Big Works in Tiny Spaces

By Katherine Duke ’05

In Boston, an unusual repertory theater does everything from cabaret to Julius Caesar.

[Theater] Not many theater companies would stage a Harold Pinter play from the 1960s, a cabaret-style musical, a contemporary one-woman show and Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, among others, all in the same building, all within their first three years. But Boston’s Bridge Repertory Theater aims for variety. The only unifying characteristic, says founder and producing artistic director Olivia D’Ambrosio ’06E, is that every production unfolds in “an intimate space.”

Every Bridge Rep show has taken place in one of two small rooms in the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, with an audience of no more than 70 people. “We use our little spaces in intriguing ways,” says D’Ambrosio. During the musical—Michael John LaChiusa’s Hello Again, staged in March 2014—“singers moved in and out from around the tables” where the audience sat.

Cast of "The Libertine" on stage

From the Bridge Rep production of The Libertine, which The Boston Globe called “must-see debauchery,”

Olivia D’Ambrosio ’06E
In February 2015 the company put on both Dan LeFranc’s Sixty Miles to Silver Lake and Obehi Janice’s FUFU & OREOS, using an “interlocking set system where it would be easy to put one set in, sort of over and around the other set, so they could both cohabitate in this little space,” she says. “You could see one show at 2 o’clock, and come back at 8 o’clock and it was a different show.”

D’Ambrosio (right) played lacrosse and majored in theater and dance at Amherst, then earned an MFA in acting at Brown. She launched Bridge Rep with five friends in 2012; its official headquarters is her home in Jamaica Plain, Mass. “Being just an actor is a very discrete, individual cog in the machine of a piece of theater,” she says. “I wanted to have a community and lead, and use up more of my energy and skill set—kind of like being on a team again.” Nine young adults make up the core artistic “team” of the nonprofit, but they’ve collaborated with other theater companies and guest artists.

With a mission to “connect actors to audiences, artists to artists and the theater to our city,” Bridge Rep has been featured on local TV and radio. Its 2013 production of Stephen Jeffreys’ The Libertine was reviewed as “must-see debauchery” in The Boston Globe and earned an Elliot Norton Award nomination for “Outstanding Production by a Fringe Theater.” The company as a whole has racked up 13 award nominations in two years from the Independent Reviewers of New England.

D’Ambrosio also teaches acting at MIT and takes classes in business management. “There’s this big stereotype that artists can’t learn how to do anything practical, and that’s just not true,” she says. She wants to roll out “what I hope will be a revolutionary new way to get people to give and go to the theater”: a subscription plan whereby a monthly “gesture of support” of as little as $5 will buy a ticket to every Bridge Rep show. And she’d like the company to venture into new performance spaces, beyond the tiny rooms of Calderwood Pavilion.

Katherine Duke ’05 is the assistant editor of Amherst magazine.

Photos: Marc J. Franklin