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Facing post-pandemic financial woes, Westport Country Playhouse shifts gears

Provided photo from July 2023 production of “Dial M for Murder” at Westport Country Playhouse.
Robert Benson
/
Westport Country Playhouse
Provided photo from July 2023 production of “Dial M for Murder” at Westport Country Playhouse.

The Westport Country Playhouse Board of Trustees has approved a comprehensive plan they say will ensure the future of the theater.

Like many performing arts venues in Connecticut and around the country, the pandemic caused the theater to shut down and remain closed much longer than other businesses. And while most performance venues reopened in 2021 and 2022, many of them have not returned to pre-pandemic attendance numbers, including the Westport Country Playhouse.

But lagging ticket sales were only part of the problem for the theater.

“The pandemic played a role, but I think we’ve seen a changing community in Westport for the last several years,” Athena Adamson, chair of the theater’s Board of Trustees, said. “I think there are less theatergoers, which has impacted ticket sales. It also has caused us, as a board, to reevaluate the kind of programming we should be doing.”

Earlier this week, the Board of Trustees signed off on a plan it hopes will save the theater itself and better serve the community at the same time. “Reimagined: Save Your Playhouse” starts with a $2 million “Save the Playhouse” fundraising campaign that ends on July 30.

For the next year, the theater will shift focus away from full length theater productions (although WCP artistic director Mark Lamos’ production of the stage adaptation of “Dial M for Murder” will go on as planned July 11-29) to one-night-only live performances by celebrities and top-tier artists in the areas of theater, dance, comedy and music.

“Everything, from a cabaret, to comedy shows, to a talk with a well-known artist, or industry titan,” Adamson said. “Really a variety of acts to appeal to a wider audience without losing our theater audience.”

Adamson sees the changes as a better way to serve the Westport community.

“It becomes a gathering place, Adamson said. “It becomes something that people want to go to, and I think this building deserves that. The history, 93 years of having anyone who was anyone on stage, to me, that’s something really worth preserving.”

The theater hopes to bring back full-length theatrical productions by the fall of 2024.

Ray Hardman is Connecticut Public’s Arts and Culture Reporter. He is the host of CPTV’s Emmy-nominated original series Where Art Thou? Listeners to Connecticut Public Radio may know Ray as the local voice of Morning Edition, and later of All Things Considered.

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