Thursday, September 23, 2021

Local News

Silver Linings As Legacy Theatre Opening Approaches

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Legacy Theatre CT Artistic Director and co-founder Keely Baisden Knudsen shares a view from the top of the house inside the state-of-the-art theatre in Stony Creek, which is readying to launch a full season packed with performances. 

Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound

Legacy Theatre CT Artistic Director and co-founder Keely Baisden Knudsen shares a view from the top of the house inside the state-of-the-art theatre in Stony Creek, which is readying to launch a full season packed with performances. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound)

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Legacy Theatre CT Artistic Director and co-founder Keely Baisden Knudsen delights in taking her first steps on the stage’s newly installed sprung floor (which cushions impact for dancers and actors) during The Sound’s visit. Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound

Legacy Theatre CT Artistic Director and co-founder Keely Baisden Knudsen delights in taking her first steps on the stage’s newly installed sprung floor (which cushions impact for dancers and actors) during The Sound’s visit. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound)

As the final the days tick down to the grand opening of The Legacy Theatre, this state-of-the-art facility where tradition lives is readying to launch a full season packed with performances beginning Wednesday, April 28. While current COVID-19 audience caps cut the indoor house seating in half, allowing just 46 attendees per show (park and ride shuttle provided), Keely Baisden Knudsen sees it as one of several silver linings that will help Legacy, and its neighbors, ramp up toward what she feels will be full embrace of this remarkable, fully accessible theater that’s found its home in Stony Creek.

The theater’s sold-out grand opening on Friday, April 23 will bring Broadway and television star Telly Leung to town. Leung’s many credits include Aladdin on Broadway as well as TV’s Glee.

“April 23 is already sold out, because of the 50 percent capacity rule and additional social distancing that’s required. When people buy tickets, every other row is blacked out and two [seats] on either side are open for social distances,” said Knudsen, Legacy’s artistic director and co-founder.

The upcoming season’s roster, including 28 performances of Neil Simon’s famed romantic comedy Barefoot in the Park (April 28 to May 23), can be seen at legacytheatrect.org . Tickets for virtual attendance are also available.

The theater is also opening as Connecticut’s COVID-19 vaccination numbers are building strength. Knudsen said she’s been hearing from patrons who are letting her know they feel comfortable—and excited—to be venturing out to enjoy live performances at the theater.

Live theater-goers will wear facial masks and undergo a quick temperature check, as well as fill out a day-of health survey (sent by email) to support proper screening. Legacy’s regular deep cleaning schedule is also part of the theater’s health and safety operational program.

“The extent of all the cleaning, and the cost of it, was one of the surprises to the budget,” said Knudsen.

With COVID-19 delivering so many uncertainties during the past year, Legacy’s leaders budgeted for 25 percent capacity during its first season to sustain needed operational costs. As always, non-profit Legacy Theatre relies heavily on donors, sponsors, and patrons to support it.

Some naming opportunities still exist, such as seat naming (to date, 55 of the 127 theater seats have been named, starting at $2,500). Click the “Support Us” tab on the webpage for more details. Sponsorship opportunities are also available.

Knudsen is actually a bit grateful that the gradual lifting of capacity caps and other COVID-19 restrictions will allow for a gentle ramping up of operations, audience numbers, and general interactions in the community as Legacy comes online.

“That’s a blessing, as well, because back at the start of all this, the neighbors were concerned about the influx,” said Knudsen. “So having to start at lower capacity, I think, will help people get used to how it’s going to operate and things like how the shuttle’s going to operate.”

The shuttle will drop audience members off at the theater from the I-95 Exit 56 Commuter Lot and Stony Creek Museum parking lots on a rotation. With some limited street parking, Legacy will also deploy parking ambassadors to ensure the proper use of the spaces by patrons.

Another silver lining? Due to its construction during the global pandemic, Legacy Theatre installed optimal HVAC building ventilation using MERV-13 filters, which are rated to trap smaller particles, including viruses. The system also incorporates sanitizing UV lighting that bathes the air as it moves through.

A Sneak Peek

About a year back, Zip06/The Sound visited with Knudsen when renovation of the historic 1903 theater at 128 Thimble Island Road was just getting underway, inside the shell of the exterior. Last week, Knudsen toured the facility again with Zip06/The Sound as the finishing building touches were being applied and production work was underway for the upcoming season.

“The construction is right on schedule, and we’re also building our Barefoot in the Park set as all of this is getting done,” said Knudsen, who is living the definition of multi-tasking.

“We’re in the midst of production meetings for four shows right now. It’s all been a whirlwind,” said Knudsen, joking, “Septic tanks? Ask me, I know! As much as I’ve loved the building process, I think I will be delighted when it’s all moved on and we’re just in the process of putting on shows.”

As for what’s in store for patrons who come out to the theater, just as project architect Leonard Wyeth of Wyeth Architects, LLC, of Chester had promised readers in an August 2020 interview with Zip06/The Sound, “you will be shocked when you go in there.”

Wyeth’s design and material choices pay homage to the historic wood and brick building as well as the shoreline village of Stony Creek and the grand tradition of the stage, by creating a state-of-the art jewel box of a theater. Its warm welcome to all extends to the lobby’s handicapped accessible lift and audience seating as well as its handicapped accessible tech booth.

“We’re one of the only ones in all of New England to be able to offer a theater that can be accessible in that way,” said Knudsen, noting Legacy also offers the Wheel Life Theatre troupe, a theater program for those who ambulate with crutches or use wheelchairs (and their siblings).

The warm woods of Legacy’s lobby space incorporate beadboard and other traditional touches, with a welcoming box office counter near the architect-designed Donor Wall honoring founding and other significant donors. Two exterior marquee windows, also named for donors, will include one sharing Legacy’s season at a glance and another, unique “selfie-station,” said Knudsen.

For the historic reopening, the station “is going to show pictures of the theater from every major decade of its existence, so you can take a selfie with it and post and hashtag away,” she said.

The theater’s small, side courtyard includes a sheltered walkway along the building exterior that incorporates three historic, museum-style information windows. The courtyard creates a campus that includes Legacy’s Artist Cottage next door (soon to be painted white to match the theater building’s exterior).

Inside the theater, rows of plush red seats rise beneath the ceiling’s nautical-style natural wood planking, and face an impressive stage outlined by a proscenium painted in gold. Red velvet Venetian curtains, arriving soon, will soften the edges beyond the proscenium and combine to create a “grand and stately” stage, said Knudsen.

The stage is supported by high-tech lighting and sound and a mix of motorized rigging as well as traditional rope and pulley hoists, while upstairs backstage are two brand-new dressing rooms meeting all Actors Equity Association standards.

“It’s add water and stir, basically. Any performer can feel they can come in and are supported by the equipment,” said Knudsen, who also delighted in taking her first steps on the stage’s newly installed “sprung floor” (which cushions impact for dancers and actors) during The Sound’s visit.

Due to down-time created by the pandemic, Legacy Theatre’s sound installation has also experienced a silver lining: the hands-on input of professional sound designer Nick Borisjuk. Borisjuk’s body of work includes his role as sound engineer for Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton.

“He just came off the Hamilton tour,” said Knudsen. “Right now, we can get all kinds of wonderful talent because they’re not busy, but as soon as Hamilton starts up again, it’s goodbye! So we’re just very lucky to have him. He knows the ins and outs of the sound here, as well as the first couple of productions.”

“I’m really excited to get them started before I start going crazy with trying to get all the Hamilton tours back on,” said Borisjuk, who anticipates getting back to his regular work as fall approaches. “I’ve got a lot to do when Broadway starts back up, but for now, I’m thrilled to be a part of this process.”

Borisjuk, a Connecticut native, is back in his home state after many years of residing in New York City and said he appreciates the value of having Legacy Theatre up and running in this part of the world.

“It’s great to have something in Connecticut,” he said. “I’m living in Norwalk, which is 40 minutes away, but still, it’s exciting to have a theater close by that is beautiful, and where they’ve done a great job with the design and thought about the acoustics.”

Coming Soon

Soon, Legacy’s compass design logo, highlighted with gold leafing, will be hoisted into place on the theater façade. In addition, over the main entrance doors, a “bold and beautiful and well, well, well-deserved” acknowledgment banner sign will be installed to recognize Legacy co-founder and board chair Stephanie Stiefel Williams and her family, said Knudsen.

Knudsen, an award-winning actress, director, choreographer, and professor, and Williams, an actress and former attorney, incorporated the Legacy Theatre as a non-profit entity together in 2011. The professional theater company’s mission has from the start been to enhance the Connecticut shoreline’s economy, educational opportunities, and quality of life through live theater and related programs, based out of a premiere arts house. Legacy purchased the building, then still known as the Stony Creek Puppet House, in 2013.

Even as the final touches at Legacy Theatre are put in place, Knudsen said it will be a “surreal” moment when the curtain goes up on opening night.

“There was a day I walked in and I burst into tears. It was the day when the theater seats were put in. I just stood there and thought, ‘I can’t believe it’s actually happening, that all of this has happened.’ It’s going to feel so surreal on the 23rd,” said Knudsen. “For so long, people have been saying, ‘Live theater is obsolete.’ But it is not. This experience has proven that.”


Pam Johnson covers news for Branford and North Branford for Zip06. Email Pam at p.johnson@shorepublishing.com.

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