Connecticut’s Unusual Theater Sites

August 15, 2011 8:00 AM

Photo Credit: Milford Center for the Arts website

By Joanne Greco Rochman

When it comes to theater, Connecticut Yankees will set up a stage just about anywhere. Some of the most unusual locales add extra drama for theater aficionados and most of them have distinguishing histories.   Whether your taste leans towards musicals, comedies, or drama, you’ll not only find them all on Connecticut stages, but in some of the most unlikely places. Check out the theaters that not only offer live entertainment but fascinating facilities.

westportcountryplayhouse 01 Connecticut’s Unusual Theater Sites

Photo Credit: Robert Benson

The Westport Country Playhouse
25 Powers Court
Westport, Connecticut 06880
(203) 227-4177
Tues-Fri 12pm-6pm

Who knew that a tannery and a cider mill would one day house one of the most famous theaters in Connecticut? It’s the Westport Country Playhouse, which started out as a tannery in the 1830s, turned into a cider mill after that, and ultimately became an abandoned old red barn. Finally, it was purchased by Broadway producer Lawrence Langner in 1931.Having the wherewithal , he had a Broadway type stage built in the barn  to more easily move shows from Connecticut to Broadway.  The theater looked like a big red barn for most of its 80 plus years, and thanks to the fund-raising efforts of Joanne Woodward and her late husband Paul Newman, the theater still looks like a big red barn. It just looks a heck of a lot better since its $30 million makeover.  Tickets vary.

goodspeed opera house photo by diane sobolewski e1310757397677 Connecticut’s Unusual Theater Sites

Photo Credit: Diane Sobolewski

The Goodspeed Opera House
6 Main Street
East Haddam, CT 06423
(860) 873-8668

If you cross the scenic Connecticut River via a working drawbridge, you will spot something that seems to rise out of the river, looking like a pop-up page from a fanciful storybook  or a scene out of “Camelot.” In actuality, it is the Goodspeed Opera House and according to its history  was built in 1876 as a shipping/banking business site with a theater venue. It then served as a militia base in WWI and then became a general store. Believe it or not , after that it housed  a State Highway Department building.  Finally in 1959, Goodspeed Musicals restored the facility and it now preserves and produces America’s most beloved musicals. This professional, full Equity theater stages productions throughout the summer and fall. Ticket prices vary so call ahead.

milfordcenterforthearts1 Connecticut’s Unusual Theater Sites

Photo Credit: Milford Center for the Arts website

Eastbound Theatre, Milford Center for the Arts
40 Railroad Ave. South
Milford, CT 06460
(203) 882-0969

Wait! Is that a train I hear? Eastbound Theatre is housed in what was once a railroad station. It’s so close to the tracks that at any given time the whole theater shakes as a passing train whizzes by.  Theater productions run the gamut from comedy to drama and are performed by talented community actors. Tickets are $15.

thegary Connecticut’s Unusual Theater Sites

Photo Credit: The Gary – The Olivia Performing Arts Center

The Gary – The Olivia Performing Arts Center
At the Abbey of Regina Laudis
273 Flanders Road
Bethlehem, CT  06751

There’s a special quality about The Gary-The Olivia Theatre. This roofed outdoor summer theater never fails to draw audiences from far and wide. Built in 1982 on the grounds of the abbey for the Benedictine nuns, it is always a surprise to find the contemporary theater next to a barn that houses an 18th century crèche that belonged to the King of Sardinia in 1720. The grounds are gorgeous.  A community theater of professional and amateur actors, this theater performs one musical and one non-musical each summer. It’s worth a trip to this theater even when a show is not on the boards. Tickets are $18.

theatreworks Connecticut’s Unusual Theater Sites

Photo Credit: TheatreWorks New Milford

TheatreWorks New Milford
5 Brookside Avenue
New Milford, CT 06776
(860) 350-6863

A theater in a church? Why not?  Some of the earliest theater offerings were religious ceremonies. TheatreWorks in New Milford is a cutting-edge theater happily at home in the Adventist Church of 1901. According to the theater’s history, that church once flaunted a giant bell made in France in 1703. Since then, the bell was transferred to the historic society and church pews were replaced with theater seats.  Tickets for musicals are $28 and $20 for non-musicals.

Joanne Greco Rochman is the arts editor of The Fairfield County Review, a columnist, critic, feature story writer and English professor. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Republican-American and Hersam-Acorn Publications.

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