Newburyport’s Theater in the Open celebrates 39 years

This summer Theater in the Open (TITO) is celebrating its 39th season of community theater with an expanded Summer Arts Workshop and top-notch performances ranging from Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and Sophocles’ “Antigone” to “Snow White: A Through The Looking Glass Panto.”

The icing on the cake is that TITO recently was selected Curators of the Gatekeeper’s House by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) confirming that for the next 20 years, Theater in the Open will remain in the same headquarters they have occupied since 1987. It also means that they will continue to offer their youth arts education programs and free outdoor performances at Maudslay State Park.

“We are thrilled that DCR selected us as Curator for the Maudslay Gatekeeper’s House and happy to see our partnership with DCR continue for the next 20 years,” Executive Director Kelly Shea Knowles said. “Knowing that our headquarters will now remain at the Gatekeeper’s House - a place that is so beloved and familiar to so many members of this community - allows us to take positive steps forward in terms of strategic growth.”

Artistic Director Edward Speck “couldn’t be happier.”

“For 30 years young people have been coming to this little house on the edge of the woods to learn about theater, dance and visual arts,” Speck said. “Some have become artists, others are now doctors or computer programmers. All of them found a home here at the Gatekeeper’s House where they were supported, listened to, and encouraged to grow.

“I was one of those young people two decades ago, and to know that this house will be welcoming area youth for the next two decades is quite literally a dream come true. I am eternally grateful to DCR, and to all of our wonderful supporters, who dream the dream with us.”

TITO’s long-term commitment to the community began back in 1979, when Anna Smulowitz started a theater and workshop for children - The Newburyport Children’s Theater.

Over the next decade, there were theater performances, a summer workshop, and an Arts Festival held at Maudslay State Park; Theresa Linnihan was named “artist in residence” at Maudslay, and the Gatekeeper’s House became home base for the theater group, which in 1988 became The Children’s Theater in Residence at Maudslay State Park.

“The mission of Theater in the Open is perfectly captured in our name,” Knowles said. “We connect art with nature, performing out of doors in open public spaces. There are no walls, no stage, no curtain to separate artist and audience. What’s more, our outdoor performances are free to all, ensuring that the art we create is accessible to everyone, a gift to this community that enriches the cultural landscape.”

This year the Summer Arts Workshop has been expanded to nine weeks and two campuses – Maudslay State Park and neighboring Arrowhead Farm.

“Dick Chase is the owner of Arrowhead Farm,” Speck said. “His family settled it over 300 year ago and Dick really wants the community to enjoy Arrowhead Farm as much as possible. He said, ‘It’s not a farm if there aren’t kids running around and screaming.’ We’re now renting a field that abuts Maudslay State Park.”

This summer Chase will have plenty of kids running around both on his farm and the abutting park, where the TITO Summer Arts Workshop students aged five to 14, will have drama time in the afternoons and in the mornings art and dance time taught by professionals.

“We live in a community where there are theater, art, and dance professionals of every stripe,” Speck said, “and the fact that we can collaborate with them both as educators and also as artists is to me what makes TITO and our community unique.

“Right now we are working on ‘Antigone’ with singers, musicians, and dancers as well as visual artists. The term ‘community theater’ can sometimes be a pejorative one suggesting it is not professional, but in this community of professionals artists it means professional grade productions and educators.”

Discover the quality of the performances yourself. Just go to one of the many free TITO shows this summer. A perfect example is “Snow White: A Through The Looking Glass Panto,” a silly, surprising, playful panto, free to all on June weekends.

“This time around we’ll be following the adventures of Snow White as she takes a peek at what happens through the looking glass,” Speck said. “Prepare for puns, princesses, passion and improbable plots with some of your favorite fairy tale and literary characters.”

Once a month bring the kids to Family Hour In The Open.

“Bring the kids, the dog and the picnic blanket out to beautiful Maudslay State Park,” Speck said. “One Saturday of every warm-weather month, we will be joined by many of our good friends in the community to present storytelling, song, dance, fairytale-theater and a fun group activity, all right here in the park and all entirely free. Come make a friend, sing a song, take in some sun and get to know your park better.”

Then, there is classical theater. TITO re-imagines ancient Greece in Maudslay State Park with two classic works — a comedy and a tragedy.

“Our talented ensemble will perform these two plays in repertoire throughout July and August,” Speck said. “We invite you to spend a summer weekend at Maudslay. Simply bring a picnic blanket and your imagination and join us for both ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and ‘Antigone.’ All performances are free to all.”

But that’s still just the tip of the TITO iceberg. There’s Circus Smirkus: Midnight At The Museum, “Poe” in The Ellen T. Brown Memorial Chapel at the Oak Hill Cemetery in Newburyport, Maudslay is Haunted, and “Through The Wardrobe: A Winter Wonderland Panto.”

For a more information and a current schedule, go to,
call 978-465-2572 or email