Opinion: Memorable scenes from when Stamford’s ‘Barn’ hosted live theater

Steve Karp on the Stamford Theatre Works stage in 1997.

Steve Karp on the Stamford Theatre Works stage in 1997.

H. John Voorhees III / Hearst Connecticut Media

With some personal interest, I read Veronica Del Valle’s May 5 article in the Stamford Advocate about The Barn on the campus of the new Strawberry Hill School. The article came to my attention because some residents of the Stamford community were bewildered by the omission of any reference to Stamford Theatre Works.

It would seem egregious, given the assignment to write a history piece on The Barn, that any knowledge of Stamford Theatre Works as The Barn’s exclusive tenant for 20 years — from 1988 to 2008 — could not have been known. The Stamford Advocate covered the theater like a blanket, from its front-page attention to our opening in 1988, to the multitude of promotional articles and reviews of more than 100 full productions, to our untimely but unavoidable closing during the recession of 2008. The popularity of the Stamford Theatre Works as a performing arts institution made it the longest-running professional theater in Stamford’s history — and all while in residence at The Barn!

Before Stamford Theatre Works, The Barn was virtually unknown to the greater-Stamford community. Its owners, the Sisters of Saint Joseph who ran Sacred Heart Academy, leased The Barn to STW in 1988 — a transaction which not only proved to be remunerative to the sisters, but with STW’s diverse and extensive programming, would eventually introduce thousands of people to the Sacred Heart campus. To wit:

Total Stamford Theatre Works programming

  STW Professional Full-Production Program.

  STW Black History Month Program.

  STW Great American Composer Series.

  STW Purple Cow Children’s Theatre.

  STW School for the Performing Arts.

  STW Summer Theatre Camp for Kids.

 1,500 annual subscribers (from throughout Southern Connecticut).

 10,000 annual full-production attendees (from throughout Southern Connecticut).

With 15,000 annual attendees for all of its programming, STW would become one of the largest locally produced professional performing arts organizations in Stamford, and achieve a regional reputation for artistic excellence:

 STW’s American premiere of “Remembrance” transferred to Off-Broadway in New York City and became one of the most frequently produced plays in regional theater across America (1991-92).

 Recipient of the Connecticut Critics Circle’s highest award for “Contribution to Connecticut Theater” (1997).

 Atlantic magazine honored STW as one of only four professional theaters in the United States for its annual celebration of Black History Month (1998).

 Lincoln Center Library selected STW’s production of “Miss Evers’ Boys” for historic preservation in its Theatre On Film And Tape Archive (1998).

STW public funding support:

 National Endowment for the Performing Arts.

 Connecticut Commission on Culture & Tourism.

 Stamford Community Arts Partnership.

STW Corporate Funding Support

 General Electric.

 General Reinsurance.

 Pitney Bowes.

 JP Morgan Chase.

 Xerox

(and many more)

STW foundation and private funding support

Includes hundreds of individual donors.

Over the years, The Barn became something of a treasure to Stamford Theatre Works patrons. It provided an opportunity to combine intimacy with an artistic quality and diversity of professional theater programming that had never existed in Stamford. The sadness of the theater’s demise remains palpable in the hearts and minds of those who loved and supported it.

I am personally grateful that The Barn’s listing in the National Register of Historic Places will keep it visible and functional. Its renovation has fortunately preserved its charm and authenticity. And well-remembered by many for The Barn’s busy theater activity, it can be an emotional experience just to drive by it.

Stamford native Steve Karp is the founder of Stamford Theatre Works.