The passing of Carol Green earlier this month brought to mind the long journey we took together at the Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater and the subsequent birth of the Harbor Stage Company. At WHAT’s first full board meeting in 2000, we decided that our year-to-year leased home on the harbor was too precarious and that we needed a new year-round venue; cost, size, and location TBD. At the conclusion of the meeting, Carol took me aside and told me she’d be starting the ball rolling with a gift of $500,000. Before it was over, she and her brother Larry would donate millions.
Carol believed in WHAT. She supported our mission and vision of producing the most interesting theater we could find at the highest level of professionalism we could muster.
One thing we knew early on was that we would not be abandoning the stage at Wellfleet Harbor when we opened the new Julie Harris Stage on Route 6; the little theater was too much a part of our identity. We also knew that running two venues simultaneously would require the harbor stage to have its own impresario.
So, at least a year before the June 2007 opening of the Julie, I approached one of our favorite directors, Brendan Hughes, to ask if he would like to fill that role. He would, and he did, immediately recruiting Brenda Withers and Jonathan Fielding to join Robert Kropf, Stacy Fischer, Lewis Wheeler, and Amanda Collins to form a kind of company within the company. Over the next five years, we mounted 52 full productions in three venues: the Julie, the Harbor, and the WHAT for Kids tent — an astounding output for a “little theater.”
In 2012, I resigned as WHAT’s artistic director, Brendan moved to Los Angeles to make movies, and a glitch in the harbor building lease left it up for grabs. This provided an opening for the aforementioned six actors to take over the space and create the Harbor Stage Company. From 2012 to 2019, they forged an identity, mission, and aesthetic that were all their own, while, in a fundamental way, continuing the legacy and vision of the original WHAT — as they like to put it, “A theater by the sea that’s right on the edge.” (Amanda and Lewis moved on after the second season; Bob, Brenda, Jonathan, and Stacy are still here.)
Meanwhile, in L.A., Brendan Hughes was making movies. He married cinematographer Emily Topper and together they spawned young Oscar Hughes.
Then came Covid and the shutdown of the entire theater industry, from Broadway to Cape Cod. There would be no 2020 season.
In 2021, however, the Harbor Stage is back with another season, live, on stage, with two full productions: John Kolvenbach’s Stand Up if You’re Here Tonight and Brenda Withers’s Dindin. And in a grand example of circularity, Brendan Hughes (with Emily and Oscar) has returned to the East Coast to make a film version of Dindin. The principal photography was wrapped just a few weeks ago and investors are being pitched to fund post-production. Cannes looms on the horizon.
What’s next? In a post-Covid world, in which we may be increasingly shy about sharing live spaces, and the already precarious existence of live theater — especially live little theater — is rendered even more so, might the Dindin stage-to-screen progression portend the next chapter in this journey? A Harbor Stage and Screen Company? I have a feeling Carol Green would have loved it. Stay tuned.
Jeff Zinn of Orleans was artistic director of the Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater from 1988 to 2011.