Truckin' Rock Band-Style With Shakespeare

Download Audio
With "The Theatre Truck" parked and opened, its actors go through a recent rehearsal. (Andrea Shea/WBUR)
With "The Theatre Truck" parked and opened, its actors go through a recent rehearsal. (Andrea Shea/WBUR)

Something called "The Theatre Truck" might be coming to a park near you. It harkens back to Elizabethan times, when bands of actors roamed the countryside in wagons, putting on plays for the masses. But this modern wagon runs on diesel.

"It looks like a UHaul, only it’s bigger," says 33-year-old Sean Eastman, the artistic director of the New Hampshire-based Momentum Theatre Troupe. A few years ago he welded and banged together a mobile stage out of a generic-looking 22-foot cube truck. It's pure D-I-Y.

On this day, a few Boston-area actors stand watching the long side of the truck. A mechanical winch lowers the top edge down so it flops open like a giant slice of bread. With a little tweaking that slab of truck, now parallel to the ground, becomes the stage. It's wooden floor boards are a beautiful honey brown.

WBUR Video: Momentum Theatre Troupe

Twenty-seven-year-old John Greene — and most of the other actors at this rehearsal in Cambridge's Sennott Park — are actually witnessing the Theatre Truck in action for the first time. They auditioned for the troupe's national tour a few months ago, and until now have only seen pictures of it on the internet.

"When I first heard of this thing it just reminded me of 'Transformers,' " Greene says. "I loved 'Transformers' as a kid, like more than meets the eye." He says performing on a roving stage that looks like one thing, but becomes another, is a dream come true.

Same for 24-year-old Veronica Barron. "The fact that a truck that transforms into a stage really appeals to my inner-gypsy, which frankly is not buried that far down," Barron admits.

Sean Eastman chose the actors for their adventurous spirit, ability and strength. The director touts the truck's strength, too.

"Get up there, get up there, she’s beast," Eastman says, directing his actor. "The whole frame is welded with 1/4-inch angle iron and cube piping, so I've had about 20 guys up top there jumping up and down. You can get up there however you want."

And the really fun thing is that Eastman wants the actors to use the entire truck — not just the stage. They scramble up the roof, dangling and posing on the truck's frame, like monkeys or acrobats.

This summer the Theatre Truck actors will be staging three plays, including a very physical interpretation of William Shakespeare's "The Tempest." They call theirs "The Urban Tempest." And they have a lot of rehearsing to do before they can drape the truck with a flowing red curtain and switch on the footlights. Eastman runs his actors through a series of exercises beneath the bright, hot sun.

(Click to enlarge)(Andrea Shea/WBUR)
(Click to enlarge)(Andrea Shea/WBUR)

From a distance, the image of a truck with sweaty young people climbing all over its roof — and striking poses — looks pretty strange. Henry Williams, an East Cambridge Parks Department worker of 17 years, says he's never seen anything like the Theatre Truck.

"I really haven’t," Williams says. "It’s different, it’s unique, to say the least. No, I can’t say I have."

While he's intrigued, Williams makes a very practical observation.

"As long you make it from place to place and have no breakdowns, that’s even better," he says.

And necessary. The grueling two-month summer tour schedule includes stops throughout New England, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle and a bunch more. The truck and its posse of gypsies will roll into city plazas, parks and all kinds of public spaces around the country.

"It’s great because you’re taking the theater wherever people need it to be," Eastman explains. "There’s something cool about that."

And Eastman reflects on the idea that his contemporary theater troupe's rock band-style tour is something like what actors in Shakespeare's time were doing.

"They were the rock bands of then, sure, the king's men traveling around doing the shows," he says, nodding.

Even if it means crashing on people's couches and in campgrounds along the way. Also, the director and his actors will be passing the hat at their performances so they can fill the tank to get to the next gig.

Beginning Thursday, the Theatre Truck will perform in three Cambridge parks over six days.

June 17 and 18: Riverside Press Park (corner of Memorial Drive and River Street, across from the Cambridgeport Whole Foods); June 19 & 20: Danehy Park (99 Sherman St., in the Fresh Pond neighborhood); June 21 & 22: Sennott Park (corner of Broadway and Norfolk, between Central and Inman Squares). All shows at 7 p.m. Pre-show festivities begin at 6.

The Theatre Truck, moving on. (Courtesy)
The Theatre Truck, moving on. (Courtesy)

This program aired on June 15, 2010.

Andrea Shea Correspondent, Arts & Culture
Andrea Shea is a correspondent for WBUR's arts & culture reporter.



More from WBUR

Listen Live