Theatreworks celebrates 50 years in New Milford
NEW MILFORD — For 50 years, TheatreWorks has been a home and community for artists and actors.
“This gives actors, musicians, and artists a place to come together as a community — much like you would join a church,” said Christine Daley, president of TheatreWorks.
It’s fitting most of those years have been spent in a former Adventist Church converted to a theater in 1973 by two of the organization’s original directors. Some elements of the church are visible, including the outline of the windows.
“It’s a fantastic feeling that the theater’s been around as long as it has,” said Russ Posthauer Jr., the treasurer and former president. He joined the organization around the same time the theater took over the church building.
He said it’s amazing how the group went from one summer musical a year to a year-round theater.
On Sunday, many theatergoers and performers will celebrate TheatreWorks’ growth and 50-year anniversary with a Cocktails and Cabaret event, which will feature performances. Finger food and drinks will be served, and everyone is encouraged to wear red, black and/or white.
“Reaching a 50-year milestone as an incorporated organization is quite an achievement for a theater,” Daley said. “We feel very proud and grateful. We wouldn’t have been able to do it without volunteers.”
Posthauer agreed and said he expects to reach another 50 with the continued help of their supporters.
“It was a lot of work, a lot of fun and a lot of great people came through these doors,” he said.
TheatreWorks was originally known as the Creative Arts Center of New Milford, spending its first few years in community centers, school auditoriums and churches. It didn’t officially adopt “TheatreWorks” until 2015, but began operating under the name in 1992.
The theater has held about 250 main stage shows, not including the two to four children’s programs offered annually since the 1980s.
Over the years, TheatreWorks has gained a reputation as the risky theater in the area, performing original pieces, as well as shows that might not be commonly done or have questionable language or plots, Daley said.
“We’re trying to make theater appealing to a younger audience,” she said.
The group performed “Zombie Prom” this year with a cast made up of actors in their 20s.
There are several other live theater groups in the area, including in Sherman, Brookfield, Ridgefield and Newtown, and Danbury is in the process of creating a group at Tuxedo Junction. Daley said this will only help the theater community by creating a more attractive place to perform and watch theater, thus creating an even higher calibre talent pool.
“We want that off-Broadway quality theater, and we have it just with the people in the area,” she said. “The pool of actors is amazing.”
Finding the money for repairs, maintenance and operations has been the biggest challenge for the nonprofit over the years, especially since the state pulled about 90 percent of its funding three years ago, Daley said.
In the late 1990s, the theater’s roof was falling in and the organization needed $20,000 to repair it. The Savings Bank of Danbury, the Ellen Knowles Harcourt Foundation and the town donated thousands of dollars to help.
The group is again looking to repair the roof, as well as get money to upgrade the theater’s lighting and electrical systems, install solar panels and build a bathroom upstairs.
“We have very lofty goals,” Daley said.
She said they wouldn’t be possible without the support of area organizations and residents, including Stephen Sondheim.
TheatreWorks gives back to the community by hosting benefit nights and fundraisers. There are senior nights or pay-what-you-want nights for people who might not be able to afford a full-price ticket.
Daley said TheatreWorks gives people a needed creative outlet and escape from their daily lives.
“Live theater is an important part of that,” she said. “Coming to see a live performance and having that visceral response of the audience while you’re on stage as an actor is really rewarding.”