Pageant for Providence is a post-pandemic homage to community

This August arts event examines and celebrates the return of sharing spaces

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Pageant for Providence is a big project: There are scores of artists involved, about 60 of them writers. Audiences won’t gather in a dark auditorium, but outside, in the labyrinthine streets of downtown. There are dancers. There are musicians. The total budget is about $40,000, including a $15,000 grant from the New England Foundation for the Arts. So yes, it’s big.

But what is it, exactly?

“It’s part ritual, it’s part performance,” says Taibi Magar, an acclaimed director who is creating Pageant with her husband Tyler Dobrowsky. “It’s more like a space for reflection and catharsis, and asking questions about how to be in space with each other again.”

Pageant is a direct response to the pandemic, with an emphasis on safe social engagement. The event starts as a series of audio tours, each of which leads participants on a unique walking route through town. Unlike a church or beauty pageant, this Pageant finds inspiration in the communal variety shows of the Great Depression. You will find yourself walking through any of five neighborhoods, listening to an auditory quilt of stories, songs, and historical testimony. At last, the audience convenes at the Providence Rink, where a physical performance unfolds.

“We just wanted to make this thing,” says Magar. “Will it last? I don’t know. Are we going to make other things? I don’t know. But when big things happen in society, especially one with so much tragedy, artists want to answer that.”

“We have all gone through something,” adds Dobrowsky. “Let’s just have a moment to reflect on what we’ve gone through, to dream about what the future could hold. It’s very much built for this moment.”

The city means a great deal to Magar and Dobrowsky. The couple first met in Providence, when Dobrowsky served as Associate Artistic Director at Trinity Repertory Company and Magar was pursuing her MFA at Brown University. Since completing her studies in 2014, Magar has directed a range of heavy-hitting plays, including Is God Is for Soho Rep in New York, which won Magar a coveted Obie Award for directing. For Trinity, she also directed the ultra-hit world premiere, The Prince of Providence.

When the pandemic struck, theaters shuttered across the country, and millions of performing artists faced indefinite unemployment, including Magar and Dobrowsky. But COVID also brought an end of the itinerant freelance lifestyle that often kept them apart. Pageant is a chance for the pair to collaborate, not only with each other, but with a range of local arts organizations and myriad Rhode Island-based creatives. Among other fortuitous connections, Pageant is part of this year’s
barebones PVDFest.

“It’s been a devastating year,” says Magar. “Our industry almost entirely collapsed. But out of this wreckage, we started doing work together, which has been pretty incredible.”

Pageant for Providence will take place August 12-14 find updates at
PageantforProvidence.com

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