Clubbed Thumb’s first production was dragged fitfully to the stage by the four members of a semi-regular bridge game in the snowbound winter of 1996: Meg MacCary, Maria Striar, Arne Jokela (Joe), and Jay Worthington. The House of Candles (fondly remembered as the ‘House of Firetraps’) was rented, roles were divvied up (Meg starring, Maria directing, Joe and Jay designing, as it turned out), dozens of friends were enlisted, and what would become Clubbed Thumb’s provocative and influential Summerworks series was born.
Grasping for a name to (more or less) fill in paperwork, without consideration of longevity and with no concept of the allusions, Meg pulled a book of palmistry off Maria’s shelf, fatefully flipping to a goofy sketch of what looked to be a toe labeled, “clubbed thumb”… fatefully because in this Victorian pseudo-science (as Clubbed Thumb fans will find appropriate), a clubbed thumb is defined as a digit missing the phalange that represents Reason! Further, possessors of a clubbed thumb are said to be willful and passionate (it has even been referred to as “the murderer’s thumb”… draw your own conclusions).
It was a gleefully arbitrary act of naming, but its strange suggestiveness has proved an excellent match for Clubbed Thumb’s theatrical sensibility.
EARLY YEARS (see tab, the Plays, for entire production history/listings)
Summerworks’ original structure was similarly born of somewhat arbitrary limitations: The House of Candles was rented for a month, but Clubbed Thumb’s first play was short and the run limited by Actors’ Equity to sixteen performances. So colleagues and former classmates were asked if they had anything they’d like to show. Thus, Summerworks. Plural. (Seven shows, in fact, went up that first summer.) To maximize the use of the rental, time slots at 8pm, 10pm, and occasionally midnight were scheduled. Thus, the 90-minute play limit – half-an-hour for set change.
HITTING A STRIDE
Clubbed Thumb’s institutional and seasonal formation also developed ad hoc, ever-adapting to the artistic needs of the work at hand. (“We’re always rearranging our pile of nickels,” Maria likes to joke.) This flexibility served: Summerworks swiftly established its reputation as a new-play series with an emphasis on formally innovative (even specifically difficult) structures and fully dimensional roles for actors of both genders. Meg and Maria quickly fell into co-directorial roles.
In addition to the four founders, major contributions were made by Erich Strom (2000-2002) and Ian Helfer (2000-2003) to the board and creative team. Michael Levinton joined the Clubbed Thumb family 2004, eventually moving on 2007. Diana Konopka came on board in 2006.
As mentioned above, Meg and Maria shared responsibilities as co-directors from 1996-2009. Meg decided to move on from her full-time duties with Clubbed Thumb in 2009 to fully commit to acting. Having paused his original professional trajectory for Clubbed Thumb, Jay relinquished his day-to-day involvement to return to the law in 2003. Joe (Arne) carried on in a part-time capacity until 2009, when he officially joined the board. Clubbed Thumb is currently run by Producing Artistic Director Maria Striar, Managing Director Sarah McLellan and Associate Producer Michael Bulger.
Clubbed Thumb remains purposely, exuberantly in flux, continually searching for the present way to best serve the work and its broad and ever-growing family of artists.
Compiled and written by Frank Boudreaux. Thank you Frank.