RIDGEFIELD, Conn. — When Katie Diamond and Daniel C. Levine moved to Ridgefield a few years, the Broadway actors felt the community lacked just one key piece to its vibrant cultural arts scene. With their work and diligence, that will no longer be the case in a little more than a year.
Levine, Diamond and Bryan Perri are the founders of ACT - A Contemporary Theatre of Connecticut. They plan to bring Broadway-caliber theater to Ridgefield, executed by Broadway professionals. The shows will include top-rate contemporary productions, new works and reimagined revivals. The theater will also include a conservatory program for children interested in performing.
- What : ACT -- A Contemporary Theatre of Connecticut
- Founders: Katie Diamond, Daniel C. Levine and Bryan Perri
- When : The first show should be produced in spring of 2018
- More info: Online at http://www.actofct.org/
The theater will take over the Schlumberger auditorium on Old Quarry Road, adding to a planned cultural center at the former science and research site.
“Katie and I both moved to Ridgefield around the same time,’’ Levine said. “We both thought that Ridgefield was such a great arts community, but it was missing a true professional theater; an equity theater where shows could run for several weeks starring top level Broadway talent. We thought let’s see if there’s any support for this idea. What we found is that there’s a strong desire for it. We talked to a lot of people and they told us if we could make it happen, it would be fantastic.”
Levine joined The Ridgefield Playhouse as its Artistic Director of the Broadway & Cabaret Series and worked with its Executive Director, Allison Stockel, in expanding and creating this series. While the response was phenomenal, the Playhouse model is not set up to produce limited run engagement Broadway style shows that play for several weeks at a time.
“There was no professional theater in town where we could have a five-week run of Les Miserables or a six-week run of Mamma Mia,’’ Levine said. “It just doesn’t exist here.”
Diamond and Levine, being Ridgefield residents, wanted their project to remain in town. About two years ago, they heard about the Schlumberger property. They spoke with town officials about their plan.
“We just happened to hear about it at the right time,’’ Levine said. “The Board of Selectmen was fantastic and cared so much. We thought why not look into it and see if it’s a good fit, and it was. The bones of the place are unbelievable.”
Town officials reached an agreement to lease the space to the theater group, which would be responsible for renovations. Levine said the building’s interior, which was flooded several years ago, needs extensive remodeling. The facade of the building designed by noted architect Philip Johnson and Howard Barnstone, will not change. Levine said renovations will take 6-9 months to build the 200-seat theater.
“We’re working with theater architects to make it more like a working theater rather than a large auditorium,’’ Levine said. “One of the exciting and unique items we’re working on is installing a massive turntable in the stage. It’s an effective way to stage a show and bring in scenery, and it’s something they use in Hamilton and other innovative Broadway musicals.”
When the renovations are finished, fans of theater will be treated to four shows each year, according to Levine, with each running for about six weeks. Levine said there will be three musicals and one play, with a mix of equity actors ("Equity" refers to the union that Broadway talent belongs to) as well as local professional actors. The timetable will also allow the actors to rehearse their productions at the theater.
Levine, who appeared on Broadway in “Mamma Mia,” “Little Shop of Horrors”, “The Rocky Horror Show”, and "Les Miserables" is also enthusiastic about the children’s programs, which will be offered year-round.
“We also hope to help foster new writers, new directors and a whole new work series for shows that have been written but not yet produced,’’ Levine said. “The 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle has a fantastic new works program, and that inspired us to want to bring that to our community.”
Even though the opening is a little more than a year away, Levine’s excitement is palpable. He and his partners are eager, anxious and ready to dramatically enhance Ridgefield’s, and Fairfield County’s, cultural landscape.
“The way it’s unfolding is exactly how envisioned it,’’ said Levine, who hopes to announce the theater’s first production this spring. “It’s even better than we thought. I’m so excited that the town has been so supportive. It’s a historic property waiting for the right company. That makes it golden for us.
"With the creation of our new theater (ACT of CT), along with The Ridgefield Playhouse, The Ridgefield Symphony, The Ridgefield Chorale, Chirp, and many other arts organizations in town, Ridgefield is no doubt becoming a true arts destination,'' Levine added.
The theater will host a benefit gala on Friday, May 5. For more information on a Contemporary Theatre of Connecticut and the gala, click here to visit its website.
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