Monday, July 11th
Residents Asked to Reimagine Shakespeare Park
The Shakespeare Presentation on Monday, July 10th, was well attended with thoughtful questions by both the Town Council members and public. A majority of the 46 minute meeting was used by William MacMullen, an engineer an architect with the firm DTC who designed the proposed development.
MacMullen said the size of the proposed venue was based on feedback from residents who had urged the town in the months after the fire to build a small theater or arts facility while maintaining open space near the waterfront.
The $11.5 million redevelopment of the site off Elm Street, would be a much smaller venue than the historic 1,500-seat playhouse arsonists destroyed four years ago. “Stratford isn’t Greenwich,” MacMullen said. “Stratford is Stratford and the middle ground is what we thought would be the best for the town.”
Mayor Hoydick’s proposal represents a smaller version of a more ambitious project pitched by the American Globe Center, which has proposed building a historically accurate version of William Shakespeare’s Globe.
The DTC Design plans show a planned pavilion located roughly at the site of the razed theater. The structure would cost around $3.1 million and would be built during the project’s final phase. MacMullen said the open-air space would be able to accommodate 2,000 to 3,000 people.
In addition to the small theater, Hoydick is proposing to construct an open-air food court with food trucks and a music pavilion on the site. In a letter to council members, she said the project would be built in three stages, beginning with about $3 million in infrastructure improvements which would be the first “shovel in the ground” project.
A majority of the comments/questions from the audience were favorable for the development, though the Black Box was unpopular with all who attended the presentation (1 person spoke in favor of the Black Box as presented). MacMullen described the Black Box as a performance space, a minimalistic theater.
The Black Box is In the third and final phase of construction. The $5.4 million black box theater would be directly behind the John Benjamin House on Elm Street, a historic property also known as the White House. MacMullen said the theater would largely be powered by rooftop solar panels, reducing energy costs.
MacMullen claims that the White House, which sits near the site’s entrance, would be attached to the theater and could serve as a ticket booth or reception space for the venue. He said the upgrades would make the more than 180-year-old building accessible to those with disabilities.
The drawbacks to the Black Box voiced was based on the color of the building (black) and its design, which many felt was not in keeping with the historic nature of the neighborhood and “White House”.
The black box theater would feature about 500 to 550 seats. “It’s the type of theater that Shakespeare would have had. It’s very intimate,” MacMullen said “They call it black box because the interior is very dark. You rely on lighting and sound — and the actual players on stage.”
Questions presented to MacMullen from both the Town Council members and public were:
- Parking – where would the entrance be and parking?
MacMullen: The entrance would remain on Elm Street, and parking is already in place on the side of the White House, and across the “road” where the public restrooms would be. FYI: Public restrooms are being proposed for the Art Deco building which previously housed costumes.
- Public restrooms at this point a distance from the food court. Is there a way to have closer rest rooms by the food court?
MacMullen: Yes, and it could be seasonal facilities and waterless options.
- How would the proposal work with the plans in place for the Greenway?
MacMullen: It would not impact the Greenway plans, and in fact would incorporate it in the planning.
- How is the power going to be handled for the food court? Would the town be paying for the power?
MacMullen: No. The food trucks would be monitored by their plug ins so that we would be able to identify the users.
- Why is the pavilion not facing the water?
MacMullen: The water would disperse the sound, by backstopping the pavilion to the tree line it would contain the sound.
- Has there been interaction with actual theatre professionals on the Black Box and pavilion?
MacMullen: Yes, and if contacted personally they would identify the professional and their input.
- Would there be a backstage area for the pavilion for storage, dressing rooms, moving equipment in and out?
- Expansion of the theatre? Is there room to expand should we grow an audience following?
MacMullen: An expansion would require tearing down and rebuilding.
- Would the Shakespeare Garden remain intact?
- There is value in the color, the old Shakespeare Theater was attractive and faced the water.
MacMullen: It does not have to be black, is a conceptual thing at this point.
- A theatre more like old theatre would be healing for residents.
MacMullen: there are ways to recreate the old theatre, and we have done that at other venues.
- What is the Pavilion made of?
MacMullen: Concrete, wood, and porcelain panels, which don’t lose colors and are strong, all acceptable construction materials.
An unexpected comment from the audience came from Josh Bruno. Bruno, claimed he was representing a proposal by Alvin Holm, of Alvin Holm AIA Architects in Philadelphia. Bruno wanted to submit an additional proposal for an amphitheater by Selby Pond. Bruno was informed by the moderator that this was not a forum for sharing other proposals.
The Shakespeare Presentation was followed by the Town Council meeting. That meeting was sparsely attended, Town Council Chairman was on vacation, and the meeting was chaired by Councilman Poisson. There was confusion over the signup sheet, so Poisson did not let anyone who was not on the sign-up sheet speak.
The Public Forum had only one speaker Tom Evans. Evans, who is the executive director of the group American Globe Center, urged council members during Monday’s meeting to allow the organization to formally present their proposal to the 10-member body. He argued the Globe Center’s proposed overhaul of the site would be more popular than a black box theater and could generate tens of millions of dollars in economic development for the town.
To view the presentation meeting go to the Town of Stratford YouTube video: