, right? Wrong.

It is THE one — if not the chief task — for getting the audience into the popular 500-seat theater. The theater depends on a nearly full house for financial solvency, especially because it operates only a few months a year.

Without an audience attending a production, none of the other tasks mean anything.

Both Kessler handling the group sales and Vinny Lupino, box office manager, bring in the crowds. They oversee marketing, selling subscriptions and customer service at the Cards Pond Road theater, both said.

Their efforts are focused on the summer line-up each year that brings Broadway musicals, which are favorites for the regulars and the summer tourists, to this community playhouse. These kinds of shows have lured often sold-out crowds.

"The days of the old ‘hard ticket rack’ are long gone. A great deal has changed over the last 90 years, but luckily the ‘charm of the barn’ remains," Lupino said.

The work can stretch to seven days a week during the spring, summer and early fall for the selling and servicing duties, they said.

Box office staff takes phone orders, helps subscribers with exchanges and additional ticket purchases, prints will-call tickets before each performance, gives general and specific information, resolves internet-purchase issues and compiles financial reports.

"The biggest crush prior to the season is the subscription ‘ticket pull’ when we print every subscriber ticket to mail," Lupino said. This year it was close to 5,000 subscribers for a total of close to 20,000 tickets.

They are then checked, put into labeled envelopes with other performance information, stamped, and mailed, he said.

Ok, beyond these top tasks what are the others?

Kessler and Thom Warren, the theater's associate producer — an understudy if any ever existed to owner and Executive Producer Bill Hanney — counted up the things that needed to be done before doors open.

Ready? Here's what you will need to do if you own or manage a summer playhouse:

Meanwhile, there is a production schedule to watch and ensure that the timing for tasks gets completed — hopefully — before the curtain goes up. This year, the last full week of May is a countdown to shows that start mid-week.

Productions scheduled for this season are:

"My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra." From the king of swing to the Rat Pack, Ol’ Blue Eyes charmed his way into the hearts of millions. Celebrate the pivotal moments of Sinatra's remarkable five-decade career with a journey through his greatest hits. It will be presented from May 24 – June 11.

"Beautiful: The Carole King Musical." From teenage songwriter from Brooklyn, to Rock & Roll Hall of Fame legend, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical follows Carole King's inspiring true story. Featuring classics such as "You’ve Got a Friend," "Will You Love Me Tomorrow," "Natural Woman," "One Fine Day," and "So Far Away." It will be presented from June 14 – July 8.

"The Bodyguard." Based on the smash hit 1992 film, The Bodyguard follows former Secret Service agent turned bodyguard, Frank Farmer, who is hired to protect superstar Rachel Marron from an unknown stalker. Each expects to be in charge; what they don't expect is to fall in love. It features Whitney Houston classics including "Queen of the Night," "So Emotional," "One Moment in Time," and "Saving All My Love." It will be presented from July 12 – August 5.

"Jersey Boys." They were just four guys from Jersey, until they sang their very first note in a harmony capturing attention like the Beach Boys did. While their harmonies were perfect on stage, there's a different backstage story about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and their tough times. It includes top hits "Sherry," "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Walk Like A Man," and "Can't Take My Eyes Off You." It will be presented from August 9 – September 10.

Monday concerts and events series will include Italian Bred starring actress and comedienne Candice Guardino, Doo-Wopp Hall of Fame of America featuring The Cookies and Back in Time, Seth Rudetsky's Broadway Concert Series starring Tony® Award-winner Beth Leavel and hosted by SiriusXM Radio's Seth Rudetsky, and A Broadway Celebration starring four Broadway veterans.

These performances are scheduled for Monday evenings at 7:30 pm on June 26, July 24, July 31, August 28. The 2023 Children's Festival, which will take place on select Friday mornings at 10 am and noon, will feature performances of Johnny Peers & The Muttville Comix, Roald Dahl's Matilda the Musical Jr., Magician David Garrity, Casey Carle's BubbleMania! and Comedy Juggler Bryson Lang.

For ticket or subscription information and sales, visit, stop by the box office during normal box office hours, or call (401) 782-TKTS (8587).

Write to Bill Seymour, a freelance writer covering news and feature stories, at [email protected].

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The fate of a proposed $1.5 million cut in the South Kingstown school budget for the 2023-2024 fiscal year will be decided by voters Tuesday in a special referendum. Earlier this month, SK Superintendent Mark Prince said that, if the cut is approved, the district would have no choice but to eliminate all fall sports for the high school and middle school.The move was met with an outcry on social media by those who oppose the referendum but, in a letter to the editor in this week's Independent Newspaper, local resident Roland Benjamin echoed the sentiment of many proponents for the reduction that the threat is "hollow at best.""If there is truly a willingness and/or obligation to cut the $150,000 sports budget, why proceed with a $6 million athletic facilities overhaul?," Benjamin asked. "It is not the first time a district used these types of threats to activate voters."Do you believe the SK school district will eliminate fall sports if voters approve a $1.5 million budget cut? Why or why not? Let us know in this week's poll question below.

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