By: Emma Capron
Over its years as an active forum for the arts, Swamp Meadow Community Theatre has received many nominations and several awards from the Annual Motif Awards, presented by Motif Magazine. These awards, which can be described as the “Tonys” for theatre in Rhode Island, offer a chance of recognition for the hard work put forth local theatres. Swamp Meadow’s past Motif Award Winners, in the community theatre category, have included “Best Supporting Female/Musical” (Meryn Flynn in Footlose), and “Best Male Lead” (Zachary Gibb in Romeo and Juliet). Now, the theatre can add another Motif award to its collection. At the recent Annual Motif Awards Ceremony, one of Swamp Meadow’s fantastic shows, Jesus Christ Superstar, a show that had sold out during most performances, received the award for Best Musical. I got a chance to talk with the directors of this show, Bob Hollis and Nathan DeSisto, regarding their personal opinions on receiving this rather prestigious award, I also learned how their journey through this powerful musical led to its recognition as an award-winner.
Of course, both DeSisto and Hollis were thrilled about the award. As Hollis said, the award was “affirming for everyone,” as it rewarded those involved for all their hard work and effort. DeSisto’s response to the award was jubilant, but humble, as he smilingly stated ‘I felt really blessed and honored to have been recognized.” For him, this award was exceptionally special, because this is the first musical he has participated in as a director. Still, both men were simply ecstatic to know that the play they had put so much effort into made a difference, for as DeSisto said, the award means that “People connected to it [the play].”
When asked about why the play has received so much attention, both men responded differently. However both mentioned a specific word. That word was teamwork. Hollis, after mentioning several community members who stepped in to make the show work, commended his actors’ versatility, and their ability to fill any roles needed to make the show work. “We always bite off more than we can chew. We always push the envelope,” he said laughingly as he described the cast’s ability to take the complications presented by this show and simply make them work. He stressed that the play revolved around an “all for one, and one for all” attitude.
Alongside teamwork, DeSisto believes that his own personal experiences helped to make the show resonate with audience members. “This show is real to me,” he stated, obvious emotion present in his voice as he explained his familiarity with the show. For DeSisto, Jesus Christ Superstar has been a part of his life since his days at Sunday School. This personal connection, in his opinion, made the show deeply powerful to audiences. “I brought a deep love for the show,” he said, “People picked up on that love, both amongst the actors and the audience.”
Of course, this show’s success has led to talk of reviving the show for another run, in an attempt to bring more people out to see the talent present in this small community. For both DeSisto and Hollis, a revival is just the sort of thing they are looking for. “We have a place. We have musicians. When you sell out houses, you don’t stop!” Hollis exclaimed when I asked him about the possible revival. Already, Swamp Meadow has reserved a spot for the musical at the Park Theatre, a larger venue. Hollis hopes that at some point, they will use that spot to bring their award-winning show to more people. However, some hurdles may crop up, as DeSisto stated. DeSisto, a playwright who claimed that doing an original play is “Easier, because you don’t have to fight for the rights,” brought up the issue of a national tour. Jesus Christ Superstar is a popular show, and will be touring the country for quite some time, making it extremely difficult for the theatre to renew their rights for the show. “I would say we have an interest in doing it again,” DeSisto stated, “But there are a lot of factors to consider. For instance, are we too close to the mother company [cast of the national tour], can we get the same actors, etc.” So the question remains: will we again see Jesus Christ Superstar performed by the actors at Swamp Meadow Theatre? Only time will tell. In the meantime, the award for “Best Musical” will keep both the directors and crew celebrating a new achievement for a little theatre with a big heart…and big talent. This award is a precious reminder that hard work, passion, and ultimately teamwork can pay off, if only one is willing to try.