By Karen Isaacs
A new theater is about to open in the Stony Creek section of Branford. Legacy Theatre has been in the works since 2011 when Keely Baisden Knudsen and Stephanie Stiefel Williams incorporated the Legacy Theatre. But it wasn’t until 2013 that it purchased what is usually referred to as the Puppet House Theatre in Stony Creek.
Now, the new theater is about to open its doors, though it has been offering some limited productions and presentations at other venues.
Of course, in the midst of the construction, Covid 19 arrived. According to Knudsen, who is the artistic director, there was time to incorporate into the new building improved air circulation, heating and cooling equipment that would meet requirements for a safe indoor environment. The theater was scheduled to be completed last November, but during my March visit, contractors were putting finishing touches on the building.
An opening concert featuring Broadway performer Telly Leung on Friday, April 23 is already sold out followed by a production of Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park from Wednesday April 28 to Sunday, May 23.
Knudsen, Williams and others have a vision of providing more theater opportunities to the shoreline with professional productions, concerts, education and children’s events.
The site at 128 Thimble Island Road has a long history with the performing arts. Though it began in 1866 as a church, in 1914 it was converted to a movie theater showing silent films. By 1923, the Parish Players of Stony Creek Church of Christ had purchased the building and made it into a theater. A noteworthy moment in its history was the world premiere of the play Death Takes a Holiday and a production with Orson Welles, Joseph Cotton and others.
But the theater became a factory until in 1961 it became a museum for 52 life-sized Sicilian puppets that were used in puppetry classes and productions. By 2009, the puppet theater, as it was referred as, was closed. Since then the puppets have been relocated for restoration.
The new theater is designed to recall both the earlier days of the theater as a movie house as well as its location on the shoreline.
The new theater was designed within the existing space so the exterior remained standing. According to Knudsen, the original boards on the façade where numbered, taken down, restored and returned to their original location. The Legacy staff, architect and contractors worked with the CT. Historic Preservation Office, which awarded the theater $1 million in renovation fees. The theater has received state historic tax credits and was just nominated for a preservation award from Connecticut Preservation.
The new stage is 16 ½ feet wide and 20 feet in depth. An orchestra pit can be converted to three rows of seats. When seats are in the orchestra pit, the theater will hold 127 patrons including seven seats in the balcony and box seats.
Knudsen said that the theater budgeted for 25 percent capacity at this time though now it can have up to 50 percent. The opening sold out concert will have 46 people in the audience. Right now with the Covid restrictions, the capacity will vary based on whether tickets are sold in pairs, singles or larger groups.
Some of the architectural details, such as the ceilings in the theater are meant to provide a nautical feeling but are also useful for hiding lights and speakers.
Outside a courtyard will give patrons a chance to enjoy the sea breezes and to mingle before or after the show.
For more information visit legacytheatrect.org.