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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Summer Theatre - Connecticut, 1950

On the official last day of winter, it may be a bit early to mention summer theatre. This is the time, however, for seasons to be planned, auditions scheduled, and an enormous amount of off-stage work that has to be done before the slights go up in the barn this July. Here’s a look at four summer theaters in Connecticut and their offerings in August 1950.

The 1950s, with the help of the automobile and post-war disposable income, bloomed as a heyday of New England summer theatre. These ads from The Hartford Courant show the Canton playhouse, which was a barn at the juncture of routes 177 and 44, where Noel Coward’s “Tonight at 8:30” featuring a “professional cast” wowed the patrons of a summer evening. This was produced by the Show Shop company run by Stanley and Joan Cobleigh, who founded the group around 1940.

Nearby Unionville put on “Cradle Song” at the Town Hall, next up, “The Philadelphia Story”.

Down by the Sound, Clinton Playhouse, boasting of air conditioning -- not something you’d usually find in summer theatre -- featured Charles Quigley in “the recent Broadway success” of “The Magnificent Yankee”. Seats running anywhere from 70 cents to $2.40.

Over at Ivoryton, the Playhouse featured Raymond Massey in “Our Town”. According to the New London Day, August 15, 1950, Mr. Massey’s stepdaughter, Dorothy Whitney, made her stage debut as Emily. Also in the cast were Jane Seymour, Dorrit Kelton, Arthur Walsh as George, Hal Courier and Leonard Lord. “Several curtain calls at the end attested the quality of the performance,” recorded the reviewer, George H. Grout.

Of this wealth of summer stock, I believe only Ivoryton is still going strong today, and as a year-round theater. According to its website: “...the Ivoryton Playhouse became the first self-supporting summer theater in the nation. Older theaters as in Dennis, MA, and Skowhegan, ME, were not self-supporting, but endowed by foundations of wealthy families.” The Ivoryton Playhouse opened in 1930, with Bette Davis trodding the boards. Katharine Hepburn spent a season of several shows here, and many Hollywood names performed on its stage.

For more on the Ivoryton Playhouse, have a look at this website. For more on the Canton’s Show Shop productions, have a look at this article by Sylvia Cancela.

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