M.J. Bruder Munafo, artistic director of the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse, has a catchphrase she likes to use, “The Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse — where the off season is the on season.”
“We’re dedicated to our community and our town,” she says. “We offer all these things in the winter because we’re here all year. We’re a year-round institution.”
The things she is referring to are a number of ongoing series that run from October to May, when the Playhouse once again turns its focus and its resources to its summer season.
Winter programming includes regular evenings devoted variously to poetry, film, music, and theater. The Playhouse also spotlights visual artists and offers programs for kids, as well as a very special initiative for persons with disabilities.
The weekly Monday Night at the Movies series provides Islanders with screenings of classic films shown on a large screen with surround-sound technology and comfortable stadium seating. The series kicked off 2018 with “Noir in November.” The month of December will be dedicated to holiday films. Each subsequent month will feature a theme. The films are curated by Munafo and film expert Jamie Alley.
For the fifth year in a row, Arnie Reisman, Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse board president and writer, poet, playwright, and radio personality has hosted the popular Poetry Cafe. Each month Reisman invites a handful of local poets to share their work in the Playhouse lobby, which is set up cafe style. November’s lineup includes playwright, poet, and teacher Jill Jupen, WCAI Poetry Sunday participant Clark Myers, published poet Donald Nitchie, and former West Tisbury poet laureate Fan Ogilvie, a member of the board of the Poetry Society of America and founder of the Folger Shakespeare Library poetry board and reading program in Washington, D.C. Ogilvie has published two books that also include her artwork and prose writing.
The series Wicked Good Musical Revue, which runs from January through April, was launched by singer, composer, and musician Molly Conole. Approximately once a month, Conole leads a group of seasoned singers in musical revues featuring a selection of songs from Broadway and elsewhere focused on a common theme. Past and present participants include former opera singers, classically trained vocalists, and musical theater professionals. Conole herself enjoyed a lifetime career as a musical theater performer.
The newest addition to the Playhouse’s regular off-season roster is Jenny’s Drama Salon, which was launched last October. The monthly event is hosted by playwright, actress, and humor writer Jenny Allen. The ongoing series features dramatic readings, special guests, theater-themed games and more. Last year’s salon evenings included short plays by Edgar Allan Poe in October, famous scenes from dysfunctional family dinners (in honor of Thanksgiving), Shakespeare Charades, theater trivia and other fun themes. The series kicked off in November this year with an evening celebrating renowned playwright, director, and screenwriter Garson Kanin, a former Vineyard summer resident. Actors read a scene from his classic play “Born Yesterday.” and special guest Diana Muldaur Dozier, who worked with Kanin, spoke about her experiences in theater and film.
Other off-season offerings which have not been scheduled as of this writing, include alcohol-free evenings with singer/songwriters from both on and off-Island, a series called Fish Tales featuring local fishermen and women recounting memorable outings, and the continuation of the popular Shakespeare for the Masses series.
Last winter, Munafo launched a kids after-school theater program called Winter Stars. Children in grades four through nine participate in activities that explore all things theater including games, movement exercises, scene study and more, with special focus on developing performance skills and creating original work. The winter session will begin in January.
In May, the Playhouse will most likely continue a series that was launched last year featuring solo shows by both local and national playwrights.
One of Munafo’s favorite projects is something called Virginia’s Drama Club, which serves the Island population of adults with disabilities. The club meets once a week and offers opportunities for people who may have never tried theater-related activities before. The program is free and open to all adults with different abilities.
Ever since the Playhouse re-opened in 2014 after an extensive renovation project, Munafo has featured the work of a different artist every month in the theater’s Marilyn Meyerhoff lobby. “Many of the artists are exhibiting for the first time or having their first solo show,” she says. “Then we have some established artists. A lot of them say that they love the way the work is hung here.”
Tickets for off season events are priced to accommodate all budgets. Admission to the Poetry Cafe and Jenny’s Drama Salon is $10 and includes homemade treats and coffee or tea. The Monday Night Movies are just $5.
“We’ve continued for 36 years to be a viable arts resource for the community,” says Playhouse board president Arnie Reisman. “We try to keep the cost down for different events, and in the summer we have all sorts of discounts and free admission for military and other groups.
“In the wintertime we try to serve the community in ways that are innovative and profound,” says Gerry Yukevich, former board president and continuing board member.
Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse has been recognized nationally with press in the Boston Globe, the New York Times and other media sources, and has been the recipient of grants from a number of foundations for the arts.
“The Playhouse has been a powerhouse since I moved here 24 years ago and it’s just getting better and stronger and having more visibility,” says Yukevich. “We pride ourselves in bringing new works to the public and supporting both established and emerging playwrights through our Monday Night Special series. We have a great track record and we’re proud of it.”
In November, the Tisbury board of assessors announced its decision to revoke the Playhouse’s property tax exemptions. The decision could cost the nonprofit close to $8,000 per year in taxes. The news will not affect the off-season schedule, according to Munafo.