Filmmaking | Interviews | Massachusetts

Have Skills and Will Use Them: Patti Cassidy’s Boston Play Cafe

1 Oct , 2013  

Written by Donna Sorbello | Posted by:

Filmmaker Patti Cassidy has taken an unconventional path to becoming a filmmaker, but she learned all she knows from public access television. Now, she's using those skills for a new show: Boston Play Cafe.

One new gal in town isn’t letting any grass grow under her feet. Her prior New England stints included teaching film studies for Olli courses at the University of Rhode Island, and producing/directing several programs in her seven years at WilliNet Community TV. And since arriving back in the Boston area, Patti Cassidy went to work immediately on Boston Play Café.

Boston Play Cafe, airing regularly on WCATV of Watertown, and on the web via Viacom On Demand, consists of actors reading a short play, followed by a discussion with the playwright. Cassidy, of course, is off-camera directing, with D Jim Reynolds covering sound and Clarisse-BeauVais and Michael Cormier on camera. Boston Play Café’s on-air host is Don Crane.

In a world full of media stories on the personal lives of artists or how those amazing film special-effects work, Cassidy, through her love of writing, theatre and film, thought there was a piece missing for the audience. The understanding of how a piece of writing comes to be shaped and worked by the actors and playwright in order to achieve that finished product, was what she wanted to explore. Interpretation, or mis-interpretation, can alter the meaning a playwright wants the audience to come away with. Boston Play Café gives playwrights the chance to hear their work come to life and see what the actors can bring, while the audience can then hear the discussion between the actors and playwright as to how they arrive at their interpretations. They might glean what needs to be changed in order to express the playwright’s theme.

Boston Play Café manages to draw on many of the skills and interests Cassidy has honed through stints at community television stations, directing and producing documentaries, and writing plays for community projects. It evolved during Cassidy’s circuitous route back to Watertown. Living in the Mexican border town of Patagonia, the library she worked at was awarded a theatre artist grant and needed to produce a theatrical piece. Cassidy unexpectedly became a writer. She quickly created The Stories of La Llorona, a fantastical reader’s theatre piece based on the legendary mythic figure. From there she moved on to Tucson where she continued working with a playwriting group, while her interest in film brought her to Tucson’s Access Television Network. There she started from scratch, learning everything she could about camera work, lighting, producing and directing.

While in Tucson she worked as a freelance videographer for the Tucson Prima Arts Council. She applied her videography and transcription skills working with the Jamestown Historical Society and as an instructor of film for Circle Of Scholars at Salve Regina University. Along that path to Watertown, her documentaries — which Cassidy produced and directed — brought her some attention. Frozen Glory, the Secret Life of War Memorials, is featured in the Rhode Island Council on the Humanities Speakers Bureau. Her series of documentaries on elephants, The First Elephants in Rhode Island, The Ballad of Baby Roger, and How Do You Love An Elephant? were selected and shown at two film festivals and also aired on PBS. Her shorts can be seen on her YouTube channel: tapit123. Prior to arriving in Watertown, Cassidy, missing her involvement with playwriting, developed a playwriting group for WilliNet Community Access TV in Williamstown and Play Café was born. Proven to be successful, it is continuing with another producer, while Cassidy helms the same format and program in Watertown, as Boston Play Café.

Cassidy, meanwhile, is producing and directing their readings and conversations.
 Aside from the work she is doing to unearth an artist’s process and her work in documentary filmmaking on subjects that are important to her, Cassidy is a strong advocate of local access television. She wants to share her regard for community stations by example. With minimal formal schooling, she was able to learn all the skills necessary for filming, through first volunteering and sucking up every bit of knowledge anyone would share with her. Local access television gave her use of equipment, mentors, instructors and hands-on learning. Not a bad value considering this cost nothing but her time, and in many instances, she had a finished product to show with each step of her education. Work at community access stations threw her into situations where she had to learn fast and take over while providing opportunities she might have sat around waiting years to be hired for in other venues.

At the moment, Cassidy is working to raise funds for Boston Play Café. Paying the playwrights, actors and crew per episode is important to her. Having worked in community access television for years, she is aware of the demands required of those involved, to put a weekly show together.

More info about Boston Play Café and its fundraiser may be found at her Indiegogo page. Meanwhile, she hopes other budding filmmakers are walking into their local community cable studios and taking advantage of the same free education she got.