of Theatre in Fairfield County
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield Citizen News)
Fairfield, CT – There were the many treasures to admire behind glass and on display… then there were the living gems moving through the crowd.
On Saturday evening September 24, nearly 200 people gathered together at Fairfield Museum and History Center, 370 Beach Road, for a gala party previewing a new exhibit titled “Bravo: A Century of Theatre in Fairfield County”. The exhibit, scheduled for a soft opening to the public Sept. 25 then with more fanfare October 2, captures the history, drama and collectibles from three major regional theatres: the Westport Country Playhouse (WCP), The White Barn Theatre and The American Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford. The evening also honored Costume Designer Jane Greenwood, Playwright A.R. Gurney, WCP Artistic Director Mark Lamos and Actor Christopher Plummer.
First Selectman Michael Tetreau was among the many attendees supporting and said the museum is one of the most important organizations for telling the story of Fairfield County and sharing its heritage with future generations. “You think about the persistence and creativity it took to carve this area out of the wild. When I look at the gathering here, I see that same trait alive and well,” he offered. “The museum is another brick in the wall of our cultural foundation, serving the people of Fairfield and our region.”
Besides celebrating the history of the arts in the county, Museum Executive Director Mike Jehle hoped to encourage people to get involved so that the arts will continue to thrive for another 100 years.
Kathie Bennewitz, the Museum’s Director of Exhibitions and Programs, got a little closer to experiencing theater than she really cared to. “We finished setting up for this event at 5:30, just a half hour before ‘curtain up’, at six – and with no rehearsal! That was theater in its truest sense!” she joked.
The real labor however, was in the months-long planning and gathering of memorabilia that preceded this elegant evening – labor chiefly handled by Marti LoMonaco, Professor of Theatre at Fairfield University, and Mar Williams, the exhibition’s developer. “We worked for eight months planning the layout and securing props and figuring out how to tell the story. A museum needs things,” she said. “How do you capture the energy of a live performance in a museum?”
LoMonaco added, “Westport Playhouse is the only one of the three theatres still operating. We wanted to show a mix of then and now, so pulled everything from costumes from the Playhouse’s recent production of ‘Lips Together Teeth Apart” to old ticket boxes, seats and pulleys from the 1930s. With luck, people will be so excited by the exhibit that they will want to go out and see live theater.”
Rounding everyone up in the Jacky Durrell Meeting Hall for a moment, to thank patrons and present awards to three of the four honorees (Christopher Plummer was called away to a film set in Canada), Mike Jehle extended a thanks to Honorary Event Chairman Joanne Woodward, who also could not be present. “She transformed a crumbly barn (WCP) into an anchor of the arts,” he said.