Are the Darien Players no more?
After 33 years of bringing a variety of theater to town, the Darien Arts Center has decided to restructure its theater programming by consolidating the Darien Players and its Cabaret group. What will the new theater program be called? The tentative name is the Performing Arts Department, but an arts center committee will come up with a formal name soon.
Amy Allen, executive director of the DAC, said the consolidation happened to strengthen the theater program.
“Our intention is to keep the arts as invigorated as possible as we move forward to restructure the performing arts program here,” Allen told The Times. “We look forward to bringing live theater back to the community.”
The new group hopes to build upon the strong foundation established by the Darien Players, according to Dana Fead, chairman of theater at the DAC.
“The Darien Players has a long history and has built a legacy that we intend to build on and not destroy,” Fead said. “They have been an integral part of the community and that’s not changing. What they’ve done has been outstanding for over 33 years.
“This is a fresh new look as an organization,” Feed said of the restructuring. “I think it’s a great thing to do.”
But not everyone is happy with this tale. Longtime Players President Ron Heinbaugh decided to no longer work with the arts center’s theater program.
Heinbaugh led the Players during the past 12 years until his recent resignation, which he said was a result of his increasingly diminished role and the lack of control. After the arts center board of directors, which included Heinbaugh, voted unanimously to approve the consolidation, Heinbaugh left. The DAC tried to get him to stay on and continue directing plays, but he declined, saying it wasn’t worth it.
He said he originally was directing five plays a year, which then dropped to four, and then three. Then it was down to one play a year, which he said was the final straw.
“How can you keep an audience on one play a year,” he said. But Allen and Fead said this was a misunderstanding, and that they have no intention of only showing one play a year.
“We’d love to work with him and his years of expertise,” Allen said, “but we’d like to work with many people with many levels of expertise.”
Heinbaugh said conflict began a few years ago when former player and director Joel Fenster wanted to put on “Poseidon! An Upside Down Musical,” but creative differences at the arts center prevented the show from happening. After that, according to Heinbaugh, Fenster and two other board members left the Players. Heinbaugh stayed on because he felt dedicated to the organization, he said, but the differences only grew.
Fead said they in no way tried to push Heinbaugh out, and reiterated their desire to keep him on the team.
Allen commended Heinbaugh for his years of work bringing quality theater to town. “He’s given years and years of service through creative and intelligent oversight of productions,” she said. “I hope he can continue.”
Heinbaugh said he’s not sure if he wants to continue directing, even though he said there are many people who would support him.
“I may go back to some acting myself,” he said. The lifelong Darien resident said he began his career as a singer and got involved with the Darien Players about two decades ago. He also stays busy outside the theater. He’s a member of the town’s Commission on Aging, he’s president of the Darien/New Canaan AARP, he ushers at his church and stays active at the senior center.
“I don’t let much grass grow,” he said. “It’s what keeps me young.”
It’s still unclear whether the Darien Players will retain its name. Heinbaugh said he doesn’t want that name to continue to be used because its mission has changed. Allen and Fead wouldn’t comment on what the restructured group would be called, but instead focused on informing the community that they intend to continue to bring quality theater to the region.
“We want to do many performances here,” Allen said. “We’re thrilled to be developing a new group that will afford us an opportunity to do this.”
Fead added that the restructuring will only build upon the Players’ reputation. “We have a terrific group of people with broad theater backgrounds,” she said. “It should prove to be a really positive situation for the arts center.”
The arts center also expressed desire to reach out to the theater community to learn how to put their best foot forward in this new endeavor.
“I think that we will have the opportunity now to hear from many talented people who sit on this committee — producers, actors, stage managers, directors — to better understand what the community is looking forward to seeing and supporting,” Allen said.