Person of the Week
Ed Wilhelms: Making a Home for Serious Theater
Ed Wilhelms decided the best way to ensure the works he wanted to directed were staged was to start his own theater. The Drama Works Theatre Company in Old Saybrook is the result. (Photo courtesy of Ed Wilhelms)
Who says you need to go all the way to Broadway for a great theater experience? Drama Works Theatre Company (DWTC) opened its doors in Old Saybrook last year to fulfill director Ed Wilhelms’s goal of providing interesting theater productions in intimate settings.
DWTC first started in Stonington in 2019, but soon moved to its current location of 323 Boston Post Road. The theater has space for 48 seats, which Ed says “makes for a very intimate setting. The first row is literally about four feet from the stage.”
“This theater actually started in Florida in a way,” Ed says during a recent chat.
While living in Florida, Ed sent out his résumé looking for work as a director, but he quickly hit a snag.
“I soon discovered they weren’t so interested in the work as they were in selling tickets,” Ed says.
Ed says the shows the theaters were putting out were light-hearted comedies or popular musicals.
“It wasn’t what I was interested in directing,” Ed says.
While living in Florida, Ed opened his own theater, which is still operating, but then moved to Connecticut. When he arrived in the state, he came to the conclusion he would need to follow up on what he did in Florida.
“When I got up here, I said, ‘If I want to tell really interesting stories and plays, I need to open my own theater,’” Ed says.
DWTC had the unfortunate timing of opening its doors in Old Saybrook in the first quarter of 2020.
“All of a sudden, COVID hit and we had to shut down. It wasn’t good for anyone,” Ed recalls.
The theater finally reopened with shows last month, which by all accounts was a success.
“We’re on our way. I thought it went really well and people loved it,” Ed says.
There are five upcoming shows left in the 2021 season. The next is Bakersfield Mist by Stephen Sachs, which opens on Friday, Aug. 13 and runs to Sunday, Aug. 15 and then again on Friday and Saturday, Aug. 20 and 21. The play is based on a true story of a woman who buys an ugly painting she wants to trash, but soon becomes convinced it’s a lost masterpiece by Jackson Pollock worth millions and has an art expert come out to authenticate it.
“There’s some very funny stuff in it and some serious stuff. It’s got something for everyone,” says Ed.
Tickets and more information can be found on the DWTC website at dramaworkstheatre.org.
Working in theater has been almost a lifelong passion for Ed.
“I’ve wanted to do this since I was 14. I got a job on Long Island when I was 16 and that was it,” Ed says.
Ed had the good fortune of living in proximity to New York City, where he got to study at a drama school where the teachers were all working actors.
“They really knew their stuff,” says Ed.
Those lessons he learned while studying only cemented that a life in theater was what was in store for Ed.
“That was it. That what I was going to do and here I am,” Ed says with a laugh.
Ed has to pause for a moment before answering what he likes so much about theater.
“Well, as an actor, I like getting into a character and brining that character to life,” Ed says.
As a director, Ed says he enjoys the teaching aspect.
“In other words, I explain why it is I want you do what I’m asking you to do,” says Ed.
“The biggest joys are the satisfaction the audience has and wanting them to come back,” says Ed.
When a show gets a reaction from an audience where the members are still thinking about its days later, “To me that’s the most important part,” Ed says.
For Ed, the ability to provide quality theater to people in the community without having to send people to New York to see such quality is a thrill.
“My goal is to stop people from getting on that train to New York!” Ed says.
As for the hardest part, Ed acknowledges that sacrificing artistic excitement for profit can be an ongoing battle.
“Deciding do you want to tell a great story and have it move people or collect money at the door? My main concern is to put something on stage that people will be moved by,” Ed says.
Even in his spare time, which Ed jokes he has none of, Ed is still concerned with theater. He says he spends his spare time reading scripts.
Ed was raised in New York and then called Old Saybrook home for more than 20 years before he moved to Florida.
“I absolutely hate, hate, hated it there,” Ed says with a laugh.
After four years in Florida, he moved to Stonington where he currently resides.
Still, Ed has nothing but good things to say about Old Saybrook.
“It has a great main street; it’s just a nice small town. It’s still the nice small town it’s always been,” says Ed. “It also has probably the best town beach on the shoreline.”
The 2021 Lineup
Upcoming shows at the Drama Works Theatre Company, a 501(c)3 non-profit, resident performing arts company, include:
Bakersfield Mist by Stephen Sachs from Fridays and Saturdays, Aug. 13, 14, 20 and 21 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Aug. 15 at 3 p.m.
The Guys by Anne Nelson on Friday and Saturday, Sept. 10 and 11 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Sept. 12 at 3 p.m.
Kevin Flynn-Fear of Heights from Wednesday, Sept. 29 to Saturday, Oct. 2 at 7:30 p.m.
Rabbit Hole by David Lindsay Abaire on Fridays and Saturdays, Oct. 29 and 30 and Nov. 5 and 6 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 31 at 3 p.m.
Connecticut Playwrights New Play Festival on Friday, Nov. 19 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, Nov. 20 at 3 p.m.
Drama Works Theatre Company is located at 323 Boston Post Road, Old Saybrook. For more information, visit dramaworkstheatre.org.