Arts & Culture

Portsmouth Community Theater, Historical Society win 5 awards

PORTSMOUTH, R.I. — Portsmouth took away five trophies at the 2018 Rhode Island Motif Theater Awards held at the McVinney Auditorium in Providence on Aug. 12.

The original play “Murder at the Coal Mines” achieved two awards. Playwright Gloria Schmidt was awarded the “Best New Work, Community Theater,” and the Portsmouth Community Theater and the Portsmouth Historical Society were awarded the “Most Exciting Creative Collaboration” award for the production recently performed at the Common Fence Point Community Center.

Other awards that the Portsmouth Community Theater received were, Danny Rodrigues for “Set Design, Community Theater” and John Brennan for “Best Supporting Actor, Community Theater” for “You Can’t Take it With You,” while Cindy Killavey took away the award for “Best Director, Community Theater” for her direction of “Love, Loss and What I Wore.”

The Rhode Island Theater Awards are presented annually by Motif Magazine.

Motif Magazine is dedicated to the arts and entertainment in Rhode Island and surrounding areas, and to bringing readers alternative local news about subjects of all kinds. They sponsor an awards ceremony in different categories – such as music, theater, etc.. In the case of the theater award, theater companies submit their nominations in the various categories.

Motif then selects finalists for a ballot. The ballot is a “people’s choice” award as the winners are based on public voting online.

The Portsmouth Community Theater began in 1996. Rebecca Vickers, Priscilla Wimpress and Cindy Killavey, the “founding mothers” hoped to emulate the very successful Jamestown Community Theater by offering adults and children the opportunity to experience live theater in their own community.

With their background in theater management, performance and children who were interested in the art, they called a meeting at the Portsmouth Free Public Library.

More than 20 people turned out with enough skills to put on a show right then. Encouraged by this support, they moved forward to start the theater. In the Community Theater’s early years, with no performance space of their own, they performed at the Portsmouth’s Common Fence Point Community Hall and St. Mary’s Episcopal Church.

The Community Theater now uses Portsmouth’s old Coggleshall School building. Since 1996, they have produced numerous plays, reviews, dinner theater performances and musicals giving hundreds of adults and children the opportunity to “put on a show.”

Murder at the Coal Mines

The play “Murder at the Coal Mines” was initially a research project of Portsmouth Historical Society Curator Committee members Marge Webster and Gloria Schmidt. They were searching newspaper databases for “Untimely Deaths” in Portsmouth and they came across an article in The Newport Daily News about the “Casey” murder/suicide in 1875.

They became fascinated with the story as they dug deeper, requesting trial exhibits and searching death registries. Marge and Gloria were looking for a way to present the information. Gloria had worked on the script for “Ghostly Witness” about the Portsmouth Cornell murder trial, and it seemed that a courtroom drama would be the way to go.

The board of the Portsmouth Community Theater encouraged them to work up a script based on the testimony recorded by journalists of the day. The actors portrayed actual figures in the trial and their lines in the play were their testimony.

This play was a true collaboration with a mix of what was historically true and what would add to the drama for the audience. This was a difficult story to present on stage because the Community Theater is a small community theater group.

Cindy brought together a cast and even found a wonderful 12 year old girl to portray a major witness. On May 25th, 2018 the Community Theater, in cooperation with the Portsmouth Historical Society, performed the play to a great crowd of about 125 at the Common Fence Point Community Center.

More information is about the Portsmouth Community Theater is available at

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