At some point in the last five months most of us have heard a reference to “Decameron,” Giovanni Boccaccio’s book in which ten citizens of Florence, Italy, gathered outdoors for 14 days in 1348 during the Bubonic Plague to tell each other stories about the condition of their city-state and their changing world.
Now, two of the most inventive performing arts groups in contemporary America have created a collection of live performances on 10 outdoor stages on the spacious grounds of the WaterFire Arts Center and the adjacent American Locomotive Company in Providence. The series is called “Decameron, Providence: New Stories for a New Era.”
Presenting groups are the Providence-based arts organizations Wilbury Theatre Group and WaterFire Providence. Performances are Tuesdays through Saturdays, August 9-22, at 6:30 p.m. Buy tickets in advance, at $10 per person, at the “Decameron, Providence” website.
In the original “Decameron,” published in 1352 but set in 1348, 10 young storytellers quarantine themselves Bubonic plague, reserving two days for prayers, two days for their chores, and ten days for telling tales of love, passion, obsession, vice, and folly.
Similarly, “Decameron, Providence: New Stories for a New Era” happens over a span of 14 days. Performance spaces are divided into East and West zones. Each zone includes five artists in five outdoor spaces or “story gardens.”
The audience is divided into ten isolated Brigades of 10 to 20 people who will remain at a distance from each other and the performers. Each Brigade will have a heroine or hero from the novel who will illuminate and guide the group, starting from each Brigade’s reserved parking lot and moving throughout their evening’s journey.
Any given audience member will never encounter the other 90 percent of the house. Audience members will see five performances. People are permitted to visit one zone per night and are encouraged to return on another night to see a different set of five performances.
“The impetus for “Decameron, Providence” came out of two basic questions: how do you safely produce theatre in a pandemic? And, as storytellers, what stories need to be told?” said Wilbury Group Artistic Director Josh Short.
Barnaby Evans, executive artistic director and co-CEO of WaterFire Providence, said” We felt we had to creatively reinvent the theater in light of public health by being guided by and serving both the science of health experts and the dramatic truth of our artists.”
To achieve social distancing, the creators of “Decameron, Providence: New Stories for a New Era” worked with experts from the Brown University School of Medicine and the Rhode Island Department of Health to understand current best health practices and to re-phrase them theatrically, including Entr’Acte engagements to discuss the science of public health.
Participating artists include; Christopher Johnson, Shaffany Piáget, Ashley Frith + Desmond Bratton of Community Music Works, the Rhode Island Black Storytellers, Brien Lang, Jennifer Mischley, Daraja Hinds, Vatic Kuumba, the Langston Hughes Community Poetry Project, Phoenyx Williams, Don Mays, Marcel Mascaro, Shey Rivera Ríos, Saul Ramos + Arte Latino New England, Andy Russ, Darcie Dennigan, Keri King, Janaya Kizzie, Rachel Hughes and more to-be-announced. Learn more about the Artists here.
WaterFire Arts Center, 475 Valley Street, Providence — Map
American Locomotive Works, 555 Valley Street, Providence — Map.