Summer theater finds new home with RISE, just 'Left of Center Stage'

Summer theater finds new home with RISE, just 'Left of Center Stage'

Jason Robert LeClair, center, of North Providence, executive director of the Left of Center Stage Players and director of their production of "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead" holds a cast meeting one hour before the start the show's last performance. The last performance was on Sunday at Theaterworks in Woonsocket. (Valley Breeze photosby Bill Murphy)

WOONSOCKET - First, there were "Beacon Summer Knights," a summer youth theater program funded and owned by Beacon Charter High School for the Arts.

Then, there was "Shakespeare on the Mount," a program focused on student performances of classic theater by the famed English playwright, and held in conjunction with the Mount St. Charles Academy Fine Arts Summer Camp.

Now, theater teacher Jason Robert LeClair brings us "The Left of Center Stage Players," a new division of Rhode Island Stage Ensemble, for 13- to 21-year-olds.

It's a new name, home and mission for the youth summer theater community LeClair has operated in Woonsocket for the past five years.

"It was one of those things where you don't necessarily plan it. It just happens," said LeClair of the new group, which held its first performance last weekend.

Parent organization RISE, a nonprofit, non-professional theater production company, was first formed in Providence in 2006. RISE moved to northern Rhode Island after just four seasons, and has since made a name for itself with a wide range of performances at both the Assembly Theater in Harrisville and Stadium Theatre in Woonsocket.

Leclair is a volunteer board member for RISE and also serves as the organization's director of education. As such, he's been tasked with creating summer theater opportunities for local kids.

A full-time teacher at Beacon since 2007, LeClair - this year's Teacher of the Year at the charter arts high school - initially looked to collaborate with his employer. Beacon fully funded and owned the "Summer Knights" program for two seasons, but it went bankrupt in 2011.

In 2012, LeClair moved the program to his high school alma mater, Mount St. Charles Academy. But after two years and two successful performances, school officials told the director/teacher they would not be able to provide space for a third season.

"Now, it's finally found a permanent home," LeClair said.

The move also has broadened horizons for LeClair's tribe of young actors.

"We can expand past Shakepeare and do performances that are not necessarily classical theater," LeClair said.

Last weekend, the troupe took on "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead," Tom Stoppard's absurdist comedic spoof on Shakespeare's "Hamlet." Two veterans of LeClair's programs, Matthew Newton of Lincoln and Evan Crocker of Uxbridge, Mass., took on the lead roles in three days of shows at Theatre Works in Woonsocket.

It will be the new theater company's only production for 2014, but LeClair aims for some major expansion for the Left of Center Stage Players by next summer. As a 501c3 nonprofit, the program will now be able to apply for grant money and court sponsorships, and the new affiliation has allowed him to bring back alumni as paid staff.

"It's no longer a one-man show," he said.

The program accepts all levels of theatrical experience and is expected to put on several shows during the 2015 season.

"We have much larger plans for what we can accomplish," LeClair said. "It's time to expand and to make this program flourish and become everything it was meant to be."

To learn more about the organization, visit http://www.leftofcenterstageplayers.com/ .

Matt Newton plays "Rosencrantz" and Evan Crocker plays "Guildenstern" in "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead" at Theatre Works in Woonsocket. (Valley Breeze photos by Bill Murphy)
Bailey Duarte, 17, from Cumberland, looks for his wardrobe before the start of the Left of Center Stage Players production of "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead."
Genesis Johnson, 16, above, of North Smithfield, left, applies her make-up as Brynne Clark, 15, of Lincoln, right, holds the mirror as the pair get ready for the Left of Center Stage Players production of "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead." The production was held at Theatre Works in Woonsocket last Sunday.