An Ode to Theater in Fairfield County

 
 Fritz Weaver as Hamlet and June Havoc as Tatiana in

Fritz Weaver as Hamlet and June Havoc as Tatiana in "A Midsummer Night’s Dream" strike a pose at the American Shakespeare Festival Theatre in 1958. Both were part of a group of seasonal repertory actors who performed during the Stratford theatre’s hay day.

Friedman-Abeles, courtesy of ASTFA Archives

     Connecticut has a rich history of theater. During the past century, within Fairfield County’s borders (a 625-square-mile radius) alone, 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 and Christopher Plummer) 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—Westport Country Playhouse, the White Barn Theatre in Norwalk and the American Shakespeare Festival Theatre in Stratford.


     The exhibit 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. After hours spent separating the wheat from the chaff, she uncovered some gems. “We have handwritten notes of Katharine Hepburn’s from when she played Cleopatra, archival photos and a marvelous selection of costumes,” she says.


     There will also be programming surrounding the exhibit, such as storytelling, staged readings of plays, backstage tours at the Westport Playhouse, lectures and workshops. Kathleen Bennewitz, museum director of exhibitions and programs points out, “The main goal of Bravo! is to involve visitors in the experience of live theater and to inspire artists and audiences of tomorrow.” Bravo! runs through March 18.

     For further information, call (203) 259-1598 or visit fairfieldhs.org.              

An Ode to Theater in Fairfield County

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