by Patricia Grandjean
Oct 12, 2011
03:50 PMBox Office
Bravo! A Century of Theatre in Fairfield County
Courtesy of ASFT Archives
Katharine Hepburn and Alfred Drake at the American Festival Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford, 1957.
No matter where I travel, whenever I say that I live in Stratford, Conn. someone within ear shot will invariably say (with a smile), “I used to go to the Shakespeare Theatre there!” and will share their story with me. If you lived anywhere in Connecticut (or New York or Massachusetts) during the late 1950s through 1980s, you probably have wonderful memories of seeing a play at the American Shakespeare Festival Theatre, too. Maybe you were one of thousands of students who came to a matinée on a school trip for your first experience with a live Shakespearean production. Amazingly, all who attended those productions not only witnessed a group of celebrated actors who made the Bard’s characters come alive, but also became part of history in the making at the legendary theater. But the American Shakespeare Festival Theater is just part of the rich history of theater in Connecticut, particulary in Fairfield County.
During the past century, within Fairfield County’s borders the number of stage works mounted in regional theaters has been remarkable. Well-known playwrights, composers and actors (many of whom resided in the state, such as Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Katharine Hepburn, June Havoc, Christopher Plummer and Mark Lamos) often brought experimental ideas to these productions to help refine their craft. This legacy has inspired Bravo! A Century of Theatre in Fairfield County, at the Fairfield Museum and History Center in Fairfield, which focuses on the achievements of three of the area’s foremost theaters—the Westport Country Playhouse, the White Barn Theatre in Norwalk and the American Shakespeare Festival Theatre in Stratford.
The fascinating exhibit, which runs through March 18, 2012, includes set models, original costumes, props, scripts, posters and interactive stations, and aims to illustrate the influence these landmark theaters had on American theater nationally. Curator Martha S. LoMonaco, Ph.D. (director of the theater program at Fairfield University and author of several books on American theater history) was given access to the Shakespeare Theatre’s untouched archives and uncovered some gems. “We have handwritten notes of Katharine Hepburn’s from when she played Cleopatra, archival photos and a marvelous selection of costumes,” LoMonaco says. There will also be programming surrounding the exhibit, such as storytelling, staged readings of plays, backstage tours at the Westport Country Playhouse, lectures and workshops.
On Oct. 13 the FMHC presents, “Bravo! Educator Open House: Theatrical Play is Child’s Play.” Educators will be involved in child’s role playing through examples of dramatic play, puppetry, performance pieces, readers’ theatre and presentations.
On Oct. 18, “From Actor to Director: Personal Reflections on Shakespeare in Connecticut” takes place at the Westport Country Playhouse where Artistic Director Mark Lamos will reflect on his 1978 performance as Feste at the American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford. The talk will be accompanied by archival photos and followed by a performance of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, or What You WIll.
Then on Oct. 20 & 25, take a behind-the-scenes tour at the Playhouse.
For further information including a complete schedule of events and to register for events, call the Fairfield Museum at 203-259-1598 or visit fairfieldhs.org.