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    Sunday, May 19, 2024

    Dragon’s Egg fire leaves Beast Barn a total loss

    Marya Ursin, creative director of Mystic Paper Beasts, looks toward the intact Dragon’s Egg studio in Ledyard on March 25, 2024, as the nearby Beast Barn, where a large cache of costumes, masks and props was stored, lies in a heap after a fire consumed the structure Sunday afternoon. Photo by Lee Howard/The Day
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    Marya Ursin, creative director of Mystic Paper Beasts, looks toward the intact Dragon’s Egg studio in Ledyard on March 25, 2024, as the nearby Beast Barn, where a large cache of costumes, masks and props was stored, lies in a heap after a fire consumed the structure Sunday afternoon. Photo by Lee Howard/The Day
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    Marya Ursin, creative director of Mystic Paper Beasts, looks out the front window of the Dragon’s Egg studio in Ledyard, on March 25, 2024. The studio was damaged in a Sunday afternoon fire that consumed the nearby barn where a large cache of costumes, masks and props was stored. Photo by Lee Howard/The Day
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    A statue at the Dragon’s Egg studio in Ledyard still stands on March 25, 2024 as the nearby Beast Barn, where a large cache of costumes, masks and props was stored, lies in a heap after a fire consumed the structure the day before. Photo by Lee Howard/The Day
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    Remnants of the Beast Barn are seen Monday, March 25, on the grounds of the Dragon’s Egg in Ledyard. The barn held a large cache of costumes, masks and props. Photo by Lee Howard/The Day
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    A destroyed Mini Cooper and solar panel are seen in the foreground at the Dragon’s Egg in Ledyard on Monday, March 25, and in the background the ruins of a barn as well as the damaged studio building can be seen. Photo by Lee Howard/The Day
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    Ledyard ― A barn at the Dragon’s Egg on Shewville Road, home of the performance troupe Mystic Paper Beasts, burned to the ground Sunday afternoon, destroying a large collection of the group’s costumes, masks, props, musical instruments and tools, while damaging parts of the 2,200-square-foot octagonal structure nearby used for performances and classes.

    Marya Ursin, co-director of the nonprofit organization with husband Dan Potter, said the fire at the so-called Beast Barn would mean at least a temporary halt to the Dragon’s Egg residency program and in-house teaching commitments. She is telling people nothing will be scheduled at the 20-plus-acre site at least through June, but it could be longer.

    “It’s devastating,” said David Jaffe, president of the Dragon’s Egg board of directors who toured the property Monday morning. He added that the studio was “heavily damaged, but not destroyed.”

    Jaffe, a professor at Connecticut College, called the Dragon’s Egg a gem and “a major resource for the dance world,” whose companies, mostly out of New York City, conduct regular retreats there of up to two weeks to develop new works. Ursin said the Egg holds up to 50 residencies every year for dance and theater companies at very low cost to cash-strapped arts organizations.

    Despite the fire, which left her husband’s blue Mini Cooper a scorched husk (he’s currently in Hanoi), Ursin remained calm and hopeful for the future on Monday.

    “My barn burned down; now I can see the moon,” she said, citing a Chinese proverb, as she toured the Dragon’s Egg grounds.

    Ursin said four people in a Dragon’s Egg residency were on site as the apparent electrical fire erupted, but she believed it was a neighbor who called in the blaze at 401 Shewville Road. Ursin said she was at a memorial service and had turned off her phone, not hearing about the fire until about 5 p.m. Sunday.

    The Ledyard Fire Department reported that the fire call came in at 1:15 p.m., and by the time firefighters arrived the barn was engulfed, and the blaze had already spread to the car, a nearby solar panel and the main studio building. The most heavily impacted area in the studio appeared to be a space where a small kitchen and bathroom were located downstairs.

    Ledyard Fire Department Chief Jonathan Mann said no one was on site when firefighters arrived and no injuries were reported. The barn was declared a total loss, and the main studio was scorched to one side as the blaze and water blasted toward the house knocked out panes of glass on the top floor, according to Ursin.

    Ursin said the building will have to be boarded up and secured before cleanup can begin. She pointed out that the fire had left much of the main mirror-studded studio space intact, though one section of wood flooring toward the front of the building had sustained water damage.

    “I feel remarkably peaceful, and this is like it's our livelihood,” Ursin said.

    The cause of the fire remains under investigation by the Ledyard fire marshal’s office. The Ledyard Fire Department reported that more than a dozen other fire and rescue units responded to the blaze.

    Ursin said she would likely not rebuild the barn, citing lack of money. She added that the property was insured and she had already filed a claim as of 4 a.m. Monday.

    Jaffe, president of the nonprofit Dragon’s Egg board, said it could be months before the studio reopens.

    “Whether it’s three or six months depends on the speed of the insurance company and the contractor,” he said in a phone interview.

    The octagonal Dragon’s Egg studio was built in the late 1990s and opened in 2000. The space is used for a range of activities, including yoga classes, theater performances, movement classes for children and narrative projects.

    Ursin and Potter, according to the Dragon’s Egg website, have opened up their space “to benefit artists and community, in the hopes of supporting the creative exercise of the imagination, and of the muscle we call generosity of being.”

    The Mystic Paper Beasts were founded by Potter in 1976 as a masked theater company and have traveled both locally and internationally. Potter builds and paints the masks, while Ursin as artistic director writes and directs the pieces. In addition, Ursin is known for teaching theater and creative movement in schools around New England.

    Ursin, who taught three workshops on Monday for fourth graders in Deep River, said she had packed away 20 masks to bring for the kids to try on, and they are now the only ones left out of 350 that were stored in the barn.

    “We can start making masks, right?” she smiled. “I have some shows coming up. I won't have them done by then, so I'll have to like, offer them something else and see if they are willing.”

    Meanwhile, she said some of her events can be held outdoors, and some classes may be switched to Zoom sessions.

    “Hopefully we can reopen in the summer, and have a nice party,” Ursin said.

    Day Staff Writer Greg Smith contributed to this report.

    l.howard@theday.com

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