ACT of Connecticut (A Contemporary Theatre) is bringing Equity theater to Ridgefield, a feat that was the culmination of years of hard work, passion and dreams.
About six years ago, Daniel C. Levine became artistic adviser at the Ridgefield Playhouse for the Broadway and Cabaret series, performances that became so popular that he realized there was a strong desire in the community for fantastic Broadway-caliber talent.
He called on his friend Katie Diamond, who like Levine, had performed on Broadway in numerous shows, and talked about the possibility of revising an idea they had several years earlier.
“When Katie first moved to Ridgefield a few years ago, she and I began fantasizing about opening an Equity theater in Ridgefield, as it didn’t have one, even though it had everything else and was quickly becoming a true ‘arts destination,’” Levine said. “We began trying to figure out what this theater could possibly look like; what types of shows would we produce, who would we want to work with, what interesting programming could we set up, etc.”
Around that same time, the duo was introduced to Ridgefield’s first selectman, Rudy Marconi, and they explained what they were hoping to do.
“Rudy is a huge supporter of the arts and very interested in helping to elevate the level of entertainment in the town, and he understood that the addition of an Equity theater could help put Ridgefield ‘on the map’ as it pertains to professional theater,” Levine said. “He told us about a property in town (the Schlumberger property) and brought us over to have a look at it.”
Ridgefield once housed an internationally renowned research center where scientists from around the world studied the geology and chemistry of petroleum, and the 30-acre property housed an auditorium known as the Schlumberger Theater. Levine said the building had been vacant for many years and also had some flooding, and the town had been trying to figure out what to do with the property.
“After a lot of town meetings, town votes, etc., we were given a lease to the auditorium,” Levine said. “It was now our responsibility to raise a lot of money to completely renovate the building (in order to make it a fully functional and state-of-the-art theater). We put together an incredible board of directors, hired the best architects and construction team, and consulted with the best ‘theater minds’ currently working on Broadway today, and we went full steam ahead.”
That was two years ago. And now, ACT of Connecticut is set to open in June with its very first production, Mamma Mia! (running June 7-24). Levine will serve as artistic director, Diamond as executive producer and Bryan Perri as resident music supervisor. And Stephen Schwartz — composer of “Wicked,” “Pippin” and “Godspell” — is serving as one of its artistic advisers. Other advisers include Susan Batten, Christian Borle and Al Blackstone.
ACT of Connecticut will be self-producing and presenting four mainstage productions each season — three musicals and one play, with each show running an entire month.
“Of course, we wanted to start with a big, flashy, upbeat, popular show — and what could be better than Mamma Mia!, a show that I have been a part of for many, many years,” Levine said. “I was part of the original company before it came to Broadway, and performed in the musical for nearly three years. I couldn’t be more excited to revisit the show after all of these years.”
The theater has assembled a cast consisting of several well-known Broadway actors, and also includes some local Connecticut talent.
The theater will utilize a turntable stage, which Broadway aficionados know to be one where the entire stage rotates (like in Hamilton or Les Misérables), and that will allow Mamma Mia! to be done differently from most any other production before it.
“The venue is unique in a few exciting ways. First, it is a historic building designed, in part, by Philip Johnson. We have been working diligently to maintain the integrity of the building and the original feel,” Levine said. “Second, we are extremely proud to have Connecticut’s only turntable stage, which will be an exciting tool for us when staging these awesome Broadway shows. The technical elements we have been able to implement into our theater design are incredibly exciting and will allow the audience to have a theater experience unlike any other in Fairfield or Westchester counties.”
This fall, the theater will be presenting Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita, followed by Steven Schwartz’s Working, and then The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.
To honor Schwartz for taking on an adviser role, the theater is doing a series called Presenting Stephen Schwartz! In which one of the three musicals (for the first three seasons) will be a dedicated Stephen Schwartz musical.
“We will also have a fairly extensive new works series, where composers and writers will come to our theater to showcase their new works,” Levine said. “Who knows, maybe the next big Broadway hit will have started right here in Ridgefield.”
Levine said ACT of CT will offer theater classes.
“Getting real-world training and advice from working professionals will be an amazing opportunity for the kids,” Levine said. “Aside from incredible master classes, ACT will also offer a conservatory program for high school students, classes for elementary, middle, and high school students, and summer camps for first to 12th graders.”
The need for an Equity theater in the area was important, Levine said, because it brings some of the best Broadway talent to the area.
“What a lot of people don’t realize is that professional actors are not allowed to work or perform in community theaters. These venues are specifically reserved for amateur (or non-professional) performers,” he said. “There’s a very specific criteria that Equity theaters must follow and maintain in order to exist, and with the creation of ACT of Connecticut, the arts puzzle in Ridgefield will be complete.”
For tickets to any of the shows or more information about the theater, visit actofct.org.