Curtains up for a new professional theater
If all goes according to plan, a professional theater will open in Ridgefield next spring.
ACT — A Contemporary Theatre of Connecticut, an Actors’ Equity-approved theater, will present four shows per season (three musicals and a play), and will also include a youth conservatory program, along with a program for new works.
ACT is spearheaded by actors Daniel C. Levine (Broadway/tours: Les Miserables, Mamma Mia!, Chicago) and Katie Diamond (Broadway/tours: The Pirate Queen, Jersey Boys, White Christmas), who both moved to Ridgefield a couple of years apart a few years ago. They had known each other casually as
part of the Broadway community, but got to know each other better through the Ridgefield Playhouse, where she is on the board of directors and he is on the arts advisory board, heading up the Playhouse’s Broadway & Cabaret Series. As they talked theater and what they would like to see done locally, a vision began to take shape. They decided to form ACT of CT about 18 months ago; it was incorporated as a nonprofit 501(c)(3) last summer.
Diamond said that while Ridgefield and surrounding communities have a number of community theaters, there are only a handful of Equity theaters in the area. “Community theaters are designed to be an outlet for creative people who have other occupations: They are by the community for the community and generally have short runs. Professional actors belong to Actors’ Equity Association and can generally only appear in Equity-approved theaters, which have to follow specific rules and regulations regarding pay, working conditions, etc. We, as professional actors, are not allowed to work in community theater.”
As their vision developed, Diamond and Levine knew that they wanted their theater “to open in this community that we both so love, and is so supportive of the arts.” They also knew that some 25 current and former Broadway performers live in Ridgefield, and many more are in surrounding communities. They, along with Broadway actors, will be featured in ACT’s productions, which will be rounded out with other local talent.
An early ACT supporter was longtime Ridgefielder Stephen Schwartz, composer of the Broadway shows Wicked, Godspell and Pippin, and for Disney movies including Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Prince of Egypt. During an interview, Levine said that he and Diamond were happy to announce that Schwartz will be an artistic advisor to ACT, and that they will introduce the “Presenting Stephen Schwartz!” series, in which the theater will dedicate one show per season to a Stephen Schwartz musical.
“Stephen Schwartz is one of the most important composers working on Broadway and in film today. His shows have shaped the face of the American musical theater. For ACT of CT to have his support and backing truly raises the bar. We are thrilled that Stephen will serve as one of our artistic advisors, and we are beyond excited to dedicate one show per season to one of Stephen's masterpieces,” said Levine.
In a statement, Schwartz said, "Ridgefield has come such a long way toward becoming an arts destination, with the success of the Ridgefield Playhouse and the continuing attraction of the Aldrich Museum, along with the many other local arts organizations. The addition of a professional Equity theater is an exciting prospect, and I support it wholeheartedly.”
Diamond and Levine’s timing was fortuitous when they sought a location for the venture, as Ridgefield was evaluating what to do with portions of the 30-acre town-owned former Schlumberger property off Old Quarry Road, which has been vacant for more than ten years. All but three of the buildings had been demolished: only the Skydome building, the Philip Johnson-designed administrative building, and the Schlumberger Theater remain. Diamond and Levine approached town officials about leasing the auditorium, “and they loved the idea.”
A lease was unanimously agreed upon by the Board of Selectmen in January, approved by town meeting in late February, and signed March 6. ACT will pay the town $1 per year for five years, with three five-year renewals, but is responsible for the renovation of the dilapidated facility, which is expected to cost $1.5 million. The state-of-the-art renovation is slated to begin in April and will keep the Midcentury Modern aesthetic of the original corporate auditorium, which was build into a hillside. The wooden bench-style seating will remain, for example, but arms and padding will be added to create about 170 individual seats.
ACT of CT has already received a generous donation from the Kellen Family Foundation for the installation of a massive double turntable for the stage — like those used in Les Miserables and Hamilton — which helps make up for the lack of wing and fly space, said Diamond. The foundation gets naming rights for the stage.
Diamond also noted that as people learn about ACT, “they are excited to be involved.” Its board of directors has 12 members from various professional backgrounds, as well as several artistic advisors. Diamond is executive director of ACT of CT, Levine artistic director and, Bryan Perri, the third founder, is resident musical supervisor. He is currently the conductor and musical director for Wicked on Broadway.
To help support the renovation, ACT of CT is producing a benefit gala on May 5 featuring cocktails, hors d'oeuvres, silent and live auctions and performances by several Broadway stars, including Stephen Schwartz. Tickets are $150.
For additional information about the gala or ACT of CT, visit the website actofct.org. Diamond and Levine can be contacted at email@example.com.
Separately, ACT is producing two performances of Jesus Christ Superstar at the Ridgefield Playhouse on March 25; for more information and tickets, ridgefieldplayhouse.org or 203-438-5795.