Mount Auburn Cemetery is the final resting place to such historic writers as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Bernard Malamud and Roberto Creeley. And now, Mount Auburn is home to the first-ever Playwright Artist in Residence, Patrick Gabridge. The award-winning playwright’s two-year residency, which started in January 2018, is well under way as a series of site-specific plays inspired by the Cemetery’s stunning landscape and 187-year history are coming to life. Gabridge’s Mount Auburn Plays will include two sets of one-acts called The Nature Plays and The America Plays, set to premiere on June 1-2 and September 8-9, 2019.
Over the past eight months Patrick could be seen among Mount Auburn’s historic headstones, landscaped gardens, ponds, and outdoor statuary, setting the locations and themes of the Mount Auburn Plays. We were thrilled to get a sneak-peek of his works this month during several staged public readings. (more…)
PATRICK GABRIDGE, Playwright
Mount Auburn Artist-in-Residence, 2018-2019
Theater has the ability to engage visitors, bring history to life, and stimulate audience conversations, all of which we are thrilled to bring to our historic landscape. Mount Auburn provides a rich palette for a playwright, with more than 100,000 individuals interred who represent a local and national community embracing many faiths, races, and ethnicities. Our notable residents include great cultural and intellectual leaders of the last two centuries, including Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Mary Baker Eddy, Julia Ward Howe, Edmonia Lewis, Nathaniel Bowditch, Margaret Fuller Ossoli, Isabella Stewart Gardner, Harriot Kezia Hunt, Oliver Wendell Holmes, R. Buckminster Fuller, and B.F. Skinner. Many thousands of lesser-known residents offer appealing life stories as well, from Longfellow’s blacksmith Dexter Pratt to the many Armenian civilian refugees from the Ottoman genocide who settled in Watertown. Mount Auburn’s unique natural environment and urban wildlife habitat provide another palette for examination.
Playwright Patrick Gabridge is well-matched to Mount Auburn’s residency as the author of numerous plays that have been produced around the world, with a focus on site-specific and historical plays. His site-specific play Blood on the Snow, directed by Courtney O’Connor, played for two sold-out, extended runs at Boston’s Old State House in 2016 and 2017. A longtime Boston-area resident, he has worked with over forty New England theater companies to present his plays. Gabridge was awarded the prestigious Brother Thomas Fellowship from the Boston Foundation in 2017. His commitment to the local theater community is evident in his work on the board of the Theatre Community Benevolent Fund and his creation of the New England New Play Alliance, a StageSource initiative focused on promoting and expanding the creation of new plays in New England. He is also the Dramatists’ Guild Regional Representative for New England.
Here at Mount Auburn, Gabridge’s goals for his residency are to gain a deep understanding of our National Historic Landmark site and to write a series of site-specific plays that will be staged throughout our spectacular landscape. He intends to create work that reflects the spirit of the place and the people who are buried within, as well as those who visit and work on the grounds. Gabridge began his residency in the winter of 2018 with extensive research and moved on to writing as he collected stories and inspiration. In September and October 2018, the public will have the chance to attend two readings of the short plays that will have been rehearsed and workshopped in various locations on Mount Auburn’s grounds. The readings and associated talk-back sessions will help Gabridge further develop the plays for full production in 2019. These sessions will be crucial for engaging our many visitors in Gabridge’s work throughout his residency, and we look forward to having the opportunity to bring his work to a wider audience.
Mount Auburn Cemetery’s (2018 – 2019) artist-in-residence is playwright and author Patrick Gabridge. Gabridge is the author of numerous produced plays, including Drift, Mox Nox, Lab Rats, Blood on the Snow, Fire on Earth, Constant State of Panic, Reading the Mind of God, and Blinders. He is the author of three novels: Steering to Freedom, Moving (a life in boxes), and Tornado Siren. Mr. Gabridge is a recipient of the following awards: 2017 Brother Thomas Fellowship by the Boston Foundation, playwriting fellowships from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the Colorado Arts Innovation Award, a Playwriting Fellowship from the Colorado Council on the Arts, first place in the 2017 InspiraTO Festival, the Vittum Awards, Actors Theatre of Newburyport New Works Festival, the Festival of Emerging American Theatre (Phoenix Theatre), the New American Theatre Festival, the UMBC In10 Competition, SlamBoston, and the Market House Theatre One-Act Play Award. His radio plays have been broadcast on NPR and other stations across the U.S. He co-founded the Chameleon Stage theatre company in Denver, the Rhombus playwrights’ group in Boston, the online Playwright Marketing Binge, as well as the publication, Market InSight… for Playwrights. He is the New England Regional Rep for the Dramatists Guild and helps run the New England Play Alliance. He is the producing artistic director for Plays in Place, a theatre company specializing in creating site-specific work in partnership with cultural institutions and historic sites. Mr. Gabridge lives in Medford with his wife and kids. In his spare time, he likes to farm and fix up old houses.
Courtney O’Connor will serve as the director for Patrick Gabridge’s plays created and produced during the residency. She recently directed Patrick’s critically acclaimed site-specific play, Blood on the Snow, at the Old State House in Boston, where it played for sold out crowds. O’Connor is a senior affiliated performing arts faculty member at Emerson College. She has directed with numerous theatres in the Boston area, including Lyric Stage Company of Boston, The Nora Theatre, AIM Stage, Coyote Theatre, Emerson Stage, UMass Boston, Suffolk University, Brandeis University, and Commonwealth Shakespeare Company (intern company). She previously was the Director of Education and Outreach for Commonwealth Shakespeare Company, Artistic Director of Coyote Theatre, and Program Director of the Emerson Summer Stage for High School Students. Courtney is a recipient of the Elliot Norton award for Outstanding Direction for her work as the Associate Director on the Lyric Stage’s production of The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby and the Alan L. Stanzler Award for Excellence in Teaching. Through her work with the Coyote Theatre Project, she oversaw the creation of more than 200 new 10-minute plays written by at-risk youth from Boston. She recently directed an outdoor, site-specific, community-based production of Our Town in the Berkshires . Courtney is also the general manager of Abella Publishing Services.
The Mount Auburn Plays by Patrick Gabridge
We need your help! While the residency itself carries a stipend, the Friends of Mount Auburn is seeking funds to support presenting Gabridge’s completed works in production to the public, a crucial part of engaging visitors in his work. Funding in 2018 will support the costs of staging public readings of early versions of Gabridge’s plays, including casting, actors, director, and backstage work.
This article was written by Artist in Residence, Patrick Gabridge.
When I tell people I’m the artist-in-residence at Mount Auburn Cemetery, they are often shocked that such a thing exists and also very curious about what, as a playwright, I intend to do at a cemetery. Most folks assume I’ll be writing about the various people buried here. Which I will. But even from the very start of my residency this winter, I knew I wanted to write about the diverse and unique natural environment of Mount Auburn.
Since I started in January, I’ve been walking the grounds, toting binoculars with birders at dawn, looking for nighthawks at sunset on the tower, shining flashlights in Consecration Dell looking for spotted salamanders, and trying not to step on tiny toadlets by Halcyon Lake. And, more crucially for a playwright, I’ve been listening to the people who are deeply invested in protecting and improving the flora and fauna that make Mount Auburn such a special place.
The challenge for a writer tasked with creating plays about Mount Auburn is the embarrassment of riches when it comes to potential stories. A hundred thousand tales are wrapped around the people interred here, and they are surrounded by hundreds of species of birds and trees, and thousands upon thousands of plants, all of them tended by dedicated stewards.
In the end, I chose to create two series of short plays–one mostly about historical figures buried here and their role and relationship to the formation of American identity, and another set of nature plays. Some are already written and will be read on the grounds in September—like a short play called Hot Love in the Moonlight is about the mating habits of spotted salamanders. There will be a play about birds and birders (Cerulean Blue), and another about Asa Gray and Louis Agassiz. I’m still exploring play ideas around some of the secret mushroom spots that may or may not exist, and there will almost certainly be a play inspired by conversations with the grounds crew members who help Mount Auburn remain the gem that it is.
Beyond writing and research, the next step begins with reading and playing with the text with actors and audiences. This September, you will see me and Courtney O’Connor, my director, gathered with clumps of actors at Consecration Dell and near Auburn Lake, and other spots, with scripts in our hands, reading dialogue aloud. We’ll see if the structure and content of the work makes sense, if it has power, but also how it works in three-dimensions. How does it feel to have our voices and bodies in action on the actual grounds? It’s one thing for me to imagine how it all feels and sounds when I’m typing away in my office, but it’s entirely different when we have actors do it while standing on the edge of a pond.
At the public readings in September, we’ll start exploring what the plays feel like with an audience. (Plays are nothing without an audience.) When staging site-specific work there are additional concerns we don’t have in a traditional theatre, where the environment is controlled and well understood. We have to ask questions about where does the audience sit or stand, is there noise (traffic, neighbors) that will impact that site? How do the plants and topography affect where we can stand, how much sound reaches the audience, the visual palette? Entrances and exits are never simple when performing outdoors. How does the audience know when the show is over? And, in a cemetery, where do we perform such that we are respectful of the people who are buried here. How do we perform plays about nature, in nature, in ways that don’t harm the environment we’re talking about?
Having to answer all these questions, as we explore people and ideas in the text, is part of the challenge and fun of doing site-specific work. The other thing I truly love about this kind of theatre is that the barrier between the performers and audience is much more fluid and informal than in work created in a traditional spaces. The enormity and concreteness of the natural world around the very small play we’re creating helps unite the audience and performers.
In June of next year, we will fully stage the Nature Plays on the grounds, in a production that we hope will engage and delight audiences in all kinds of interesting ways. In the meantime, my team and I will be researching, writing, and playing, as we explore ways to illuminate the important natural elements of Mount Auburn Cemetery.
We are excited to introduce Mount Auburn’s new Artist-in-Residence, award-winning playwright and author Patrick Gabridge. His past work includes the plays Drift, Mox Nox, Lab Rats, Blood on the Snow, Fire on Earth, Constant State of Panic, Pieces of Whitey, Reading the Mind of God, and Blinders, as well as the novels Steering to Freedom, Moving (a life in boxes), and Tornado Siren. Stay tuned for more information and special programs featuring his work in the coming two years!