But the Westport Country Playhouse 2022 season will be staged in person. Live.
And it promises to be very, very lively.
The historic theater’s 92nd season begins in April, and runs through November. Artistic director Mark Lamos plans 5 shows:
An all-new production of “Ain’t Misbehavin'”
A blazing interpretation of the groundbreaking musical “Next to Normal”
The beautiful, insightful play about generational divide, “400o Miles”
The exuberant “Straight White Men,” and
“The moving, joyful celebration of spirit: “From the Mississippi Delta.”
Season package renewals are underway now for current subscribers: in person at the box office Tuesdays through Fridays (noon to 6 p.m.); by mail (25 Powers Court, Westport, CT 06880), by phone (203-227-4177) or online.
Tickets for new season ticket buyers go on sale November 9, with savings, priority seating, restaurant discounts, and a choice of options. Single tickets will be available early next year.
But theatergoers don’t have to wait until next spring. After the Playhouse pivoted to online, outdoor and radio shows during the pandemic, they’ll resume live performances November 2 to 20 — with a twist.
“Doubt: A Parable” will also be filmed before an in-house audience, for on-demand streaming at home.
It’s been a dark two years for the Westport Country Playhouse — both literally and figuratively.
But the lights come back up in November. They’ll burn even brighter in 2022. The second show of the year is not the only thing that will be “Next to Normal.”
Empty Playhouse seats will soon be filled. (Photo/Robert Benson)
As the Westport Country Playhouse reaches out to younger audiences, a new generation of trustees has joined its board.
One name is familiar: 24-year-old State Senator (and 2014 Staples High School graduate) Will Haskell.
Jessica Caldwell is not as well known. But she has a fascinating back story, one that serves her well in her role helping oversee the 90-year-old theater.
Raised in a lobstering village of 500 people off the coast of Maine, and just 16 when she headed to college, Caldwell took screenwriting, writing and communications courses as an undergrad.
That led to Columbia University’s MFA program, from 2009 to ’12. She went on to produce independent feature films (“Electrick Children,” “Happy Baby,” “AWOL”). and the upcoming “When I’m Done Dying.”
Her feature films have premiered at Berlinale, SXSW and Tribeca. Her short films were shown at Sundance, Telluride and Tribeca.
She’s had a hand too in TV. After hearing Brian Koppelman and David Levien speak while still in school, she connected with them on social media. When they needed an assistant for a new show called “Billions,” they hired the 26-year-old Caldwell.
She worked in the writer’s room and as a showrunner — both in assistant roles.. It was an “intensive crash course, with amazing actors and a great network.” The experience was both exhausting and exhilarating.
“Billions” was set originally in Westport. The hedge fund was modeled in part on Bridgewater. Caldwell did not yet live here. And she was not yet married to her husband — who coincidentally now works for a local hedge fund.
“Billions”‘ Axe Capital hedge fund was originally set in Westport.
Koppelman and Levien encouraged her to write full time. She’s written features and book adaptations, and helps develop ideas for production, like “Gonzo Girl.” A first-person story about a bizarre first date got plenty of New York Times attention.
“I keep trying to roll the ball forward,” Caldwell says. “You never know what people will want.”
The pandemic changed how she works. Pitches were done entirely on Zoom, with executives in Los Angeles and producers in London.
It was a tough time for feature films. But the rise of platforms like Disney+, Paramount+, Apple TV+ and Peacock filled people’s needs for entertainment options. “We’ve all had to think on our feet and adapt,” Caldwell notes.
She is thankful to have a place like Westport to write in (and, with her husband, raise their year-old son).
Living here has brought her to the Playhouse, too. She first volunteered for the annual gala; the more she saw, the more she realized she could help reach out to younger audiences.
New trustees will help the Westport Country Playhouse reach younger audiences.
She looks forward to mentoring younger members of the arts community. She is thankful for the help Koppelman and Levien gave her, early in her career, when “Billions” was just starting out.
And when the only reason she knew Westport was through the fictional world of its Axe Capital.
The Westport Country Playhouse suffered significant damage last night. as Hurricane Ida swept through — smack in the middle of the “Stars on Stage” concerts, being record for national TV broadcast.
Dressing rooms, hallways, the production office, mechanical and boiler room, wardrobe, laundry and other spaces on the lower level and basement all experienced severe flooding.
It will be days before those areas are dry and sanitized.
The Playhouse seeks “any gift within your means” to help recover the costs associated with damage repair, and the additional expense of renting trailers and other temporary spaces for the artists coming for this evening’s concert with Brandon Victor Dixon. Click here to help.
Donut Crazy — the wonderful, warm, not-for-the-calorie-conscious coffeehouse on the eastbound side of the Saugatuck train station — is closed today.
It’s unclear whether it’s permanent. Loyal customers hope not. Their fingers are crossed it will reopen — perhaps under new owners.
The past 17 months have not been easy. Always a bit out of the way for late-arriving morning commuters to New York, the steep drop in ridership during the pandemic must have hurt.
The arrival of Steam donuts and coffee at Desi’s Corner, at the Railroad Place by Riverside Avenue, is another blow.
Donut Crazy’s 4 other locations — in Stratford, Shelton, Branford and West Hartford — remain open. That’s not too far to go for some of the craziest donuts (and more) on earth. (Hat tip: Carolanne Curry)
Sam Palmer is the son of a Staples High School teacher. A 2019 graduate of Fairfield Warde High School, he’s been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He’s waiting for a blood stem cell/bone marrow transplant.
And he needs a donor.
A “Swab for Sam/Be the Match” donor registration drive is set for this Saturday (August 28, 9 to 11 a.m., Fairfield Warde High School, 755 Melville Avenue).
It takes just 5 minutes to register, and have your cheek swabbed to enter the marrow donor registry. The more donors, the more chances Sam — and others like him — have to live long, full lives.
Rod Gilbert — the New York Rangers great who died last weekend at 80 — leaves behind many fans.
Among them: Charlie Capalbo. The Fairfield hockey player — and grandson of Westporters Ina Chadwick and Richard Epstein — has battled cancer for several years. His spirits have been lifted by many people in the hockey world.
Gilbert was among the first. Here was his message to Charlie, in 2017:
Did you miss the 2018 Westport Country Playhouse presentation of “Man of La Mancha?” Saw it, and want to see it again? Just looking for great entertainment, as the Delta variant has us all wary again of crowds?
The award-winning show is available now, on demand, through September 5. Tickets start at just $25. Click here to order.
Laura Nelson died Friday, surrounded by family and friends, following a battle with cancer. She was 55.
Her family says: “Laura’s light always shined brightly. The people of Westport may remember sharing a friendly wave, a peace sign or a warm smile with Laura as she drove around the neighborhood in her clementine orange VW bus, laughing and soaking up every drop of life.
“She was an accomplished communications executive and public relations expert, dedicated wife and mother, loving sister and aunt, best friend, and adored colleague.
“Above all, Laura loved her husband Jim and their children Charlie and Annabelle fiercely and unconditionally. Her pride in their accomplishments knew no bounds.”
Laura began her career as a PR professional with Dan Klores Associates in New York City. For over 3 decades she rose through the media industry as the cable television business flourished.
In her early career she led the communications team at Comedy Central, then a fledgling startup channel. She rose to senior vice president of communications and public affairs for VH1 and MTV. She later joined Nielsen, where she served as chief communications officer during a transformative period.
Laura advised celebrities and media executives throughout her career. Her family says, “She was known as a savvy strategist and insightful advisor. She was a student of the spoken and written word and used this knowledge to advance the interests of her clients and organizations. Maybe most importantly, Laura knew how to bring out the best in her people—she was the perfect combination of mentor, coach, advocate, leader, and friend. Over the years, she assembled multiple award-winning teams, and many of her protégés have gone on to serve as chief marketing and communications officers themselves.”
Born in Mt. Prospect, Illinois, Laura grew up in Darien. In 1983, Laura served as a Page in the US Senate and attended the Capitol Page School. At Darien High School she was the editor of the school newspaper. She graduated from Boston College with a BA in ohilosophy. As part of her undergraduate studies, she attended Temple University in Rome, where she developed a lifelong love of Italy and its culture.
Her family notes: “Laura was generous, loyal, and warm, and she readily adopted friends into her extended family. She was known for her sense of humor, authenticity, and dedication to her family and friends. She was unyielding on the things that mattered to her and to the world, and she loved with her whole heart and soul.
She is survived by her husband James A. Kremens; children Charles Kremens and Annabelle Kremens, all of Westport; siblings Gina Wilcox (Brady) of Old Lyme; Paul Nelson (Julie) of Wilmette, Illinois, and Andrew Nelson (Meghan) of Cincinnati.
A mass of Christian burial will be held Friday, (August 27, 11 a.m., Church of the Assumption.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to The Cancer Couch Foundation, P.O. Box 1145, Southport, CT 06890, or thecancercouch.com.
“Yesterday I saw 2 people that I believe are homeless.
“One was asking for money in front of Fresh Market. After I gave him some, he showed me his injuries from overseas military assignments. I then stayed in my car watching, as many Westporters passed him by.
“The second individual I saw yesterday morning walking in Southport towards Westport (see photo).
“I wonder: What is Westport doing to help these people?”
“06880” readers know Caryl Beatus for her insightful comments, on a broad range of subjects.
The Longshore Ladies Golf Association know her as a friend.
On August 31, they’ll celebrate 60 years of existence with a luncheon. (A year late, because of COVID. Good things come to those who wait.)
Caryl — an original member, when the organization was formed in 1960 — is an important part of those 60 years.
In 2017, the LWGA recognized her service by naming its annual member/member tournament after her.
Caryl has served the LWGA in many capacities. She oversaw the creation and revision of its by-laws, was tournament chair, and for many years organized biannual luncheons.
She has put in countless hours, and always made herself available to help move the organization forward.
Patty Kondub, a past president and coach of the Staples girls golf team, says that a decade ago, when she and Caryl were both injured, Caryl convinced her to serve with her as a “co-hostess.” Every week early in the morning they greeted members, explained the tournament, and introduced players to each other to build camaraderie.
Patty notes that Caryl is a “good luck charm.” Many LWGA members have shot their best rounds while playing with Caryl in their Tuesday tournaments.
Congrats to the LWGA for 60 (61) years — and to Caryl Beatus for all she has one, during those 6 decades.
Caryl Beatus (right) and Anne Krygier, enjoying another day on the links.
Longtime Westporter — and North Avenue-area resident — Carl Addison Swanson shares an email he sent to 1st Selectman Jim Marpe:
“Last year, over 100 children died and another 25,000 were injured on their way to school.
“In Westport, where I grew up and have been associated with this town since 1952, North Avenue is used as a commuter route for those living in Easton, Weston, Wilton, Fairfield and Southport. Drivers drive too fast. A recent study, using a radar gun, clocked 72% of drivers exceeding 45 m.p.h. on the road.
“What makes this issue more critical is that 4 schools are situated on North Avenue: Coleytown Middle, Coleytown Elementary, Bedford Middle and Staples High School. And while a traffic guard is used to direct traffic, they are not there when, many times, children cross before and/or after school hours due to sports or extracurricular activities. Further, many adults use these crossways to take a walk or bike ride at odd hours.
“I have written to the Westport Police Chief with return comments such as we do not use traffic lights to control traffic,’ and the placement of little green men cones (as seen on Riverside and downtown) are too expensive. Really?
“In every other jurisdiction I have lived in, from Texas to Vermont, the state and town protects their children by blinking lights, a speed limit of 5 mph during peak times, and strict enforcement by the local police on each and every school.
“For a town that bases its importance on the education of their youth, you seem to yield to the flow of traffic rather than the safety of our residents? A grassroots effort by concerned Westporters to change this is now being organized.”
Carl Addison Swanson would like to see — at the minimum — signs like these near our schools.
A limited number of complimentary tickets are available for first responders, frontline workers, teachers, and community groups to attend “Stars on Stage from Westport Country Playhouse.”
The 3 nights of concerts by Broadway artists Shoshana Bean (Wicked, Waitress), Gavin Creel (Hello, Dolly!, The Book of Mormon) and Brandon Victor Dixon (NBC’s Jesus Christ Superstar, Hamilton) will be taped August 31 through September 2, for a future national television broadcast. There are 2 shows each night: 7 and 9 p.m.
Click here to join via livestream or in person. Copies of My Place At the Table are available for ordering and pickup at the Library, or shipping if further away.
Author/essayinst/memoir writer Mary-Lou Weisman hosts :Introductory Memoir Writing Workshops” this fall. They are on Mondays, from September 20 through October 25 (12:30 to 2:30 pm). Click here for more information, and to register.
Westporters know our Country Playhouse is special.
Soon, the rest of the nation will see why.
On 3 consecutive nights starting August 31, Broadway stars will perform before a live audience. The concerts will be taped, edited, then broadcast nationally. The show will be called “Stars on Stage From Westport Country Playhouse.”
Shoshana Bean (“Wicked,” “Waitress”) kicks things off. She’ll be followed by Gavin Creel (a Tony Winner in “Hello, Dolly!”; “The Book of Mormon”) on September 1. Brandon Victor Dixon (Aaron Burr in “Hamilton,” an Emmy nominee in “Jesus Christ Superstar”) completes the triple play on September 2.
There are 2 shows each night, at 7 and 9 p.m.
Westporter Andrew Wilk is the creator and executive producer of “Stars on Stage!”
This is not his first rodeo (or stage show). He was executive producer of PBS’ “Live from Lincoln Center” from 2012-19, and has won 5 Emmys for his production work.
A limited number of tickets ($75 and $20) are available to the public. Complimentary tickets are reserved for first responders, students, teachers, and groups and organizations.
“Human beings tell stories. And the best way we tell them is through live theater.”
Michael Barker has spent his life in theater. For more than 16 months though, the Westport Country Playhouse — where he serves as managing director — has been dark.
There were no live performances last year. There have been none this summer either — the 90th year for the legendary theater.
For the second year in a row, Westport Country Playhouse seats have been empty. (Photo/Robert Benson)
“The pandemic was terrible for everyone. It was especially terrible for the arts. And among the performing arts, it was especially terrible for theater,” Barker says.
COVID forced the Playhouse to furlough 14 of 24 “wonderful, talented” staff members. “It was incredibly painful,” Barker recalls. (The board of directors covered insurance deductibles while those employees were out of work.)
This year, all but 2 have returned. “We were determined to have a season,. We didn’t know if it would be in person, under a tent or online. But we needed them back,” Barker says.
The decision was made to show 4 productions — virtually.
But now — as the world cracks open for in-person theaters — the Westport Playhouse has taken a big step.
The final show of the 2021 season — “Doubt,” a riveting Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning play about a religious school principal, a young parish priest and a troubled boy– will be performed live November 2-20. (A streaming option will be available for patrons who cannot, or do not want to, attend in person.)
It normally takes a year to design, cast, rehearse and stage a play. This time frame is much shorter.
And the demands are much tougher. Rather than create something solely for an in-house audience — or one that will be seen onlyvia livestream — director David Kennedy must balance the needs of both. He’s got to think about hundreds of eyes sitting in the famed red seats — and 3 cameras arrayed unobtrusively around them.
Why invite audiences back now, and not wait till 2022?
“In-person theater is what we do,” Barker says. “We’ve been waiting for the state to open back up. Every day I’m grateful for the (high) vaccination rates in Connecticut.”
Live theater is “even more important now, because we’ve been without it,” the managing director adds.
Story-telling is part of what makes us human, he notes. And though there are many ways to do that, when we watch other forms of drama — movies, say, or TV — we see a story that has already been told.
Live theater, however, is “story-telling in the moment,” Barker explains. “There’s no replacement for seeing that story with many other people, the instant it happens.”
Loyal Playhouse patrons understand that. There have been live events this year, like cabaret and concerts. But, Barker says, audiences keep asking, “When can we come back and see plays?” Now he can tell them: November.
Hard as it’s been, the pandemic has taught WCP officials important lessons. Despite the power of live theater, they’ve learned the importance of video.
“We should have done more in the past. We’ll do more in the future,” Barker promises.
“Probably every theater will do some form of virtual offerings, for those who want or need it. Then it goes into the archives.”
The Westport Country Playhouse will welcome live play audiences in November.
But his main hope for the future is linked with an event from the past.
“This may not be a perfect analogy,” Barker warns. “But after 9/11, there was an enormous explosion of the arts. It was a way to tell the terrorists, ‘You can’t make us stay home.’
“Now we’ve had our shots. We’re coming back. And we’re getting ready for an explosion of experiencing live theater together.”
First, Cold Fusion hung the Remarkable Guy — a remnant of the long-ago book store across Main Street from the new gelato shop — on its wall.
Now it’s paying homage to another iconic ancestral neighbor.
The original Ice Cream Parlor was a few doors down — where Brandy Melville is now.
It moved twice, eventually ending up on the Post Road diagonally across from the Westport Country Playhouse. That’s where it was in 1966, when this ad appeared in a Playhouse playbill. Longtime Westporter (and, no doubt, longtime Ice Cream Parlor fan) Paula Schooler gave it to Cold Fusion.
In addition to the Ice Cream Parlor’s brunch, lunch and dinner offerings, and penny candies (“the largest assortment under the sun”), the ad touted Terpsichore. That was the restaurant’s discotheque — “Westport’s first” — with “Go-Go Girls in their Bird Cages.”
From ice cream to gelato — and go-go girls to #MeToo — we’ve come a long way, baby.
One of the few good things to come out of the pandemic is that the New York Times wedding announcements are a lot more interesting.
When fewer couples got married last year, the paper began writing actual stories out of how they meet, and how their relationships developed.
Here’s the lead in one “Vows” story in the Styles section yesterday:
On a summer evening in a previous century, Garrett Foster, then 27, summoned up his courage and entered a gay bar for the first time. At the Brook in Westport, Conn., which, until it closed, was the oldest continually operating gay bar in the country, he laid eyes on Brian Murray, then 31. Mr. Murray had once been a regular, but that was his first night there in a while. Their connection was immediate.
“I knew I was going to spend my life with this man,” Mr. Foster said. What he couldn’t have guessed, was that he would legally marry him someday.
That marriage was July 13, 2021 — 31 years to the day after they first met. Click here for all the details.
Brian Murray (left) and Garrett Foster. (Photo courtesy of New York Times)
Haslea is the name of Jeff Northrop’s new aquaculture company operating on Sherwood Mill Pond. After testing the concept a few years ago with Hummock Island Shellfish, he began developing a more streamlined approach to growing bivalves on the oyster grounds that have been in his family since the 1700s.
Haslea plans to use the Mill Pond not to maximize production, but as an R&D pond for selective breeding oysters for disease resistance. It’s part of a larger natural oyster restoration along the coast they’re working on.
The company — including chief technology officer Luke Gray of MIT — has provisional patents for a new fully robotic growing system that could produce oysters for 1/10th the cost. It’s for offshore sites, and will not be used in the Mill Pond.
Co-founder Jonathan Goldstein moved to Westport recently, to help Jeff. He was previously with Compass in New York.
Chief operating officer Roberto Aguaya Diaz moved from Texas, where he postponed his MBA to help build Haslea. His family has an aquaculture background, with shrimp farms.
Westport has taken a big step toward adding more bus shelters.
Last night the Planning & Zoning Commission voted 5-0, with 1 abstention, on a text amendment. It adopts a definition for “bus shelters,” and exempts them from being considered a “structure.” That removes many obstacles from where they can be located.
Transportation and employment advocates have pushed for more bus shelters for years. Before last night bus shelters were deemed to be structures, and could not be located within the 30-foot setback along roads.
Thus, except for one shelter near Stop & Shop, bus riders on the Post Road must stand in all kinds of weather, on sidewalks or even the roadway.
Approval for new bus shelter locations will be made by the director of Public Works, in consultation with the Police and Fire Departments.
Among the people working for years for this change are members of the ad hoc Bus Shelter Working Group (Pippa Bell Ader, Harold Bailey, Ross Burkhardt, Ron Corwin, Jennifer Johnson, Melissa Kane and Larry Weisman), plus Peter Boyd of Sustainable Westport, and Planning & Zoning director Mary Young.
Click here for full details of the text amendment.
Waiting for the bus. (Photos courtesy of Planning & Zoning Commission Bus Shelter Working Group)
Though the Westport Country Playhouse will not host any live productions this summer, the famed theater is opening up for special events.
They include cabaret performances tomorrow (Saturday, June 26, 8 p.m., with Tonya Pinkins and Brad Simmons, and another cabaret July 24); an in-person screening of the virtual production “Tiny House” (Tuesday, June 29), and more. (Click here for details.)
Playhouse managing director Michael Barker filmed a “welcome back” video. Click below to enjoy.
Longtime Westporter Herman Smith died June 17. He was 84
Herman lived in The Villages, Florida for nearly 20 years, but called Westport and Danbury home. He was the second of 4 generations of Westport residents, following his father who started a business in the 1940s.
Herman was educated in the Westport school system, from kindergarten through his graduation from Staples High School in 1955. He then attended the Engineering Institute of Bridgeport. He was also honorably discharged from the United States Air Force, and served in the National Guard.
Herman was in management at United Parcel Services, working in the South New England District for over 30 years. He retired in 1995.
Herman was an original member of the Gents, and a long time member of the African American Club at The Villages. He enjoyed his time with the Frogs and Flakes, and the ROMEOs with his neighbors on Lawson Loop.
He was also a collector of baseball hats, an avid golfer and a world traveler. He and his wife Mary Fran traveled to over 25 countries, and visited all 7 continents.
His favorite spots and activities included his gardens in Westport, boating on Candlewood Lake, golfing at the Villages, watching the ocean at Daytona Beach Shores and making memories at Disney with his family.
He was predeceased by his parents, John Herman and Jane Smith, and sister, Jane “Patsy” Smith. Herman is survived by his loving wife of 57 years, Mary Frances; children Mark of The Villages, Florida; Susan of New Haven, and Scott (Jane) of Westport, CT), and grandchildren Brandon, Jacob and Joshua.
Herman’s family will celebrate his legacy by establishing a scholarship in his name to advance the education and talents of promising youth. In lieu of flowers, they ask for contributions to that scholarship once it is established. Donations may also be made to another charity that fittingly honors Herman’s kind spirit, generous soul and full life.
A memorial service is planned for July 10 (11 a.m., Hiers-Baxley Funeral Services, The Villages, Florida). A celebration of Herman’s life will also be held in Connecticut in September.
On June 29, Westport Country Playhouse opens its virtual season with the regional premiere of “Tiny House.” (Some in-person seats are available too.)
It’s very 2021-ish: a new comedy about downsizing, going green, escaping urban life, and fresh starts.
Which makes it a far cry from “The Streets of New York.” That was the first Playhouse production ever. But it too was right for its time: Set in the Depression of 1837, it was extremely topical during the Great Depression.
The Playhouse curtain rose for the first time on June 29, 1931. Ninety years to the day — and over 800 plays — later, a new season begins.
Twenty years after founding the Westport Country Playhouse, Lawrence Langner published a memoir: “The Magic Curtain.” Here is an excerpt, about that very first year.
While the Theatre Guild was undergoing periods of varying fortune during the depression of the thirties, Armina [Langner’s wife] and I were carrying on parallel activities during the summers at the Westport Country Playhouse. We built the Playhouse in the year 1931, in order to establish a Repertory Company of our own, and to carry out our own ideas as regards plays and production.
The Westport Country Playhouse is situated in a 100-year-old orchard just off the Boston Post Road. A more attractive spot for a country theatre could hardly be imagined. This red barn nestling amid old, gnarled apple trees was a haven of peace and tranquility compared with Broadway, and some of the happiest days of my life have been spent driving to and from our farm [in Weston] to the Playhouse and rehearsing in the open air under the old trees.
The original barn — later a tannery — in an orchard.
There we were free to try out our creative ideas without interference, and without facing financial disaster if they failed. New plays and the classics could be essayed without reference to the tastes of Broadway. Actors could attempt new roles without facing the terrors of the New York opening nights, and new directors and scenic artists could be given a first chance to show their talents. And furthermore, the younger generation could have an opportunity to gain experience in the theatre.
The dramatic critics of the local papers welcomed us as a relief from the tedium of movie going and transmitted their pleasurable experiences to our audiences, who enjoyed us as a gay addition to the life of the community. Even the stagehands, the traditional enemies of the managers in the large cities decided, after a few preliminary skirmishes, to make their peace with us, and became our personal friends and collaborators in our happy undertaking. And the spirit which animated the beginnings of the Country Playhouse continues right down to today, as each new season brings fresh talents into the theatre and offers new opportunities in untried fields to the older actors and stage directors.
Early days at the Westport Country Playhouse. (Photo/Wells Studio)
Some of this spirit of pleasurable accomplishment undoubtedly springs from the atmosphere of the Playhouse itself. Remembering the toy theatre of my youth, and especially the “tuppence-colored” theatre with its gay proscenium of bright red and gold, its bright red curtain and red-and-gold-curtained side boxes, I asked Cleon Throckmorton, noted scenic designer of the Provincetown Players, to carry out this idea in a barn theatre. Throckmorton, who had designed the famous Cape Playhouse at Dennis, Massachusetts, responded with enthusiasm and made the stage the same size as that of the Times Square Theatre in New York and elsewhere. This gave our Playhouse a distinction over most summer theatres, and made it possible to use it as an incubator for plays for the theatres in other cities.
The first experiment in Westport was to be Repertory with an Acting Company which was to compensate me for the loss I felt with the disbanding of the Theatre Guild Acting Company. Armina and I threw ourselves with enthusiasm into forming this company, which we christened the New York Repertory Company.
The interior, 1933.
I asked Rollo Peters, who had done such invaluable work in the early days of the Theatre Guild, to become a member of the Company and to put his varied talents as a scenic artist, actor and stage director at our disposal. He did so, and also helped find the large red barn and unearthed the script of [Dion] Boucicault’s old Victorian melodrama, The Streets of New York, which was to form our first offering.
Other actors who joined the Acting Company were Romney Brent, Dorothy Gish, Winifred Lenihan, Moffat Johnston, Fania Marinoff, Armina Marshall, Jessie Busley and Tony Bundsman. As I wished to open the Repertory Company in a great hurry, for sixteen hours a day the carpenters and electricians were busy at work transforming the red barn (which had formerly been used as a tannery for leather hatbands) into our theatre.
Another view of the Westport country Playhouse, 1930s.
Our opening play, “The Streets of New York,” which had been played all over the world, and which appropriately dealt with the depression of 1837 and was hence topical in the depression of 1931, was produced with incidental music selected by Sigmund Spaeth, and colorful Victorian painted scenery and drops by Rollo Peters, who also played the leading role opposite Dorothy Gish.
On Monday night, June 29, 1931, the theatre was opened by old Daniel Frohman, then in his 80s and Dean of American producers, who made a charming speech with a crackling thunderstorm as an obligato accompaniment. But the storm subsided, and soon the audience fell under the spell of the delightful acting and singing, and the colorful costumes and scenery.
“The Streets of New York”: the very first Playhouse production.
Both our play and our Playhouse were instantaneous successes, and the play itself was performed twenty-one times in our repertory. It was followed by “The Comic Artist” by Susan Glaspell and Norman Matson. Then came “As You Like It,” with Rollo playing the part of Orlando and Armina as Rosalind, followed by Ibsen’s “Pillars of Society” and Will Cotton’s “The Bride the Sun Shines On.”
At the end of the season we had a repertory of these five plays running in Westport and ready to bring to New York, and I conceived the daring plan of opening them one right after another in the same week, just to show New York what an Acting Company could actually do.
(“Tiny House” streams on demand from June 29 through July 18. Some tickets are available for an in-person viewing of the virtual production, on a big screen, on Tuesday, June 29 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20 each. For more information and ticket purchases, both in-person and virtual, click here. or email email@example.com.)
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