Monday, June 24, 2024

Architecture for Shakespeare’s Hallowed Grounds—Affordable and Appropriate


By Meredith Gatschet
A Founder of STARS (Shakespeare Theater Artist’s Renaissance in Stratford)

In 2006 I moved into a charming apartment overlooking Selby Pond and the American Shakespeare Festival Theater. I started freelancing as a graphic designer after a career of working for some organizations like Drexel University, Rockefeller University, and Citicorp as an art director. I was introduced to Louis Burke, a noted South African director who had just had a successful Broadway run and was trying to revive the original Theater and location with grand plans. I then founded a collaborative STARS ( Shakespeare Theater Artists Renaissance in Stratford) with Alvin Holm, a prominent classical architect and Louis Burke to help promote a revival of the Theater with my graphics and branding expertise.

Eventually we aligned with the Elm Street Theater group who was chosen by a Town appointed committee to revive the theater. After the Fire in 2019 and COVID in 2020 STARS decided to develop our new Amphitheater Memorial Concept (see Flipbook on Design Ideas for the Shakespeare Property).

Since February, 2022 STARS has been sending our beautiful affordable Amphitheater Concept to Mayor Hoydick and the Economic Development office over time with no real responses of interest. We were then surprised in June, 2023 by the Mayor’s introduction of work by the design firm DTC, for the Shakespeare property. It included a Black-box theater (now a White-box), a no-seats amphitheater, and additional infrastructure. The cost is estimated at 11 million dollars although only 6 million is available from the town and state. 

Tom Yemm, an involved citizen who was concerned recently about the Mayor’s proposal, said this in an Opinion piece in the Stratford Crier about the architecture: “. . . a Hobson’s Choice between black-box and white-box monstrosities of industrial design.” 

Months later in August, the Mayor put out an RFQ for architectural firms to submit proposals regarding the Shakespeare property. Apparently around twenty firms responded including our Collaborative, STARS who associated with Robert Orr and Associates, Architects, New Haven and Fraser Walsh, CT Civil Engineer (Alvin Holm and Robert Orr are both graduates of the Yale School of Architecture). A Shakespeare Property Committee approved another firm, Svigals + Partners to apparently execute the 11 million dollar DTC design.

STARS’ American Shakespeare Amphitheater is Compatible with the Shakespeare Property’s Historic District

With the STARS Amphitheater proposal, the Town would have a beautiful performing space right away designed by noted classical architect, Alvin Holm that is compatible with the architecture in Stratford’s Historic District unlike the DTC scheme. To illustrate this point here is a quotation from the Stratford Historic District Commission Handbook:

“The mandate of the Commission is to preserve and wherever possible to enhance the historic and architectural character of the Town’s historic district. The historic context or setting is itself the primary concern of the Commission. It is the intention of the Historic District Commission to promote excellence in design that is not incongruous with the historic district.”

Shakespeare Property Design Ideas Flipbook Page 6

Classical Architect Alvin Holm’s Amphitheater Design is Beautiful, Affordable, and Tourist-Attracting

Mr. Holm designed the Award-winning 19th Century Galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.Accordingto ratings and reviews on Trip Advisor this museum is one of the top five most-loved and visited landmarks in the US and one of the top visited museums in the world. 

The Amphitheater is a Multipurpose and Self-Sustaining Design that can be built with infrastructure for approximately 6 million dollars utilizing existing local and state funds. No taxes or fund raising!

This Amphitheater can also be built in other locations on the Shakespeare Property if building on the natural curve of Selby pond is not feasible.

Major Stars have been Involved over the Years with Reviving the American Shakespeare Festival Theater (Flipbook pages 18-23)

The Flipbook pages 22-23 have a remarkable list of major stars that came to support Louis Burke’s revival vision in 2007 as Founding Members of his organization. Also included is a letter to him from Dame Judi Dench gifting him the Rose Theater set from the movie Shakespeare in Love to be used in Stratford.

If STARS is hired by the Town part of our work would be to initiate contacts with various major stars via an Actors Support Campaign to support this Memorial Amphitheater project. (see pages 18-21). Memorial Performances with famous Stars could be a way of raising money for an endowment for the property and buildings.

I have contacts in the acting world and my brother, Nick Wyman is a Former President of Actors Equity.

Another Tourist and Citizen Attraction:
Children’s Peace Garden
with Sculpture (Flipbook pages 24-31)

We are also proposing a beautiful garden with Shakespearean interactive sculpture that will serve as a memorial to those children who have lost their lives to gun violence. We are fortunate to collaborate with Robert Orr, an award-wining New Haven Architect as well as his Landscape Partner, Carol Orr.  Ms. Orr recently won the prestigious Palladio Award for Exterior Spaces: Gardens & Landscapes.

Stratford, Take Economic Advantage of Your Famous Brand!

Is it not time for the Town of Stratford to be more open to other design concepts for the Shakespeare property especially as regards the appropriateness of the architecture in Stratford’s Noted Historic District?

So STARS is asking the Town Council and the Mayor to seriously consider our Amphitheater proposal. We would like to present our beautiful, appropriate, and affordable concept to the Stratford Town Council. Then along with the Mayor’s current plan and any other appropriate plans we would like to see Stratford Citizens have a VOTE on the plan for their town’s national historic site.

My wish for Stratford is that the perfect Shakespeare Design Plan be initiated for the greater good.  

Here are links to the History of STARS

The Original STARS (Shakespeare Theater Artists Renaissance) Proposal. 2013

This Flipbook was also printed and its first edition is in the
Stratford Public Library. – p=1

STARS (Shakespeare Theater Artists Renaissance) 

YouTube Video 2014

on the History of the American Shakespeare Festival Theater 

and STARS original Proposal.

“Outdoor Shakespeare in the summertime has been an American theater tradition for well more than half a century, and Connecticut has always been in the forefront of that tradition.”

Christopher Arnott, Hartford Courant

Theater Critic and Reporter




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