Westport theaters' legacies center stage in new exhibit
There were the treasures to admire behind glass and on display, and then there were living legends in the crowd Saturday night.
Nearly 200 people gathered at the Fairfield Museum and History Center for a fete previewing a new exhibit, "Bravo: A Century of Theatre in Fairfield County." The exhibit, scheduled for an initial opening Saturday with more fanfare on tap Oct. 2, captures the history, drama and collectibles of three keystone theaters in the region: the Westport Country Playhouse, the White Barn Theatre in Westport and the American Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford.
Interim First Selectman Michael Tetreau, among the attendees, 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 said. "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 Michael Jehle hoped to encourage people to get involved so that the arts will continue to thrive in the future.
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 6 -- and with no rehearsal. That was theater in its truest sense." she said.
The real labor, however, was in the months-long planning and gathering of memorabilia that preceded the elegant evening, chiefly handled by Marti LoMonaco, professor of theater 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?"
The Westport Playhouse, LoMonaco said, "is the only one of the three theaters still operating. We wanted to show a mix of then and now, so we 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 up everyone for a moment, to thank patrons and present awards to three of the four honorees (Plummer was on a film set in Canada), Jehle extended a thanks to honorary event chairwoman Joanne Woodward, who also could not be present. "She transformed a crumbly barn (now the Westport Country Playhouse) into an anchor of the arts," he said.
"Bravo: A Century of Theatre in Fairfield County" runs through March 18, 2012, at the Fairfield Museum and History Center, 370 Beach Road. A "celebration" of the exhibit is set for Sunday, Oct. 2, from 1 to 4 p.m. For more information, call 203-259-1598 or check www.fairfieldhs.org.