BURRILLVILLE – From food trucks and musical acts, to movies and plays, the Assembly Theatre has brought in plenty of new entertainment over the past several months, drawing in growing crowds with a focus on revitalizing the once quiet venue.
And now, the dedicated group of volunteers known as Patrons of the Assembly have begun producing their own shows, with their first to hit the stage in August.
AssemblyACT is the latest initiative from a group that has made the community theater their focus for the last seven months. The idea to launch the in-house production company came, in part, from the organization’s new chairperson: Holly Dumaine-Picard.
Dumaine-Picard recently took over the role from Pat DiLorenzo, who stepped down from the leadership position due to time constraints. She will also serve as theatrical producer for Patrons of the Assembly, a board formed last November to revitalize the venue.
The new chairperson comes to the Assembly after learning about theater through her volunteer efforts at The Stadium Theatre in Woonsocket. Dumaine-Picard’s daughter, a student at Burrillville Middle School, has been in several productions at the neighboring venue.
“I volunteered for every performance she was a part of, and learned quite a bit,” she told NRI NOW. “I’ve always been an avid fan of theater.”
Professionally, Dumaine-Picard has a corporate background, and currently works at CVS headquarters.
She points out that historically, the Burrillville-based theater did put on its own productions.
“Way back they did lots of things in house, including their very first production,” said Dumaine-Picard. “We’re trying to bring back what the Assembly used to be.”
The new town-based theater company will have a focus on children’s productions and education programs, with the tag line, “Where you find your light and shine.”
The venue will shine a light on local talent August 23, when AssemblyACT puts on a cabaret-style show featuring adults and children, Ticket to Broadway. The show will feature a cast of 35, and plenty of surprises, including a local celebrity guest performer, according to the chairperson.
Dumaine-Picard is the producer/director for the show, and she held auditions Memorial Day weekend.
“We have some really talented individuals in our cast,” she said. “We have lots and lots of local talent.”
For the Assembly’s new educational programs, she’s called in Mount Saint Charles Academy music and chorus teacher Brittany Dyer, who will be holding music education courses at the theater on Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 2 to 6 p.m. Dyer will teach piano, ukulele, voice and music theory to kids.
“This is what people are looking for,” said Dumaine-Picard. “Parents in the community are really excited to have this kind of arts education in the town.”
Meanwhile, the show goes on at the Assembly throughout the summer, including a production by JDP Theatre Company this weekend. The Laramie Project, a full-length dramatic production based on the true events of the life and death of Matthew Shepard, will take place on Friday and Saturday evening starting at 7 p.m.
“It’s something very relevant with our times,” Dumaine-Picard said of the play.
The show will take place inside a quaint and historic town theater that has been continually improving since the formation of the Patrons last year.
The venue now serves beer and wine at most events from a new concession stand across from the small box office. Volunteers dole out Bud, Bud Light, Sam Adams Summer Ale and Whalers IPA, along with chardonnay, merlot, white zinfandel and sangria, all for $4 a glass. Guests can also purchase popcorn, water, candy, snacks and flavored water.
Justin Batalon has signed on as concessions manager.
“We have an intimate and unique setting that offers affordable quality entertainment for everyone,” said Batalon. “Grab a snack and a drink and enjoy what our small town has to offer.”
The improvement is among many planned structural and technology upgrades, which will also includes expansion of the building.
“The theater really needs an expanded lobby and suitable lounge area for our guests,” explained Steve Rawson, Board of Administration member and Patrons business manager “The Levy Lounge will include a small museum to display historical treasures from the theater’s rich past.”
The group was recently approved for a $32,000 grant from the Levy Foundation to upgrade lighting, insulation and perform needed weatherization that’s expected to result in a roughly $3,000 rebate from the Pascog Utility District.
Built in 1933 as a gift to the town by mill owner and philanthropist Austin T. Levy, the 354-seat venue has historically been used as a community space, a movie theater and of course, a space for live performances. Levy established a Board of Administration to manage the theater, along with several other buildings he donated to the town of Burrillville including the current Town Hall, the town Annex and the American Legion Hall.
Under his vision, the five-member board would include three members of the elected Town Council, with the president to serve as chairman.
The arrangement has kept theater doors open through the summer months thanks to town officials, but until last year, there was no genuine effort to make the town-owned venue profitable.
“This has got to be the most unusual relationship in the country,” Rawson said of the Board.
Thanks to the efforts of Rawson and others, the theater, which once lost money, has been on the rise. In addition to a varied and full schedule of musical, theatrical and other performances, elements like a monthly “Assembly of Food Trucks,” have been added to the lineup. The board receives 10 percent of the money raised from the sales of alcohol on theater grounds, and the events have served to raise the venue’s profile in the community.
With the creation of AssemblyACT, the Assembly Theatre plans on offering various theatrical opportunities and arts education to Burrillville residents and surrounding communities
JDP, a company based out of East Providence that works with young adult and youth actors to produce dramas and musicals, recently lost their home theater, and was advised to reach out to Burrillville’s growing venue.
“They had never heard of it,” said Rawson. “The came out and looked at it and they were blown away. That happens most of the time.”
The theater is also in the process of becoming a 501c3 non-profit.
It has all been accomplished through the work of a growing army of volunteers.
“We found a core group now that’s really dedicated and willing to help,” said Rawson.
But more help is still needed, even on a per-show basis, from locals willing to serve at concession stands, or as ticket takers or ushers.
“They get to see a free performance,” said Rawson. “We are actively looking for volunteers all the time.”
To volunteer, contact the venue via their Facebook page at https://business.facebook.com/pg/theassemblytheater.
Tickets to this weekend’s performance of The Laramie Project cost $15 and are available here
And those interested in signing up for Dyer’s music lessons can call (401) 935-9433 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
“The Assembly is stepping out of the past and going full speed ahead to become a unique cultural epicenter for Burrillville and for everyone who visits our beautiful town,” said Dumaine-Picard.