Westport Country Playhouse

Founded in 1931, the Westport Country Playhouse is almost 90 years old. Will it make it to its 90th birthday? Considering that the theater needs to raise $1.6 million to survive it depends on the generosity of the theater’s patrons.

It’s hard to imagine that the long-established and historic theater had to postpone the 2020 season completely and will remain dark until 2021. The theater announced that it furloughed half of its staff already and hopes to hire them back when it plans to produce its 2021 season. Meanwhile, it has applied for government loans. A statement from the theater stated: “This is a frightening and unnerving time for all of us, especially for the Playhouse… However, with no continuing revenue from ticket sales, we cannot survive unless we can raise $1.6 million between now and Dec. 31, 2020. For those who are able, please make a donation to our Survival Fund.”

According to the theater’s public relations manager, Pat Blaufuss, this is not the first time the Playhouse has closed. It also closed because of World War ll from 1942 to 1945. It then enjoyed continued successes. It even stayed open during its major renovation in 2004 when it moved its production to the Ridgefield Playhouse for the summer. So this closing is certainly unprecedented. Still, there is a strong sense of optimism. “Plan on exciting online and livestream events that will be coming,” said Blaufuss who was genuinely excited about these future entertainments.

Nonetheless, theatergoers who have enjoyed the dramas, comedies, and musicals presented at this theater will find it difficult to stay home this summer. Yes, the theater plans on presenting livestream entertainment as many other theaters are also doing, but it is live theater that one and all need and will miss.

More than any other art form, theater incorporates all the arts from performance on stage with actors, singers, musicians and dancers as well as the offstage designers who create artistic props, paintings, lighting, costumes and sound effects. This will be terribly missed due to the coronavirus.

Westport Playhouse patrons will not be pulling into parking spaces in the always filled lot, nor sitting on the extensive porch waiting for the opening curtain. The beautifully maintained gardens surrounding the patio will be missed and the patio and kiosk where refreshments are served during intermission will be empty this summer. Most of all, the chatter about the actors performing, the play and the direction will be quieted.

Thrown Stone Theatre Company

Many other theaters have canceled or postponed seasons including Ridgefield’s Thrown Stone Theatre Company, which is a relatively new theater at only four years old. “We’re a toddler,” said Jonathan Winn, co-artistic director of the theater. Since 2017 it has produced outstanding productions and plans to continue doing just that.

This theater is postponing its productions of “Annie Jump and the Library of Heaven,” by Reina Hardy, and “The Phlebotomist.” by Ella Road, until 2021. When I spoke with Winn, he said that postponing is not ideal but the theater is fortunate that the plays and the design teams are all planning on moving forward with these productions in 2021. “When it became impossible to consider doing these works this season, we approached our company and 100 percent of them said they were okay with delaying the show.”

Winn also said that it was fortuitous that they don’t have to start all over again. “The designers and the Ridgefield Conservatory of Dance (where Thrown Stone productions are presented) were all in place for 2021. “Other than that we don’t have anywhere near the overhead of the Westport Playhouse,” said Winn who added that he just hopes it all works as planned.

“It’s not all wine and roses, but we’re very strong,” said Winn. Of the two plays that are planned, he said that “The Phlebotomist” is especially timely.

Stay safe and be well.

Joanne Greco Rochman is a founding member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and an active member in the American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact: jgrochman@gmail.com.