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Curtain Goes Up On Hartford Stage Expansion Project


January 14, 2010

Hartford Stage will get its first physical upgrade in 17 years when construction starts in June on the initial $4 million phase of its renovation and expansion project.

Audience members may be most excited about one element: new and more bathrooms. Other new elements include: an enlarged lobby; raising the stage floor to make handicapped seating more accessible; a new dressing room at stage level; new heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment; new lighting and sound equipment; roof repair; and an expanded "trap" room beneath the entire stage.

Construction on the 33-year-old building means its SummerStage series moves to Roberts Theater at the Kingswood-Oxford School in West Hartford and is cut to one play, July 21-Aug. 8. "Sheila's Day" is a musical drama set in Alabama and South Africa in the 1960s.

The renovation, expected to last four months, will push back the opening of Hartford Stage's 47th season to October, instead of September. There will be one play prior to its annual non-subscription "A Christmas Carol" production; five shows will be presented in 2011, keeping the six-work season intact. Titles are still to be announced.

"After years of extensive planning, we are thrilled to see this finally happening," says Michael Wilson, artistic director at the Tony Award-winning theater for the past 12 years. "It shows a real investment in both a private and public sector in this community to this cultural asset."

So far $10.5 million has been raised, with $2 million spent in planning and design, $4 million targeted for construction of Phase One, $3 million designated to enlarge the endowment (currently at $5.2 million) and $1.5 million aimed at Phase Two fundraising, with construction costs estimated at $6 million.

To date, $2 million came from the State Department of Economic and Community Development, $1 million each coming from philanthropists George and Laura Estes and two anonymous donors.

Other leading donors come from foundations: the Aetna and Travelers Foundations, Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, the John and Kelly Hartman Foundation, and the Edward C. and Ann T. Roberts Foundations.

Michael Stotts, Hartford Stage's managing director, says the current economic and fundraising climate necessitated dividing the theater's overall expansion into two phases, funding construction with available cash as money was raised.

"But even in this climate we still raised over a $1 million this past year and people are still in the giving mode," says Stotts. "Just taking our cue from our annual drive, overall giving is up so we feel good about going forward as we take this from the 'quiet phase' of the campaign to the broader community. As the renovation of Phase One goes forward and people can see what we are doing, we're going to use that as an opportunity to extend our reach."

The goal is to have Phase Two construction beginning in 2012 and completed for the theater's 50th anniversary season in 2013-14. The plan includes expansion of the lower and upper lobbies, renovation of the theater's interior including new acoustics, seating, new house light system and the installation of an elevator to allow accessibility for handicapped patrons to the upper level of the theater.

Phase Two will also include further expansion of the endowment, cash reserves and money for special programming.

Mitchell Kurtz Architect is the design firm for the theater, originally designed by Robert Venturi.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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