Norwich’s Chestnut Street Playhouse: Readying to reopen, holding first playwrights fest
Long-shuttered theaters are beginning to welcome audiences again, and the Chestnut Street Playhouse in Norwich is easing into reopening as well.
The venue is planning a cabaret in July and a playwrights festival in September. Theater leaders hope to raise enough money through those to then stage its first musical since the COVID closure: “A Christmas Carol” in December, according to Chestnut Street Playhouse board member Geralyn Frishman.
This first annual playwrights festival is meant to serve as a fundraiser to help the Chestnut Street Playhouse recover from the pandemic.
Five plays will be selected to be staged in a stripped-down process similar to that at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Waterford. The playwrights will collaborate with experienced directors, and actors will read the plays in front of audiences inside the playhouse on Sept. 10, 11 and 12. A question-and-answer period will follow each performance.
The idea for the playwrights festival arose when Frishman was talking about six months ago with local theater writer/director Eugene Celico, who is artistic director of Stage Door Theater Company. With all theaters closed at the time, she was trying to come up with a way to generate interest in and income for Chestnut Street Playhouse — a project that wouldn’t require a lot of upfront money. Celico suggested something like the local playwrights festival he had been involved with at the O'Neill Center years ago.
Several months passed, and then, about four weeks ago, Frishman got back in touch with Celico and said the theater was considering doing the festival. With board approval, it’s now all systems go.
Repairs done, cabaret to come
The playhouse's first live performance since the pandemic is expected to be the cabaret planned for July 24 as a grand-opening gala evening. Frishman said the details are still being discussed, but the idea is to invite back many of the performers who have graced the playhouse’s stage in the past.
The Chestnut Street Playhouse is in a large, old building, and heating and maintaining that during the closure hasn’t been easy.
“It’s been very difficult, obviously,” Frishman said. “We’ve been dark for a little over a year now … We’ve had a lot of support in terms of the grant money that came through. We waited several years for (a grant) to come through for the front of the building. Presently, we are relying on donations to keep the doors open.”
The theater received a grant to repair the façade of the building, a project that’s now completed. Bricks were repointed in the front of the building. New wood casings were replaced around three of the huge windows and were painted; a few windows were replaced.
In addition, a garage door was installed to the "set construction" shop where a fourth window used to be. That allows workers to get materials and large pieces easily in and out of the building. A new wall was built in the workshop area to create a space for an additional dressing room and, eventually, a musicians' pit.
The theater also had to clean up after a pipe broke.
“So there have been a lot of things have been going on in the theater even though it’s been dark … ,” Frishman said. “Is there a lot more to be done? Tons more. (Work on) old buildings just never, ever ends.”
The organization consequently needs volunteers, staff and performers to help continue on its path, she said.
Playwright fest rules
As for the playwrights festival, the plays submitted can’t have been produced elsewhere, and they must be full-length plays.
Submissions are limited to the first 50 plays received, and they will only be accepted from residents of New London County and Washington County, R.I.
All scripts, along with short personal bios, must be received by midnight July 14. They can be submitted to Eugene Celico, 5 Cherry St., Pawcatuck, 06379, or to email@example.com.
Only one submission will be accepted per writer.
The event committee is comprised of Frishman, Celico and Chestnut Street Playhouse actor and volunteer Derek Corriveau.