The White Barn Theatre is rapidly fading from memory.
The small stage in a former horse barn on the Westport/Norwalk border was founded in 1947 by noted actress and theater producer Lucille Lortel. It premiered works by Eugene Ionesco, Athol Fugard and Edward Albee.
Unlike the better-known Westport Country Playhouse — a launching pad for Broadway — the White Barn staged unusual and experimental plays. Lortel’s goal was to promote new playwrights, composers, actors, directors and designers, and help established artists develop new directions outside of commercial theater.
The theater closed in 2002, 3 years after her death at 97. As developers eyed the property — and, predictably, battled environmental- and preservation-minded neighbors — the theater itself deteriorated. It was demolished in July of 2017.
The Dillards are not anti-real estate. Nathan works in New York for Nest Seekers International, known for its hit Bravo show “Million Dollar Listing New York.” Gloria — who graduated from Weston High in 1992, when her last name was Ertlmaier — works for Keller Williams Luxury.
They’re also avid preservationists. The History Channel recently showcased their acquisition of the Hour Press building, built in the 1800s as a cigar factory.
The couple knows and loves the White Barn. When they heard recently that 15 luxury homes will be built on the site, the Dillards decided to reach out to the public. Their goal is to preserve as much of the theater’s history as possible, and pass it on to future generations. They’ve already got one of its 3 signs.
Yet they can’t do it alone. They’re looking for original items from the theater. They hope to purchase:
- Original physical negatives and/or pictures of the White Barn Theatre (with the sign showing)
- Original autographed photos of Lucille Lortel
- An original photo from Lortel’s Emmy Award ceremony in 1988
- An original photo from when Lortel was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame in 1990, and received the rarely presented Actors’ Fund Medal
- Original photos of these celebrities, at the White Barn Theatre: Marilyn Monroe, Peter Falk, Geoffrey Holder, Arthur Miller, Kevin Spacey, Rod Serling and others.
Lortel donated many items to the Westport Library, before she died in 1999. There must be much more memorabilia still in private hands.
If you’ve got any items — or know who might — email firstname.lastname@example.org.
And if anyone knows who made the original White Barn Theatre signs: The Dillards would love to know that too: email@example.com.