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Bird Theater

Updated: Aug 22, 2021

After aquiring a boathouse at the foot of Mechanic St. from John C. Rhodes, Edward and Eliza Bird, summer residents from Boston, opened a miniature theater. Edward and Eliza staged amature productions, recruiting other summer residents as actors, one or two times a year from 1889 to 1896. The Bird's paid meticulous attention to production details, and built their casts around prominent amature actors who came as their guests, usually from New York.

Article by Rita Hammond Dunn of Mattapoisett that appeared in Mattapoisett--The Bicentennial, published in1976.

The Ways

"The Ways", a cozy little theater in Mattapoisett, was built from a boathouse into a model amatueur theater in 1889 by E. V. Bird, one of the summer residents.

The theater was named the "ways" on which the boats were hauled for repairs. It was located on Water Street, at the foot of Mechanic Street. From an exterior view, one would never suspect it of being a playhouse.

The auditorium was as large as a barn, out of which Mr. Bird had dressing rooms built, also a paint room and everything else that a well-equipped theater needed.

The stage was 20' by 42'; there were bells at the prompter's hand to call the actors from their dressing rooms, signals to the curtain hands to raise and lower the curtains. The border ropes were colored; there was a thunder box, a rain box and a gallery for the limelight man. The auditorium contained just 80 chairs.

Mr. Bird made all the scenery as well as the properties; and he was very proud of the plants and flowers he raised in his greenhouse for the plays.

His storehouse was filled with stock scenery to fit most any play. There were exteriors, interiors, practical doors, windows, trees, fireplaces, bridges and rocks, chairs for common people, thrones for kings, and sundials for scenes that needed them.

The first play given in "The Ways" was The Dowager. It was followed by Love and Rain, A Cup of Tea, A Maid of Athens, Old Love Letters, A Game of Cards, Withered Leaves, A Bachelor of Arts and Uncle.

It was the custom of Mr. Bird to give a dress rehersal on Thursday night, to which the villagers were invited; on Friday and Saturday the regular performances took place, to which Mr. Bird set tickets to his friends. On Sunday, the play was photographed; six views were taken of each scene.

The women in the cast were usually "local talent", although sometimes they were imported for the occasion; the men were shining lights in acting societies in the cities. None of the actors received a salary, so Mr. Bird could not fine them for any infringement of any standing rules of theatre. He had a method of his own, which was very sucessful in keeping the actors off stage when the curtain was down.

The "grips", as the stage hands were called who shifted the scenery, were instructed that when anyone came on stage when the shifters were working, they were to be bumped with the heaviest article available until they left the stage and waited in their dressing room until the cue to come on.

The theatre and plays were enjoyed by everyone in town. John Dexter was one of the carpenters who helped Mr. Bird construct the theatre, and [his sons] Ernest and Walter spent many happy hours playing in the theatre while it was being built.

Wood, Edward F. R.. Old Mattapoisett a Summer Portrait. Mattapoisett, Quadequina Publishers, 1995

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