By Norah Christianson
Ted van Griethuysen’s article regarding the wrongheadedness of building a theater on the previous Shakespeare Festival Theater grounds, is spot on.
Most citizens of Stratford do not care about a theater, do not think of a theater, would not financially support a new theater now any more than they supported the old one in its heyday.
Why would we build this so-called “cultural center” at a cost of millions? People would come for a short while out of curiosity. But after time, the theater would begin it’s slow rot into the ground, because only a very few people in this town are interested in theater enough to attempt to support such a costly thing. And, since there is only a small group of these people, they would not be able to support it. Our town is not a cultural hub, and creating one will not change our townsfolk into art aficionados. We are pretty much a blue-collar town. To believe otherwise is fantasy.
I’ve lived one block from the Shakespeare Festival Theater grounds since 1968. In those earlier days when a play was running, I used to push the baby carriage over to the grounds to see the flags flying, the wonderful minstrel singers, the beautiful people dressed to the nines and pre-curtain picnicking at tables replete with tablecloths and champagne buckets. It was a marvel. But none of my neighbors went to the theater. Not one of my friends in Stratford went to the theater. My former husband and I went to only two performances. It was just too expensive for us and, truth be told, my then-husband, a blue-color worker, was not all that interested.
The Shakespeare Theater never earned a profit. As van Griethuysen points out, the theater was kept alive financially by Verner Reed, its benefactor and bail-out angel. Reed died in 1973. He did not leave money in his will for the theater, and so the theater died as well. If the whole town had wanted a theater, and could have actually afforded a theater, it would have gotten that beautiful original theater up and running instead of leaving it to decay over many years and finally burn.
Why would we build this cultural center? To “put Stratford on the map” so our politicians can have their pictures taken in front of it for having made something happen? We’ve been hearing for years and years now about plans to revive the theater. It won’t work. Give it up. Do something all the people of Stratford can enjoy. Something simpler, like the Band Shell at the Levitt Pavilion for the Performing Arts in Westport. (Even that is supported by the Westport millionaire, Mortimer Levitt, and other wealthy Westporters).
Or how about we leave the Shakespeare grounds as is. It’s a beautiful shoreline park where now whole families meet, enjoy picnics, walk their dogs, visit the Shakespeare Market. Why not plant more trees, put around a few more picnic tables, leave it as the beautiful coastline park it is?
I totally support Ted Griethuysen’s proposal: Let’s find out what the people, ALL THE PEOPLE, want. Let us vote on it.