The Nafe Katter Theatre, located on Bolton Road by Storrs Center, is home to the Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.” (File photo/The Daily Campus)
On Friday, I had the pleasure of attending the Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s production of Arthur Miller’s classic drama of paranoia and justice, “The Crucible.” After the show, I was able to talk with some of the cast and creative team who put this production together.
For those unfamiliar with the play, it follows the true story of the Salem Witch Trials, focusing mainly on John Proctor, a farmer who attempts to restore sanity to a town gone mad with fear, and Abigail Williams, the ringleader of the young women accusing their fellow townsfolk of witchcraft, both played excellently by Mauricio Miranda and Rebekah Santiago Berger, respectively. Miller wrote the play as a response to anti-communist paranoia spurred by the House Un-American Activities Committee and Sen. Joseph McCarthy. Miller equated the accusations of witchcraft in Salem to the modern blacklists against fellow writers and actors. The main message Miller conveys is of the dangers of favoring suspicion and baseless accusation over logic and reason. Assistant Director Eddie Vitcavage discussed the importance and relevance of Miller’s message.
“The Crucible will forever and always be relevant. We live in an era where there is a huge controversy over fact and fiction,” Vitcavage said. “This entire play tracks what is real, what is not real and how people go about protecting their names or sacrificing them for the lives of others. That almost 325-year gap between the time that it is set and now is just incredible to see how… We claim to be such a progressive society, yet we are still tackling the same issues.”
The UConn cast members did a fantastic job across the board, showing off the strength of their acting ability with such difficult subject material. Miranda explained his approach to playing the iconic role of John Proctor by saying that he relied most heavily on Arthur Miller’s words.
“I look at the words and see what his journey is from there,” Miranda explained. “I approach it just like I would any other character because if I start thinking about, ‘Oh, how do I approach ‘Hamlet’’ and ‘I’m going to do an awful job;’ trying to please the audience instead of just doing justice to the character.” Other standout student performances came from Rob Barnes as Rev. Paris, Tristan Rewald as Rev. Hale and Erin Cessna as Elizabeth Proctor.
While some parts naturally have greater focus than others, the entire cast was able to shine, giving the feeling of a realistic society composed of unique individuals. On the subject of the importance of smaller roles in the play, Nick Nudler (in the role of Judge Hathorne) discussed how Miller created opposing parties of social elites and dissenting voices, letting the smaller characters “serve a purpose in saying, ‘We are the ones who are saying no. We are the ones that are following the rules, and he is the one breaking them. We represent the rules.’”
The show also featured three cast members from the Actors’ Equity Association: Michael Rudko (in the role of Giles Corey), Sierra Kane, an MFA Actor (Ann Putnam) and James Sutorius (as Deputy Governor Danforth).
“The students have just been totally welcoming and open. This has been absolutely positive. There hasn’t been any sort of friction in terms of the way we work,” Rudko said about working with the actors in UConn’s drama program.
“It’s wonderful to be around that sort of energy and that sort of passion. It was a wonderful experience for me to work with them, and I can’t praise them enough,” Sutorius said in agreement.
I also had a chance to talk about the UConn Drama Program in a more general sense, discussing the importance of theater.
“It shows us the depth of humanity: difficult choices, how big a lie can be, how big a person’s personal dignity can be. Those kinds of choices, that’s why we do theater. That’s what I value most. We just go to the depth of humanity. That’s what I love about theater in general,” Michael Bradford, the artistic director of CRT and head of the department of dramatic arts, said. As for the Connecticut Repertory Theatre, “it’s that these students are making it happen, and I love them for it. That’s what I value most. It’s the work they put in,” Bradford said.
This is definitely not an event to miss. The show will be running until March 4 in the Nafe Katter Theatre. Tickets are still available, and I highly advise students to attend. Under the direction of Paul Mullins and a very talented crew, these actors have put together an excellent production of Miller’s play that is relevant and accessible. The whole show moved seamlessly and every actor was incredibly professional in bringing to life the complicated emotions and themes of the story.
Evan Burns is campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at [email protected].
PITTSFIELD — Thirty-one years have passed since moviegoers bought tickets and popcorn at the Zoe Theatre in downtown Pittsfield.
Now, efforts are being made to restore the 67-year-old theater building.
The Zoe Preservation Society is preparing to launch a fundraising effort to make it a working movie theater again.
The group’s first step in its fundraising campaign will be to hold a “community gathering” March 6 at the new John Wood Community College Southeast Education Center in Pittsfield.
“The goal of that gathering is to get the community excited, to solicit volunteers, and to present the facts about the current status of the theater,” said Kaye Iftner, treasurer of the Zoe Preservation Society.
Iftner said a lot of work has been done in the past 10 years toward saving the Zoe Theatre.
That work has included getting the building listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2013.
“What the Zoe Preservation Society has done is to bring in experts to assess the theater’s needs,” Iftner said.
One thing that experts found was that the Zoe’s original marquee, installed by a Decatur sign company in the early 1950s, was in “amazing condition for its age,” Iftner said.
“Inside, the building is in pretty rough shape,” she said. “It hasn’t been used for anything since 1987, when the last movie was shown there.”
She said the city of Pittsfield, which owns the building, installed a new roof on the movie theater in 2005.
“On the inside, there are some water stains on the walls that occurred before the roof was installed,” Iftner said. “And there was some concern when the adjacent tavern building was demolished, but a structural engineer determined there was no danger to the [Zoe Theatre] building.”
She said the first item on the Zoe Preservation Society’s wish list is restoration of the building’s facade and marquee.
The facade of the two-story building is covered with Vitrolite, colored glass panels, many of which are missing from the first floor.
“We have actually found a source for matching Vitrolite and have purchased a small quantity,” Iftner said. “The next step will be restoring the neon on the marquee.”
Another project will entail restoring historic painted advertising that was uncovered on the north exterior wall of the theater building when a long-vacant tavern was demolished a couple of weeks ago.
Iftner said preliminary cost estimates for restoring the Zoe Theatre are between $350,000 and $500,000.
“We don’t have a firm timeline for restoration,” she said. “A lot depends on how much community interest we receive for our efforts to save the movie theater.”
The ultimate goal of the Zoe Preservation Society, according to Iftner, is to reopen the Zoe as a movie theater.
“We want the Zoe to be a family friendly entertainment option to bring people to downtown Pittsfield,” she said.
Greg Olson can be reached at 217-245-6121, ext. 1224, or on Twitter @JCNews_Greg.
In the early 1900’s, Acushnet Avenue in the North End of New Bedford was a hub of entertainment, with a number of theaters offering vaudeville, comedy acts, exotic dancing and other types of live shows. There was the Idle Hour. Allen’s Theater. The Comique. And the Cordelia Vien Theater, named for a local businesswoman, Cordelia Vien.
Rachel Alison, with New Bedford’s Waterfront Historic Area League, says Vien also owned the hotel across the street – the Hotel Terrain.
“There was actually a tunnel that went from the hotel to the theater, so performers would stay at the hotel and then come across to the theater to perform,” said Alison.
In 1916, the theater was bought by a trio of local businessmen, who re-named it The Strand.
“They kept a few live shows but they mostly switched it over to silent films,” said Alison. “And then they operated the theater until 1926, when the national chain E. M. Loew’s bought it. It was designed as an ornate Italianate façade, and then in the 1950s, they did a major renovation to modernize the theater, and so they ripped off the original Italianate façade… they stuccoed it over.”
The theater changed hands again in 1983 and operated as The Center, until that was halted by a fire in 1990. The Cape Verdean Association of New Bedford bought the building in 1992, and they use it on a limited basis as a cultural center.
The building is in tough shape. Its dark, cavernous interior still bears many of the ornate touches from the vaudeville glory days, even as the plaster crumbles and the paint continues to peel. But that’s about to change. The Waterfront Historic Area League is partnering with the Cape Verdean Association to restore the grand old theater.
Rachel Alison was able to dig up the original blueprints for the building’s facade at New Bedford City Hall. Katherine Duff, Director of Studio to Sustain, the architecture and design firm handling the restoration project, called Alison’s discovery a gold mine.
“We took a look at those, and then we came back here and did a little excavation – we were sort of like scientists looking at the building, and we uncovered the historic framing at the front of the façade in places, and we sort of pieced that together and realized that, in fact, an ornate wood Italianate façade. So that really said to us the bones for restoration are really prime,” said Duff.
Duff says the original façade may have been removed as a result of urban renewal trends during the 60s and 70s.
“To a certain extent, New Bedford suffered through some of that urban renewal, but we were also a relatively poor community, and so we didn’t lose a lot of our history because we didn’t experience a lot of that corporate investment and urban renewal that tore down a lot of our historic neighborhoods,” Duff said. “So you got things like facades covered in stucco, but the building’s still here. You take the good with the bad.”
Duff says that despite its shabby appearance, the theater is in surprisingly good shape, and ideally suited to the restoration effort.
“The scale of this building right now is so wonderful,” said Duff. “That’s what makes it so manageable in terms of envisioning a restoration of the project, is that it’s not overwhelming. It’s really quite a lovely scale. While there’s a bit of work here, it’s not like it’s an entire city block.”
The project’s backers have applied for several state grants, and they plan to mount a capital campaign to raise additional funds for the restoration. The goal is to have funding in place by the Fall, and construction completed by sometime in 2019.
TUSCUMBIA — An organization wants to purchase and restore the old downtown Tuscumbian Theatre.
The group, Tuscumbian Arts Properties, is seeking someone to purchase the theater as part of a lease-purchase agreement in which Tuscumbian Arts would repay the investor as it raises money.
The group also wants to purchase the former First National Bank building adjacent to the theater, Tuscumbian Arts President Howard Hopwood said Sunday during a presentation to the Colbert County Historical Landmarks Foundation.
The properties are on the market for an asking price of $299,000, but Hopwood hopes a lower price can be negotiated.
The bank had owned the theater building at one point and used it as an annex for the bank. In doing so, the bank changed the building’s facade to match that of the other bank building and renovated the interior to fit the needs of a bank.
“The front looks like the bank today,” Hopwood said. “It’ll look like it did when you were a kid and you went there.”
The Tuscumbian opened in 1950 with “Three Little Words,” starring Fred Astaire. It closed for movies in 1977, with the last film being “Drum,” Hopwood said.
He believes the renovation project for the two buildings could cost $6-$10 million. The balcony still is in place and there is a great deal of space in the back of the building, which will mean plenty of work space to build the stage.
Tuscumbian Arts wants to use the other building as an events and performance space, as well as a restaurant. Hopwood envisions having some dining spaces inside the bank vaults for a unique experience.
The group has a Facebook page called Tuscumbian Project and invites the public to join it. Hopwood said he wants people to share memories of the theater. In addition, if anyone has additional information about it, that could be helpful for the restoration.
The Tuscumbian was featured in the 1950-51 edition of The Theatre Catalog, which includes photos of its interior. Hopwood said that is a valuable resource for restoration planning.
A native of Sheffield, Hopwood has worked in the theater and convention business for decades, including designing and building a cinema and working in the film industry in Los Angeles. He owned a consulting firm called “The Theatre Doctor” and had a syndicated column called “MediaMaven,” about movies and the media.
He retired and returned to the Shoals and formed Tuscumbian Arts Properties.
Armed with a camera, his cat and a map, photographer Glenn Wills set out on a mission to travel across Alabama and document the state’s old and abandoned structures.
“We’re going to see what there is to see. Capture what I can capture while it’s still there,” Wills wrote in his first Forgotten Alabama blogpost in December 2012.
Now, five years, 40,000 miles and 25,000 photographs later, the Huntsville native has stopped in Alabama’s 67 counties and released two “Forgotten Alabama” books. Images of rusted automobiles, abandoned buildings, churches, schools and the childhood home of Rosa Parks, overgrown fields and old bridges fill the pages of the books.
Willis visited the Princess Theatre Center for the Performing Arts for a lunch-and-learn session to discuss the books last month. He will return in December 2019 when a statewide bicentennial exhibit shows in Decatur, David Breland said.
“Appreciating our historic structures is important. We have 992 buildings in this city on the National Register of Historic Places. It is a blessing to have so many, but it can also cause us to become complacent about what we have,” said Breland, Decatur’s director of historic resources and events.
Among the images Wills took was one of the Decatur Depot, which appears in “Forgotten Alabama” along with the words, “This has since been saved and will be used by Decatur Police as well as housing a museum.”
In 2014, after 35 years of sitting vacant, the 113-year-old building was in jeopardy of “demolition by neglect,” Breland said.
“That is when a building gets to a point beyond a point of repair, where it just cannot be restored,” Breland said.
That is what some believe happened to the McCartney Hotel — one of four Decatur structures that remained standing after the Civil War.
“The McCartney Hotel was destroyed after the Civil War. We don’t know exactly what happened, but it probably had something to do with neglect,” Breland said.
The hotel stood at Bank and Market streets. Other structures that survived the Civil War were the Old State Bank, which was used as a field hospital, the Dancy Polk House, which housed commanding officers, and the Burleson-Hinds-McEntire House, which served as a command post and guarded the railroad bridge and river.
A three-year, $2.5 million project restored Decatur’s former L&N Railroad Depot, which now houses the train museum and police offices, on Railroad and Vine streets.
“During the restoration, there were a few pleasant surprises. We thought the entire roofing system was gone, but, turns out, the vast majority of the underlayment was in perfectly good condition. The part of the roofing system on the south end, though, had to be completely redone. If left any longer, it would’ve been in danger of collapsing,” Breland said.
Like Decatur, groups in Athens and Moulton are working to restore historic buildings. The Athens Arts League signed a 25-year lease in 2016 to renovate the Scout House on Washington Street. Once home to boy and girl scout troops, the 80-year-old building, when complete, will commemorate Limestone County’s music heritage.
In Moulton, the Jackson House Foundation for the past six years has held fundraisers to benefit the two-story Queen Ann-style home built in 1900. The Jackson House, which originally sat at Main and Walnut streets, was home to two of Lawrence County’s probate judges, James Christopher Kumpe and William Rush Jackson, before becoming a restaurant. South Central Bell purchased the land where the home stood in 1978. With the structure’s future in jeopardy, community activists raised funds to move the home to its present location at Lawrence County High School’s A.W. Todd Coliseum. After serving as a senior center for 29 years, the home sat vacant, slowly deteriorating.
“So many people were married here, celebrated their birthdays here and had family reunions here. We want this space to make more memories,” said Tammy Roberts, a member of the Jackson House Foundation. “This house has made me love history more than I already did.”