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Longtime Theater Professor Clement ready to premier his first written play at CCRI

TC1November 14, 2022 

The reader has finally stepped out from behind the curtain to try his hand at writing.

More than two years since he first sat and began putting his thoughts into words, longtime Community College of Rhode Island Theater Professor and director Ted Clement is ready to present his sabbatical project, The Choice, an original play written by Clement and inspired by his life experiences growing up in a single-parent home in Woonsocket, RI. (See photo gallery.)

The Choice premiers Thursday at 3 pm at the Warwick campus’ Bobby Hackett Theatre with additional performances at 7 pm on Friday, November 18 and Saturday, November 19 before concluding with a second 3 pm matinee on Sunday, November 20. Admission is free, but donations are being collected by the CCRI Players at the door to support The Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

A multi-talented director, actor, and mentor, Clement has worked in myriad capacities throughout his career, but until now had never actually written his own play.

“I’ve always said to my students, ‘I’m a reader, not a writer,’” Clement said.

That changed in the summer of 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down events worldwide, from sports and concerts to parades and live theater. Feeling “blocked in” with no outlet to express his creativity, Clement spoke with longtime colleague and fellow director David Valentin, a CCRI alumnus, who suggested he write his own play.

Hesitant at first, Clement started small, writing one scene at a time, all based loosely on memories from his childhood in the Woonsocket neighborhood of Fairmount in the mid to late 1980s. Soon, Clement’s initial scene turned into a 20-minute play, at which point Clement gathered a group of colleagues via Zoom for an impromptu reading to solicit additional advice and suggestions.

“We had a great conversation with a bunch of great actors,” Clement said. “This is the the nature of the process of writing a play. It’s a collaborative thing right from the very beginning.”

Once in-person classes resumed at CCRI in the fall of 2021, Clement’s project took a backseat, so – with encouragement from his wife and CCRI English professor Dr. Christine Fox – he applied for a sabbatical before the start of the current fall semester. With the time to focus exclusively on his play, Clement wrote additional drafts, shared them with colleagues, then hosted his first free public staged reading at the Liston Campus in September, which inspired additional rewrites. Eventually, he tapped Valentin, a former student and the original inspiration behind this experiment, as his director and worked alongside him to assemble a who’s who of CCRI theater alumni as his cast and crew.

Now, more than two years since the idea’s inception, The Choice is ready for primetime. Clement describes it as “reflective of my experience” growing up, yet still a work of fiction, inspired primarily by Clement’s conversations with friends and colleagues who either grew up in single-parent homes or are single parents raising children.

The Choice tells the story of a single mother raising her teenage son. As a woman of faith and conviction, the mother occasionally butts heads with her son, all of which contributes to their unique family dynamic. The play also touches upon the stigmas associated with single parents during Clement’s childhood while reinforcing the concept that the connection those families feel for one another is not at all diminished because it wasn’t “what was considered a traditional family format” in that era.

This week’s premier of The Choice caps a long, “slightly terrifying” process and an experiment in theater “filled with discovery” for Clement, who over the past two and a half years stepped outside of his comfort zone to learn a new aspect of the craft he’s dedicated his entire life to. Clement is most looking forward to sharing this academic experience with colleagues; because it’s a workshop production, which means it’s a relatively modest production that does not include all the aspects of a full production, Clement could take The Choice in a number of different directions following this week’s premier.

“I’m an actor and director, so I’ve never had to come up with the story myself,” Clement said. “Being a playwright is arguably the most frightening experience I’ve had in theater because it’s so personal – not just because the content is personal, but because it’s my thoughts that I’m putting out there for others to experience.”

The Choice stars alumni Audrey Lavin Crawley, Elliot Gosselin, Steven Zailskas, and Stevie Smith, plus colleague Becky Minard. Current students Ilyus Evander (House Manager), Brandon Soriano (Sound Board Operator), Lia Pinto (Props Runner), and Nate Campbell (Assistant Director) are also working on the production along with alumni Rebecca Mooney (Stage Manager), Haley Ahlborg (Lighting Designer), Erika Fay Greenwood (Costume Designer), and Lauren Ferriera (Light Board Operator).

“I’m happy to discover I have the capacity to express myself through this part of the theater experiment,” he said. “Playwrights are the source of what we do in the theatre. We are all creative artists within the theater, but we are all creative interpretive artists. The story starts with the playwright.”

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