Every Saturday at 10 a.m. at the Tashmoo Overlook bug spray fills the air, snacks are unpacked and blankets are laid down as over a hundred people fill the outdoor amphitheater to watch fairy tales unfold.
Welcome to the Fabulists, a mainstay of a Vineyard summer for 22 years.
In the early 1990s, the theatre troupe was born in Paul Munafo’s living room. A group of friends wanted a way to entertain children, but they wanted to be able to amuse themselves while doing it. They decided that they would perform fables, which is what inspired their name, The Fabulists.
The group found a way to combine fractured fairy tales with improvisation to create an experience that is entertaining for kids, hilarious for adults and fun for the actors.
“We’ve all grown up together,” said Mr. Munafo. “We’ve all evolved and gotten to know each other better over the years.”
Actors participating in different shows at the Vineyard Playhouse often guest star, but there is a core group of 10 to 15 people who have been involved with the Fabulists every year.
Paul Padua has been a part of that core group for all of the 22 years. During the off-season, Mr. Padua teaches math in New York city, but every summer he returns to the Vineyard to act in and direct the shows. His family also plays a part — his wife is an actor, and his son adds sound effects.
“I don’t think my son has ever missed a Fabulists show in his 14 years,” Mr. Padua said. “He has been here every summer of his life.”
When the shows first began there were only a few spectators, but today a large crowd comes to see the Fabulists each week. One of the things that has made them so popular is their inclusion of the audience. The mythological tales actually do have a script, but the actors adapt their lines to what is happening in the moment.
They also use modern-day references to make the play more relatable, and they incorporate children from the audience in the show. One week, the children paraded around on stage as sprites and fairies. They also helped track down a sleeping groom, and chanted loudly to help get a message across. At the end of every show, kids are invited on stage to join the cast for a dance party.
But the kids aren’t the only ones enjoying themselves. Parents and older siblings are just as entertained by the wide range of jokes and humor. In the Fabulist version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Helena awakes from a nightmare in which police on State Road are ticketing all the cars parked on the street outside the performance.
“We have to make it fun for the adults, too,” said Mr. Munafo. “After all, they’re the ones bringing their kids here and paying the bills.”
This dual dynamic is a part of what has kept the Fabulists so successful over the past two decades.
“My daughters can never get enough of these shows,” said one mother. “It must be the combination of the cast, the jokes and the space, because I can’t get enough of it either.”
The location of the Fabulists sets it apart from every other theatre on the Island. The Tisbury Amphitheater was created in the mid-70s and has been home to Shakespeare plays for years. Having the play immersed in nature creates a space that lets imaginations run wild. A scene can be set in the forest, on Mount Olympus, or at a wedding, and it comes alive within the trees.
Families return week after week and year after year. They know cast members by name and some even return to watch the same show twice — throughout the summer, shows are repeated two weeks in a row, and then a new play sprouts up the following week.
“My mom and dad have taken me to see the Fabulists in the summer since before I can even remember,” said one young boy. “They like to bring my little sister, too, and she’s only two years old,” he added
After the show, the actors stand outside of the theatre to speak with the members of the audience. Kids run up to cast members telling them their favorite lines and who their favorite character was. Parents express how thankful they are and how the Fabulists never fail to make their summers.
“It’s a show for children of all ages,” Mr. Munafo said. “And it’s a lot of fun.”
The Fabulists perform in the Tisbury Amphitheater at the Tashmoo Overlook every Saturday in July and August beginning at 10 a.m. For more information, visit vineyardplayhouse.org.