By Joanne Greco Rochman
When a theater is doing a play with a title that can’t be printed in the public domain, that’s edgy theater. When its season is full of plays that are so hot Off –Broadway that they’re still steaming in Hartford, that’s cutting-edge theater. The bottom line is that no matter how you cut it or define theater with an edge, it always winds up TheaterWorks in Hartford.
City Arts on Pearl
233 Pearl Street
Hartford, CT 06103
By the time you read this, “Mother-F—-r With the Hat” will have just closed at TheaterWorks in Hartford. A truly great production of an outstanding play by Stephen Adly Guirgis, Tazewell Thompson directed the work superbly. The play was difficult to publicize because its title is – well – it’s a tough title to promote. Most family newspapers and radio and television shows won’t print it or pronounce it. While other theaters might just pass it up, TheaterWorks didn’t even flinch when it came to offering it to its audiences. And the audiences loved it so much, the cast got standing ovations performance after performance.
From January 20 through Feb. 26, “The Sty of the Blind Pig” by Philip Hayes Dean is on the boards. The play is about a mother/daughter relationship and a stranger who arrives on the scene. Set in pre-Civil Rights Chicago, family and change are at the heart of this play. This will be followed by a production of “Red,” “Time Stands Still” and “Reasons to be Pretty.” All of the plays are cutting edge and this has to do with the creative head of the theater – Steve Campo.
Amazingly, while other theaters are struggling to get subscribers, Campo’s TheaterWorks has a loyal and ever-growing subscription base. We’re talking about 6,000 subscribers and this is in spite of the fact that subscribers have absolutely no idea of what plays are coming up in each season. However, they do know that they can count on TheaterWorks presenting plays that will have them saying “Wow” as they exit the building. A lot of the success is due to the fact that TheaterWorks founder, Steve Campo, waits until the last minute to announce the productions. In this way, he has an edge over competitors because he can swoop up shows right off the New York scene while other theaters wait for following seasons.
Considering that this is TheaterWorks 26th successful season and that the theater owns the building, Campo is definitely doing something right. He knows his audience and he knows what kind of plays will pack the house. Most of the shows sell-out. According to the theater’s General Manager, Freddie McInerney, Campo is not only the founder but the longest standing artistic director of all major, professional theaters in the greater Hartford region.
“We’re only 12 full-timers,” said McInerney, “but our staff is made up of the guys who build the sets, are multi-talented, and absolutely devoted to the arts.” One of the best theater stories around, the building it is housed in, known as a cultural landmark, “City Arts on Pearl” – is a facility that has been restored on Pearl Street and houses other non-profit arts organizations including:
- Alliance Française
- Hartford Chorale
- Purpose Project
- Connecticut Guitar Society
- Judy Dworin Dance Project
- Hartbeat Ensemble
- Bated Breath Theater Group
Because of Campo’s vision to bring together theater, music, dance, and visual arts under one safe roof, the building now claims the single largest concentration of non-profit arts organizations in the State of Connecticut. This means that when you enter the lobby from the street, you enter a café with fine art exhibits. There’s always something going on here. It’s an artist’s dream of an artistic community that not only shares its resources, but thrives.