New Name For Westport Country Playhouse

The Westport Country Playhouse — which already includes the Lucille Lortel White Barn Center, and the Sheffer studio space — is adding another name to its property.

In fact, the entire campus will now be called The Howard J. Aibel Theater Center at Westport Country Playhouse.

The change recognizes a $3 million gift from the local resident, and current vice chair of the board of trustees.

Howard Aibel

“I have found live theater to be life transformative,” Aibel — a retired attorney, who formerly served as chief legal officer of ITT Corporation — says.

“Being a supporter of the Westport Country Playhouse has been a rich and grand experience.”

Playhouse artistic director Mark Lamos says, “This is not only financial sustenance. It is spiritual sustainability. His belief now enables us to create the highest level of work.”

Of Aibel’s grant, $500,000 is designated for current operations, and $500,000 for working capital reserve. A bequest of $2 million to establish an endowment is held in an irrevocable trust.

Aibel retired as a partner of Dewey & LeBoeuf, where he focused on international dispute resolution. He served as president of the Harvard Law School Association of New York, and chair of the American Arbitration Association. He is also chair emeritus of the Alliance of Resident Theatres/NY.

I’m not sure how many people will actually refer to the Playhouse as the Howard Aibel Theatre Center.

But there will be a nice sign on the 87-year-old iconic red building to remind everyone that while the arts are important to Westport’s heritage, they need the financial support of people like Aibel, who have the means — and desire — to help keep them alive.

Artist’s rendering of the new sign above the Westport Country Playhouse entrance.

34 responses to “New Name For Westport Country Playhouse

  1. Thanks to Mr Aibel, a generous gift which is no doubt needed. Nevertheless, in view of Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman’s long involvement, I believe a combination like Woodward/Newman Theatre is best. A placque for Mr Aibel, recognizing his contribution, could be prominently displayed in the lobby.

  2. The name of the playhouse is not supposed to represent money. It should represent our community and history, especially the nationally known history of the Westport Country Playhouse’s contribution to American theater. Renaming it in honor of a contribution or contributor is a disgrace to the town and its artists.

  3. In future, maybe donations marked by engraved paving bricks, as outside London’s Globe Theatre would be interesting and lucrative.

  4. Wow! There’s no room for criticism here guys. Pretty sure PL and fam don’t miss or want a plaque. We all do what we can with or without a plaque!

  5. I understand the desire to have our name continue when we do not, and many people approaching “discontinuation” who have the means donate money, or perhaps better stated as buy a $3 million legacy, to ensure their name lives on. Mr. Aibel is 87 years old and perhaps in search of a vehicle within his sphere of interest to ensure the longevity of his name and memory. As long as the Westport Country Playhouse name will continue to be displayed, and at least as prominently as the artists rendering, I suppose it’s OK. As one who loves tradition I would rather see a prominent plaque in Mr. Aibel’s honor and the stand alone name of “Westport Country Playhouse”, but the realities of money and ego are always present and the lure to change it to something even more garish by someone else in search of a bought and paid for legacy in the future might be too much to prevent. If nothing else this may prevent worse in the future, at least until someone donates $4 million.

  6. i can name a room in my home for a large donation. Let me know. I will put your name on the front of my house as well

  7. kevin and David – I totally agree with both of you, this is an embarrassment and a disgrace to Westport and the Playhouse.

  8. It’s a GIFT! Be gracious and accept it!!

  9. Great news from a genereous soul! I wish we had a similar benefactor to construct a state of the art movie theater downtown, which we desperately need.

  10. Personally, I think “Staples High School” sounds a lot better than “Westport High School.” I’m just sayin’….

    • I second that emotion. I’m also somewhat surprised by the negative reactions voiced by some in the comments.

      If WCP management feels this is something that goes a long way toward providing economic stability for Playhouse operations and they believe Mr. Aibel is a suitable choice for naming rights, as a longtime patron of the Playhouse I can’t see any reason here to second-guess their decision.

      And I agree with Susan Iseman that it would be wonderful if a similar benefactor turned up for the Westport Cinema Initiative.

  11. Wonderful! Are we sure the building is only 87 years old? Wasn’t it the Kemper Tannery before the Playhouse? I wonder why the name is Powers court…must be after the Longshore Powers but why? Did he own?

  12. Maybe we can get an individual or corporation to bail out Connecticut if we add their name to the State e.g., Zuckerberg Connecticut or Walmart Connecticut…

  13. Sad. The Newman Playhouse sounds better. Big bucks have their day.

  14. It certainly is one way to get your name in lights.!

  15. Kudos to Howard Aibel for his generosity to the playhouse and to Mark Lamos and the playhouse staff for providing us, season after season, with creative and thought-provoking productions. We are grateful.

  16. Lot of anger on this Valentine’s Day…,Do we really think the name was contingent on the gift?? My guess is no so will simply say thank you for your generosity

    Pretty sure Paul would not take offense to the name either . Theres no chance people will ever forget all he and his wife did for the town….. and more

  17. How wonderful Howard!! Congratulations!
    From Janice and Fred Aibel

  18. There’s a certain historical continuity that gets interrupted when an old and beloved building is renamed to honor a donor. That continuity gets interrupted even worse, of course, if there’s not enough money coming in to sustain the building in the style that made it beloved in the first place. So I can see both sides to this debate. I just wish that Mr. Aibel and his family had been satisfied with a plaque or some other fitting monument on the property. I think the whole community is grateful for the generosity,

  19. I wonder if there was this much flak when the Playhouse named two of their buildings after Lucille Lortel and the Sheffer Family. Howard Aibel is a modest, kind and generous gentleman, and I’m sure the idea to name the building in his honor was not his idea.

  20. What cynical comments. Howard Aibel did not “”just” give money. He is a generous, caring, wonderful neighbor who supports many causes and the community overall. And he rolls up his sleeves to participate wherever he can. We can be thankful that we have neighbors like Howard, and we should delight in honoring them.

    • It is astonishing how so many people who comment on this blog so frequently and about this issue in particular cannot focus on the topic. It is not about Mr. Aibel. It is about the decision to change the name of building or add the name of the donor to the building. This had to be the decision of the playhouse board. It does not in anyway discredit or demean Mr. Aibel. It becomes, as often is the case, how do we show respect for the money being donated, not the person donating it. I have never met Mr. Aibel, but from what I understand from people who know him he is a gentle, generous man. I don’t imagine it was his suggestion to change the front of the playhouse. But in this town which is so self-promoting, self-congratulating, and self-centered, no one can resist translating a generous gift into a promotional platform. And is often the case, comments about an issue are quickly translated into personal affronts and attacks with a defense that has little to do with the actual topic.

  21. This discussion is not be about Mr. Aibel, whose generosity and, from the sound if it here, fundamental goodness is not in dispute. What we’re debating is a principle, which is that a local institution that has been around as long as this one and beloved by generations of people, has at some level become community property regardless of its finances. It’s name should reflect this history and not be changed lightly in response to financial exigencies.

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