The thing that reassures Sallie Tighe the most about “The 24 Hour Plays” — the annual Presidents Day tradition at the Provincetown Theater — is that she doesn’t have to memorize her lines. That’s because the actors have their scripts in hand.
It works this way: each one of a group of playwrights writes a 10-minute play on Friday night (into the wee hours) for actors chosen at random (names in a bag), who rehearse with directors on Saturday, during the day, and perform Saturday night — a 24-hour process. Tighe has participated every year for most of the 11 years it’s been done.
Memorizing is intimidating for Tighe, who turns 75 this year. “I can’t even memorize my favorite Elvis tune,” she says. One year, she forgot to bring her script onstage. Her mind went blank, and she thought she’d have to ad-lib the whole thing. Then, someone handed her a script.
Acting is a relatively new passion for Tighe. She’s lived here for nearly 50 years but has been acting only for the last 13.
“Someone heard me speak and approached me,” she says. “They said, ‘Are you an actor?’ I was cast in Doubt, at the Provincetown Theater.” It opened in January 2008. Tighe played the mother of a young boy who may or may not have been abused by a Catholic priest. It’s the role that nabbed Viola Davis an Oscar in the movie adaptation.
Tighe had never taken on a stage role before and was to perform in Doubt opposite Equity actors. But there’s a warmth, excitement, and theatricality to her manner that makes her casting seem like an awfully good hunch.
“That was my first, and you think I got bitten? Oh, yeah,” Tighe says with a smile.
In the years since, she’s been quite active. In Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple: Female Version, she played Florence (Felix Unger as a woman). She played a serial killer in Arsenic and Old Lace. In David Drake’s production of The Divine Sister, a drag romp by Charles Busch starring Ryan Landry, she played Mrs. Levinson. “I play a lot of Jewish women,” Tighe says.
Well, not exactly. In Susan Grilli’s production of A Raisin in the Sun, Tighe played a Black matron. In Jean Genet’s The Maids, she played the wealthy Madame, with Jody O’Neil and Joe MacDougall as her titular servants. And in Drake’s largely drag production of The Importance of Being Earnest, Tighe was the Rev. Chasuble.
She grew up in the Bronx, N.Y., spending seven years in a foster home. After graduating from Evander Childs High School in 1964, she got a job as an administrative clerk in Brooklyn and had two daughters. “My husband was a batterer,” she says. “Then I met this prince, this guy who said, ‘I’m going to take you away.’ He brought me here with my two daughters.”
Tighe arrived in Provincetown in 1973, awestruck by the beauty of the place. “We were blown away,” Tighe says. “ ‘This is where we’re going to live?’ my girls said. I was fortunate to get a job in the school system — administrative assistant to the director of special education. It was a fabulous place to bring up children. It was a lively time, and I was just sucking it up. I met a lot of wonderful people being in this town. Some have died, but most are still in my life.”
Tighe’s brother, who was an intravenous drug user, got AIDS at the height of the epidemic and came to Provincetown to die. “He was at Foley House,” she says. “I’m so grateful for that.”
Her relationship with the “prince” who brought her here ended, and she eventually married Peter Tighe, with whom she shares a cozy home in Truro. “He’s a masseur, a musician, and a marvelous carpenter,” Sallie says. “He’s the one. His livelihood is making people feel better.”
She went back to school to get a degree, at Lesley College. “I thought, who is Sallie Tighe, a Black woman coming of age in this sea of whiteness?” she says. “And I started to write.”
Her poetry has become important to her, just like her acting gigs. And that brings her back to “The 24 Hour Plays.”
This year the plays will be performed via Zoom. The playwrights include Ira Brodsky, Racine Oxtoby, Candace Perry, Laura Shabott, and Bragan Thomas. The directors will be Nathan Butera, David Drake, and Frank Vasello. And the performers, along with Tighe, will be John Dennis Anderson, Mark Enright, Marci Feller, Sylia Francis, Paul E. Halley, Dian Hamilton, Alison Hyder, Tamora Israel, Mary Chris Kenney, Sandra Paredes, Sylvia Peck, Julia Salinger, Tia Scalcione, and David Wallace.
“It’s been such phenomenal work,” Tighe says. “And, of course, us actors go out there and bring it to life.”
Long Day’s Journey Into Theater
The event: “The 24 Hour Plays”: a program of 10-minute plays written, rehearsed, and performed on Zoom within 24 hours
The time: Saturday, Feb. 13, 7 p.m.; encore, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2 p.m.
The place: Go to provincetowntheater.org for link
The cost: Free; suggested donation, $20