Island Theatre Workshop (ITW) was founded in 1968 by Mary Payne as a summer workshop for children. She called the program Children’s Theatre. The overall program quickly expanded to include Island teenagers in the winter .Two of the first productions were Antigone and The Barretts of Wimpole Street. Nancy Luedeman, Mary Payne’s cousin and a Board member, was a constant from the beginning until her death some forty plus years later. For many years Nancy described herself as “the oldest living member of Children’s Theatre.
Now entering its 51st year, Children’s Theatre creates exceptional theatre and musical theatre classes offering a professionally trained Program Director and staff of college theatre students. Our talented staff write, compose and perform original musical works. Many of our staff alumni have gone on to professional careers in live theatre, film and the entertainment industry. This very special theatre program for young people, for both year round and seasonal residents and visitors, includes acting, singing, dance, theatre games, improvisation and beach days.
For the first six years, Mary was the sole director of all ITW productions and programs. Since the beginning, ITW has always been, and continues to be, a “vagabond” theatre organization without a home of its own Grace Church always welcomed it warmly, until Children’s Theatre grew too big for the space and needed to move. Both adult shows and children’s plays have performed on every possible playing space on the Island. In the very early years, a musical that Mary had written traveled with its entire cast up to Boston to be filmed for television. Other off-Island performances have been The Crucible in Falmouth, One More River (an original play about Harriet Tubman by Lee Fierro) which traveled to Boston and Newark, and more recently Gilbert and Sullivan’s Trial By Jury which was performed on the Cape. In the mid-seventies Mary wrote and produced her Passion play And He Shall Reign. The play, along with its prequel Who is this King of Glory? was revived in 1976 by the Island Clergy Association in conjunction with Island Theatre Workshop, Inc. which had by this time incorporated as a non-profit organization.
In 1974 actress, writer, and director Lee Fierro joined the organization. Almost immediately, Mary and Lee became a production team. Regarding Children’s Theatre, Mary wrote stories and lyrics while Lee composed the music. Mary directed and Lee acted and/or stage managed. Lee soon was appointed as Associate Artistic Director. Former Children’s Theatre student Seth Baumrin, founded the “Size Moon Theatre” which became the start of a new branch of ITW—The New Director’s Studio— in which new directors could try their skill under supervision. Several teenagers expressed a longing to have a winter program like Children’s Theatre, so Lee founded The Apprentice Players in 1978 which has run almost non-stop for over thirty years. The Island community as a whole cried out for more theatre, theatre which would include adults. ITW’s Family Classic Theatre was born. Lee began to direct adult plays and musicals, which soon became an Island summer tradition. Interest in directing rose and ITW created The New Director’s Studio, a program in which new or young directors could hone their skills under the mentorship of an experienced director.
In 1987 Kaf Warman joined the team. Soon after, Mary would expand the Artistic Staff and appoint Kaf Warman as an Associate Artistic Director. Kaf directed 4-6 shows each year, until joining the Acting faculty at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University in 1996. As well as directing, Kaf offered classes in movement and Neutral Mask. During the eighties and early nineties there was always something in rehearsal or performance. ITW was presenting multiple productions and programs throughout the year, while continuing to build and encourage new actors and directors. With a supportive volunteer Board of Directors and a very generous Vineyard community, productions as well as the ITW family grew.
In 1990 Kevin Ryan joined the ITW family in his first production under the direction of Lee Fierro. As the years have gone by he has participated in virtually every aspect of the ITW production company: actor, singer, writer, set designer, and costumer. Kevin joined the ITW Board of Directors in 1998. A participant of the New Directors Studio, and under the tutelage of mentor Lee Fierro, he gradually moved into directing.
In 1992, Island resident Stephanie Burke arrived on the ITW scene. With a lifelong love of theatre and music, Stephanie stepped into performance roles and immediately became a strong supporter of all things ITW. She joined the Board of Directors in 1996, remained constant throughout the years and recently has started directing.
In October of 1996 and after a brief illness, formidable Artistic Director Mary Payne passed away.The then Board of Directors of Island Theatre Workshop elected Lee Fierro as the company’s Artistic Director. Kaf Warman remained the Associate Artistic Director and would return to the Island during summer months to continue direction shows. Kaf’s connection with Carnegie Melon University had created an opportunity for Carnegie Mellon Theatre Students to visit the Island in summer months and teach at Children’s Theatre. CMU staffers were and are always welcome to join the casts of other Island Theatre Workshop Productions. Throughout ITW’s history, a supportive Board of Directors has helped to guide and strengthen the organization. Past Presidents had included Dr Russel Hoxie, Don Lyons, Myra Romaine, Sarah Stelk, and in the mid-nineties, both Stephanie Burke and Kevin Ryan were elected as President and Vice-President respectively and remained as such for the next fifteen plus years.
In 2003, Lee Fierro handed over the reins of Children’s Theatre to actress, composer, writer, and long-time ITW friend Linda Berg. Linda would continue her longstanding relationship with CT for four more years, writing plays and music while teaching and guiding both the staff and children.
After more than thirty years of Children’s Theatre and Artistic leadership, Lee Fierro retired as the Artistic Director in 2009. The ITW Board of Directors appointed Kaf Warman as its Artistic Director. Today, Lee Fierro remains active both on our Board of Directors and in productions as a Director, Actor, and as the company Artistic Advisor. Upon Kaf’s appointment as Artistic Director in 2009 and in an effort to support her work at CMU, Kevin Ryan stepped into the role of Artistic Liason. As a year round resident Kevin was able to support Kaf’s wishes and visions in her winter absence, while continuing to act and direct.
In 2010 The Preservation Trust graciously approved the use of 12 Music Street West Tisbury, a wonderful historic building, for Island Theatre Workshop. It is now the central hub for our
operations housing our costumes and providing meeting, rehearsal and classroom space for programs year round. We are very appreciative to have a home.
A long time wish of then President Stephanie Burke, Vice President Kevin Ryan, and many board members had been to move the ITW’s Summer Family Classic Theatre productions into the Performing Arts Center (PAC) on the campus of the MV Regional High School. In 2013, with the support and encouragement of Charlie Esposito, PAC manager, Island Theatre Workshop’s production of The Wizard of OZ took center stage at the Performing Arts Center, playing to thousands and launching an ongoing summer series including Peter Pan complete with flying, The King and I and coming up this 2016 season, Beauty and The Beast.
In the spring of 2015 after six years as Artistic Director, and while still maintaining full time teaching status at CMU in Pittsburgh, Kaf Warman made the decision to retire as Artistic Director.The Board of Directors, with the blessings of Artistic Advisor Lee Fierro, voted to appoint Kevin Ryan as the company’s newest Artistic Director.
After forty-eight years, here we are, still acting, singing, and dancing our way across Island stages. As your community theater company, we sincerely thank you for visiting our website, and for your past, present, and future support of not only Island Theatre Workshop and its programs, but of live theater everywhere.
President and Artistic Director
Island Theatre Workshop
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