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Decameron, Providence: New Stories for a New Era

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Created as a reinvention of both theatre and audience to assure safety in the COVID-19 era, the event happens over 14 days August 9-22, and featuring dozens of performance artists in outdoor performances across 15 acres of a restored locomotive factory.

The Wilbury Theatre Group and WaterFire Providence announce Decameron, Providence: New Stories for a New Era. A co-production between the two organizations and featuring dozens of performing artists and community groups over a two-week period, Decameron, Providence is inspired by the framing story of the 1352 classic by Giovanni Boccaccio – ten citizens of Florence gathering outdoors during the 1348 Bubonic Plague following the best practice of the day of social distancing in isolation for 14 days – days spent relating wry stories about the state of the Florentine Republic and their changing world. 

Our first priority in this project was reinventing theatre during COVID-19 in a form that would keep the public and the actors safe.  The first thing to eliminate was the theater itself, with the presentations from August 9-22 presented outdoors on 10 stages and performance areas on the spacious grounds of the WaterFire Arts Center and the historic American Locomotive Company building. Working with support from members of the Brown University School of Medicine and the Rhode Island Dept. of Health the group started with current best health practices and interpreted them theatrically, including adding Entr’Acte engagements that explain and reinforce the science and context of public health principles.  

The next thing to go was a concentrated audience “filling the house”.  In this production, the audience is divided for their own protection into ten separate, isolated “Brigades” of ten to twenty people who will remain properly distanced from each other and the performers.  Each Brigade will have a heroine or hero from the novel as their leader serving to inform, illuminate and guide them, starting from each Brigade’s private reserved parking lot throughout their evening’s journey and adventure. The audience will never encounter the other 90% of the house.  Audience members will see 5 performances a night and are encouraged to return on another night to see a different set of five performances.  

“It is no accident that theatre and democracy were invented at the same time. This is a time when the theatre’s power to illuminate, humanize, and share many perspectives and visions of the future is needed more than ever.  Yet denied because of the very real challenge of assuring everyone’s safety in this time of COVID-19 is also critically important.  At their heart, both public health and theatre are guiding us with stories on how to best build our communities to be a better and stronger place for us all. We felt we had to creatively reinvent the theatre in light of public health by being guided by and serving both the science of health experts and the dramatic truth of our artists.”

Barnaby Evans, Executive Artistic Director and coCEO of WaterFire Providence

In the original Decameron, set just outside of Florence, Italy in the aftermath of the Bubonic  Plague, 10 young storytellers quarantine themselves in the countryside for 14 days. They agree to reserve two days for Prayers, two days for their Chores, and ten days for Storytelling. Together the young storytellers practice social isolation by telling each other tales of love, passion, obsession, vice, and folly – collectively painting a picture of their fears, hopes, and visions for their new future. 

Inspired by Boccaccio’s original framework, the COVID-19 pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the demand for a new vision of our future,  The Wilbury Theatre Group and WaterFire reached out to dozens of performing artists and community groups from throughout Providence and asked them to each share their own vision of what that future might hold.

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.

“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? Working closely with guidance from the Dept of Health and epidemiologist Brandon Marshall over the last three months we have been able to answer the first question. For the stories though, we look to the artists. This is a pivotal time in our country’s history, and the Artists collaborating on this are among the most forward-thinking that we have ever known. Their stories have never been more urgent or vital to all of us looking ahead to build a more equitable future.”

Josh Short, Wilbury Group Artistic Director

Tickets for EAST and WEST admissions to Decameron, Providence are just $10. For more information about Decameron, Providence visit

Events of Decameron, Providence take place from Sunday August 9 through Saturday August 22, with ticketed performances happening only on Tuesday-Saturday evenings.

All events are outside, rain or shine (bring an umbrella), face-coverings must be worn at all times, and social distancing guidelines will be strictly enforced.  Additional information will be provided by email prior to your performance.

Audience members must purchase a ticket for a Brigata in advance in either the WEST or EAST festivals prior to the performance. PLEASE NOTE: In order to visit all 10 performance spaces, audience members will need to purchase tickets for both festival areas on two different evenings.  Audience members arrive to join their Brigades at 6:00 p.m. to be in place for performances to start promptly at 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays. Advance tickets for all performances are required and may be reserved at

Volunteers wanted to help us on Decameron, Providence as site managers, brigata leaders, and more.
Sign up to volunteer.


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About the author

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I've worked at WaterFire Providence since 2003. For the first 9 years of my career, I worked in the Production Shop learning all of the details that go into the physical production of the event. In 2012 transitioned to the role of managing WaterFire's social media and web presence. I now head up WaterFire Providence's digital projects including, web, social, databases, and our physical IT infrastructure.

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