WESTERLY — Jude Pescatello stood in the lobby of the Granite Theatre Tuesday afternoon, ready to take on his new leading role.
Pescatello, who has had a long association with the theater — as an actor, director, and board member — will assume the position of interim artistic director in January.
David and Beth Jepson, who have been running the theater for the last 19 years — he, as artistic director, and she, as assistant artistic director — plan to retire next month and move to Florida. The theater's board of directors has been searching for a full-time artistic director for several months, but after a number of interviews, decided to continue the search and hire Pescatello until a full-time director can be found.
"We want to get this right," said Pescatello, 59, a retired Pfizer employee who teaches at the Westerly Education Center as an instructor for the Community College of Rhode Island. "It's crucial for us to get it right."
Pescatello, a Groton resident, said he plans to maintain the rhythm and the culture created by the Jepsons, and maybe even bump things up a notch by going back in time.
"I've been around since the old days," he said, "back when Paul Lynch and Arthur Pignataro were here. I'd like bring that feeling back."
The late Paul Lynch, who died in 2011, was a well-known Westerly resident, beloved for his philanthropic spirit, generosity and love of musical theater. It was Lynch, as president of the Granite Theatre, who invited the Jepsons to Westerly. It was Lynch, a large, outgoing man, who greeted theater patrons at the door as they arrived. The late Arthur Pignataro, who also died in 2011, and whose name was synonymous with Westerly community theater, worked at the Granite for more than a decade. He, too, was much loved and well-known by the community and Granite patrons.
"Those were the glory days of the Granite," Pescatello said. "I want to get back to that. I'd like to get more people back to the theater and into the seats."
Pescatello also said he plans to collaborate more with local businesses and other theaters — local theaters especially.
"I love Westerly," said Pescatello, a Waterford native. "I come from a large Italian family so I feel at home here. I absolutely love Westerly."
Pescatello said he began acting at age 8 when his mother, who made costumes for the Pfizer Players, encouraged him to join the Niantic Children's Theater.
"I've never stopped," he said. "Theater has always been a large part of my life."
Pescatello, the single father of two, and grandfather of one, said he plans to deal with "all the back of the house" duties.
"I'll make sure the directors are directing," he said, "and that the scripts get here, and the sets get made."
Warren Usey of Westerly, 36, a New Orleans native who has been acting and volunteering at the Granite for the last several years, has been hired to be the theater's first ever house manager. "My goal is to make sure the audience has the best experience possible before the show," he said.
"I'll take care of the front-of-the-house duties," said Usey, who also serves as the theater's bartender. "We've split the duties."
Pescatello said, "We have some big shoes to fill," nodding toward the Jepsons, who had arrived at the theater, along with several Granite board members, to give a tour of the facility to Rhode Island Lt. Gov. Dan McKee. "David and Beth took care of everything."
The Jepsons said they plan to remain involved remotely, as needed.
"We want to see it continue," said Beth. "We want the community to be happy and feel pampered."
"It has been and will continue to be the mission of the Granite Theatre to provide exceptional year-round theatrical performances, education and other opportunities for the community of Westerly and surrounding areas," Beth Jepson wrote in an email announcing the appointments later that day.
Pescatello's knowledge of the theater's "unique and timeless niche" will ensure a seamless transition, she wrote, noting that his appointment had the full support of the board of directors.
John Cillino, another long time board member who has acted and directed at the theater, was elected board president.
Beth Jepson said, "The 2020 season will open with the same vigor and excitement as it always does."
The new season will begin in March with the production of Ira Levin's thriller, "Deathtrap," and will continue with Tennessee Williams' "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in April." Those productions will be followed by "Almost Maine," "California Suite," "Leading Ladies," "Oliver," and "The Haunting of Hill House," and will end in December with "A Christmas Carol."
Pescatello is slated to direct "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof."