For thousands of years, people have looked to theater to see themselves reflected back. There is something magical about seeing a small snapshot of one’s own existence played out in front of your eyes. Sometimes theater can go even further. The German playwright Bertolt Brecht wrote, “Art is not a mirror held up to reality but a hammer with which to shape it.” Small community theater houses are often the best places to encounter the hammer that Brecht wrote about. There are, perhaps, better-known theaters in the state, such as the New Haven triumvirate of the Shubert, Yale Rep and Long Wharf. But here are some others to check out.
This small theater is hidden away in the back of the Erector Square factory complex on the northern edge of New Haven’s Fair Haven neighborhood. Bregamos specializes in plays with a political and activist bent, often focused on the experiences of the Latin American community, both in the U.S. and Latin America. This past fall they hosted a spectacular party on Dia de los Muertos, the holiday of honoring loved ones who have died and hoping for a better world to come. While the 2017 schedule has not been announced as of this writing, you can be sure that the current political turbulence will be at the forefront of the minds of the local playwrights, directors and actors.
492 Blatchley Ave., New Haven
The essence of this capital city theater group is right there in the name: this community theater does its best to tell stories and put on stage plays that reverberate at the very core of the city of Hartford, like a beating heart. Since 2001, the HartBeat ensemble has put on plays that are set in the city, offering a Hartford-based perspective on the world. In September, HartBeat celebrated its 15th anniversary, and is now housed in its own permanent space at the Carriage House Theater on Farmington Avenue. In April, HartBeat will host a Women’s Theater Festival, in which the female members of the ensemble will stage readings around themes like addiction in Hartford.
360 Farmington Ave., Hartford
Founded in 1975, this Middletown youth theater institution has introduced thousands of young people to the world of theater and drama via acting, directing and working the technical side of theater. In 1994, Oddfellows moved into its own 10,000-square-foot building on Washington Street, featuring a 110-seat theater. Since then, Oddfellows has been recognized by the Middlesex County NAACP for its commitment to young people living with the challenges of poverty.
128 Washington St., Middletown
Chestnut Street Playhouse
This playhouse in an old converted firehouse takes to heart Brecht’s characterization of art as a “hammer with which to shape” one’s surroundings. According to the Chestnut Street Playhouse’s website, those who run the space “strive to be a major catalyst for community involvement and revitalization through the arts.” The playhouse offers a summer theater program for children, and the 2017 season will feature a number of musicals, from
The Addams Family in March and April to the musical Seussical over the summer.
24 Chestnut St., Norwich
The rural northeastern Quiet Corner hides this not-so-quiet Putnam playhouse. In 2016, Yankee Magazine named the Bradley Playhouse the best community theater in New England. The title is a long time coming for the Bradley, as it’s been around for 115 years. The theater is a great example of how rural, small-town America can be an ambitious, worldly place. Productions this year will include a range of shows from The Little Mermaid to the musical Buddy — The Buddy Holly Story.
30 Front St., Putnam
One of the most prominent community theaters in the state is the venerable Ivoryton Playhouse. We rated it as the best small theater in the state in our 2016 Best of Connecticut feature, and 2017 should see the playhouse continue with its usual excellence. Our picks in the 2017 season include the production of Biloxi Blues from April 26 to May 14, and at the peak of the summer heat, you can’t afford to miss the legendary story of heat in the city, West Side Story, which runsfrom July 5-30.
103 Main St., Ivoryton
Square Foot Theatre
Imagine if the strip malls and mini-marts of the U.S. were filled with cultural institutions, rather than chain stores and endless retail. The Square Foot Theater in Wallingford is located in just such a strip mall off exit 66 on the Wilbur Cross Parkway, and focuses on putting on musicals. The 2017 season will feature The Little Mermaid, Billy Elliot and Godspell.
950 Yale Ave., Wallingford
Sea Tea Improv
If improvisational comedy is your thing, you can’t do much better than to check out Sea Tea Improv. The wackiness of improv often hides the sheer genius it takes to perform, and the folks at Sea Tea have been strong practitioners for quite a while. In addition to their improv comedy shows in their own black box theater on Asylum Street, they also host improv classes and workshops at a studio on Pratt Street.
15 Asylum St., Hartford
Founded in 1990 before moving to its current location in 1992, Curtain Call was launched initially with the help and assistance of the Stamford Community Arts Council. According to the theater, they entertain some 30,000 people a year, and put on a free outdoor Shakespeare show every summer. The 2017 season is full of must-sees, from The Who’s Tommy in February to April’s The Independents, depicting the relationship between Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas.
1349 Newfield Ave., Stamford