Big theater plans for the small town of Williamston


Williamston Theatre has finally revealed its 2021-’22 season. This year, the small-town company known for its Big-city productions is giving audiences a lineup comprised of five very different plays.

“We’ve learned from our audience and artists that that they’re hungry for live theater again, and that they’re willing to take the necessary safety precautions,” Williamston Theatre artistic director Tony Caselli said.  “And I love the lineup of productions we’re sharing with our patrons this year.”

“Being in a room with each other and experiencing these things together is a communal experience that cultivates joy, builds empathy, builds community and brings us together in ways that can be life-changing,” Caselli said.

Williamston’s staff is vaccinated, and patrons must either be vaccinated or have proof of a recent COVID test. Masks will be mandatory. Expect intense cleanings between shows and air purifiers and hand sanitizer in the lobbies.

“Our HVAC has been updated with special ion wave echnology for killing tviruses and improved air circulation in the theater space,” Caselli said.

With all that in place, Steve Murray’s theatrical version of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” runs Nov. 18 through Dec. 19. Broadcasts of the 1946 Frank Capra movie version starring Jimmy Stewart is still a Christmas tradition.  

“This Wonderful Life” will be Williamston’s first live show since Caselli directed “900 Miles to International Falls” in February 2020. John Lepard will reprise his role as George Bailey.

Heather Raffo’s “9 Parts of Desire” runs from Jan. 27 until the end of February.  The one-woman show features Sarab Kamoo detailing the lives of nine Iraqi women during decades of American occupation. The play reveals what it’s like to be a woman in a country overshadowed by war.

“The Cake,” by Bekka Brunstetter, hits the stage in March and April and promises to be a funny and emotional play.  It tells the story of Delta, a religiously conservative woman from North Carolina known for her baking. She is forced to reexamine her marriage beliefs and for once, she must decide on her own. 

Caselli returns to directing for Stephen Kaplan’s “Tracy Jones.” The comedic play about a lonely woman with an outrageous plan has touching and chaotic moments.  The May-June showing of “Tracy Jones” is a world premiere.   

“I’m always particularly fond of our world premieres,” Caselli said.  “It’s exciting to have a hand in bringing to life something that has never existed before to add to the America theater canon.”

The July-August production of “The Hat Box” is another world premiere. John Lepard will direct the Eric Coble comedy about a hidden box that takes two sisters on a crazy and nostalgic ride filled with unexpected twists and turns.

Williamston’s last production to yield revenue was a streamed version of “These Mortal Hosts” in April 2020. “Fortunately, we were able to get some survival grants from the government,” Caselli said. “And our patrons have been generous during the pandemic. We have not been idle the last 18 months. We’ve been strategizing and making careful decisions to ensure a safe reopening.”

New seats have been installed in the theater and the ticket system has been upgraded.  A new website is also about to be launched.  Building renovations are ongoing.

“We recognize that our place in the community is an important one and we’re honored to be charged with providing unique communal storytelling experiences,” Caselli said.

Like most area theater companies, a false start would be devastating to Williamston. 

“Most of us don’t have the resources to survive a second shutdown,” Caselli said.  “All the theaters trying to reopen have to be fluid and flexible as we can in order to survive.”

When asked if Williamston had a “Plan-B” if new restrictions are put in place, he knew what to say.  “We’ve gone through the alphabet about two and a half times with new plans since the pandemic began,” Caselli said.  “I think we’re on Plan Q-3, now.”

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