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.

40 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.

  22. I think that Dan Woog wrote this article to stir up trouble for Howard Aibel. He used comments from many unnamed people giving you the idea that it wasn’t his idea to create a problem for Howard, but that it came from local wags.
    I have known Howard Aibel for over 50 years. He is a kind, brilliant person who believed that Westport was a great place and he gave the town his love and devotion by helping to finance our great institutions.
    Shame on you detractors and shame on Dan Woog for writing this shameful article.
    Well Howard died last Friday so maybe you can say something nice about him. Go to Westport now and read his obituary and you will understand how wrong you all are.

    • It is stunning, as always, to see how people in Westport cannot stay on topic and make every comment a personal affront. Dan did not publish the piece on the Westport Country Playhouse to create trouble or insult anyone. The comments about adding Mr. Aibel’s name to the Playhouse turned into an attack on Mr. Aibel and they are completely mischaracterized. Dan’s article pointed out that the name was changed. It went from a generous gift that could have been acknowledged in so many ways to a self-serving promotion for the Playhouse. Stop this incessant whining about the relentless indignities suffered a kind gentleman. No one criticized Mr. Aibel. What continues to be demonstrated is this town’s endless taste for self-promotion and self-congratulation. And now you are using Dan’s blog to plead for someone to say something nice about Mr. Aibel? What a nice eulogy that is.

      • Nancy Hunter

        Dan creates his own “world”.

        • Just when I think I’ve seen everything, I see this. Arthur, I took the Westport Country Playhouse press release and added to it. Nancy, as usual you are in your own world.

  23. Margarita Shapiro

    I was trying to understand the genesis of a name change to the WCP after learning of this last evening.
    I attended a brilliantly planned evening to showcase this season’s series. Mark Lamos did a first rate job of discussing the plays he directs; costume designers spoke; a playwright for A Thousand Pines and the musical director for Man of La Mancha coming in the Fall. It was an exciting evening but I was mulling over the name change because I always thought the Newman’s figured prominently in getting the WCP back on its feet 15-20 years ago. What happened to the acknowledgement of them?
    I am grateful a donor, who I did not know of, felt compelled by his love of theatre to make such a generous gift. At the same time I am caught up short remembering all the work Joanne Newman contributed to the Playhouse when it was being rejuvenated and more modern, cutting edge pieces were brought in. Paul Newman a well known staple in this town to those of us of a certain age ( my kids know none of his work) also merits credit for his support and active participation.
    That the Playhouse board chose to put Mr. Aibel’s name over the WCP name just feels like a slight to the Newman’s and all that they contributed. This has nothing to do with the persons themselves.
    I am so appreciative this gift will allow the Playhouse to thrive. I just hope we do have some means of acknowledging the Newman’s. Maybe there is a plaque there? I was so excited about the season’s offerings and busy getting my tickets I did not look hard enough. It is a gem in our midst and it will always be Westport Playhouse to me.

    • Thanks, Margarita. You make some excellent points about the enormous contributions of Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman. Please note that the name of the Westport Country Playhouse will not change. The Howard Aibel name simply refers to the property itself. See you at a show!