Goodspeed dedicates new housing for actors

"Home sweet home" has become a new and mightily improved prospect for theater folks coming from out of town to work at Goodspeed Musicals.

Goodspeed has constructed 17 new houses where artists can stay while performing in East Haddam. The buildings were dedicated Monday in a ceremony bringing together theater supporters with local and state officials.

"This is a great moment for us. It is a dream come true," Goodspeed executive director Michael P. Price said.

This Artists Village - a $5.5 million project - will serve as housing for actors, artisans and technical staff on two parcels off Route 82 and one parcel each on Creamery Road and Hem Street. Beyond that, writers and their creative teams will be able to spend time there as they focus on new musicals.

These professional theater artists, many of whom reside in New York City, live here during their time working on Goodspeed productions. That can be as long as four months.

The new construction is quite an improvement on some of the old homes that Goodspeed had been using for actors' housing. The set-up was more like a boarding house. The space was cramped. Individuals often had to share living space with up to 13 individuals - and a bathroom with three or four people.

In the new homes, every bedroom has a private bathroom; there are shared kitchen and living rooms; and the quarters are roomy and modern.

Goodspeed wanted to create better housing so it could continue to attract talented, seasoned professionals.

The new buildings won raves from people who toured them Monday.

"I'm thinking some of the actors are not going to want to go back to New York," said Christopher "Kip" Bergstrom, deputy commissioner for the state Department of Economic and Community Development.

It'll compare favorably to actors' housing provided other places, too. Nick Wyman, the president of Actors' Equity Association, said, "Michael threw down the gauntlet to other theaters."

Most of the houses are 3- or 6-bedroom units. There are two one-bedroom "star apartments" as well.

When you add it all together, it means 65 new bedrooms and 29,097 square feet.

The construction has increased the number of Goodspeed's housing units from 80 to 109. Before, there were only enough rooms to accommodate two companies - one that was performing and one that was rehearsing.

"All of this allows us to expand our horizons," Price said.

It will allow Goodspeed to do more off season - say, with its Festival of New Artists in January - and to do more during the season, including possibly adding a seventh production.

Considering all the talk of a bright future, it was certainly appropriate that the ribbon-cutting was done to the musical strains of "Tomorrow" from "Annie." ("Annie," of course, began at Goodspeed.)

This is Goodspeed's largest capital project ever. Of its total $5.5 million cost, $3 million came from private donors and $2.5 million came from state funding, through the Department of Economic and Community Development.

Bergstrom spoke during the dedication ceremony about the significant impact a theater like this has on the local and state economy. During its peak season, Goodspeed boasts 300 employees, he noted.

As for the housing project, Goodspeed officials estimate that the economic impact has been $16.5 million and that the project has helped create 121 jobs. As for in-state spending, 18 contractors and 26 suppliers were used, all from Connecticut.

Among those who led the project were Patrick L. Pinnell, planner/architect; David Arai, Maier Design Group, architect; and URS Corporation, engineer.

The houses also happen to be "green" in a number of ways. They have pervious concrete driveways and geothermal heating and air conditioning. They are energy efficient, with heavy insulation, efficient windows, and Energy Star appliances.

As for the buildings that used to serve as actors' housing, Goodspeed plans to sell or rent five of the nine. Those structures are next to the town hall site that East Haddam expects to turn into a mix of retail shops and restaurants.

During Monday's ceremony at the cluster of houses off Route 82, Goodspeed Board President Francis G. Adams Jr. recalled how a lot of the same people were at the groundbreaking two years ago, in what was then just a scrubby little field.

He said, happily, "Look at it now."


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