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$1 Million Gift Gives Theater Major Boost


June 18, 2008

Hartford Stage is expected to announce today a $1 million pledge toward its new renovation/expansion/endowment project from philanthropists and entrepreneurs George and Laura Estes, The Courant has learned.

The announcement one of the largest gifts in the theater's 44-year history will be made at the theater's annual board meeting today.

George L. Estes III, on the Hartford Stage board since 2001, is chairman and CEO of SPARTA Insurance Holdings Inc. in Hartford. Laura Estes was senior vice president of Aetna Life Insurance and Annuity Co. and is also an active community leader, currently chairwoman of Hartford Hospital.

The theater also received $2 million in bonding money from the state earlier this year toward the $23 million project at the 50 Church St. building in downtown Hartford. The fundraising campaign is in its early phase, said Michael Stotts, managing director of the theater, and additional major gifts are expected throughout the multi-year drive

Construction is expected to begin at the close of the '08-09 season next June. The newly renovated theater is expected to open in the fall of 2010.

Stotts and artistic director Michael Wilson are also considering a free outdoor Shakespeare theater starting next year. Details of the outdoor theater program as well as plans for the 2009-10 season, when the theater is under construction are still to be determined.

Theater architect Mitchell Kurtz was named head architect for the Hartford Stage project in February. Renderings for the renovation are expected later this year.

The theater will also announce at the annual meeting that the 2007-2008 season ended in the black, with a surplus of about $50,000. Stotts points to an increase in subscribers (going against an industry trend), a $100,000 grant from Bank of America and exceptional sales from several of the season's shows as reasons for the surplus, but he said energy and health care costs will make finances a challenge in the coming season.

The top-selling productions were "Our Town," "The Bluest Eye" and "The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore."

Stotts also reports that the three summer shows have already broken records for advance sales. The summer schedule features: "Elaine Stritch At Liberty" (June 24 to 29), Tina Fabrique in "Ella" (July 8 to 27) and Carrie Fisher in "Wishful Drinking" (Aug. 6 to 17).

For more information: www.hartfordstage.com.

Contact Frank Rizzo at rizzo@courant.com.

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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