Mission | History
The mission of the Ridgefield Playhouse, as a non-profit performing arts center, is to entertain, enrich and educate our community and surrounding areas to inspire people of all ages and backgrounds.
After many years of planning, fundraising, and building, the dream of restoring the Cass Gilbert Jr.-designed theater in Ridgefield became a reality with our December 2000 opening night performance by Jose Feliciano.
Since our opening, enthusiastic, sold-out audiences have enjoyed Peter Yarrow, Marcel Marceau, Barbara Cook, Moscow Boys Choir, Joan Baez, and The Bacon Brothers and more recently, Michael Feinstein, Gregg Allman, Clint Black, The Doobie Brothers, Brian Wilson, Diana Krall and more. Film-goers have been treated to question-and-answer sessions with many of the movie industry’s finest, including Ron Howard, Harvey Keitel, Tim Robbins, Barry Levinson and more, as part of our film society events, which screens both feature and documentary films. Community events such as the Ridgefield High School Orchestra Concert and the Annual Town Meeting found a new home at The Playhouse, not to mention a place for local dance companies to perform. Children have been enjoying our children series as well as our after-school programs and summer camp. Comedians such as Martin Short, Dana Carvey, Jackie Mason, Joan Rivers, Kathy Griffen, Robert Klein, Ron White and many others have been making audiences laugh here while speakers such as Ira Glass, David Sedaris, and Stephen Sondheim have shared their insight and journey.
Our Arts in Education and outreach programs in addition to various series that deal with real teen issues not only fulfill our mission but also complete our sense of purpose. And of course, our free outdoor Shakespeare on the Green and Green Expo have become an annual “thank you” to all who support us.
While we can all agree with Shakespeare that “the play’s the thing,” we also know that this beautiful theater adds a great deal to the experience of a performance or movie. In an age of multiplexes and stadiums, what a pleasure to be in an impeccably renovated, historic theater with near-perfect acoustics!
Notable Beginnings, Legendary Performances
Designed in 1938, the auditorium in “the old high school” (now the Richard E. Venus Municipal Center) was at one time the center of Ridgefield’s cultural life. In its heyday, before being abandoned in 1972, it was home to school performances as well as community events and town meetings. During World War II, residents had the privilege of twice hearing the legendary Arturo Toscanini conduct here.
In its new life, The Ridgefield Playhouse has been designed to embrace its former role and more. The interior preserves the hall’s excellent acoustics, which make it an ideal venue for musical performance and live theater.
At the same time, retractable draperies cover the walls enabling the “deadening” effect needed to show movies. Thanks to a generous legacy from Patricia Schuster, founder of the Ridgefield Studio of Classical Ballet, the stage was built to have the resilience necessary for dance performances. Parts of the old stage rigging have been preserved and supplemented to enable use of the stage’s large fly space. Stage lights and a state-of-the-art sound system have been installed.
Echoing the importance of the town of Ridgefield in the theater’s life is a hand-painted mural covering the lobby walls with familiar scenes of historic Ridgefield. The mural, a gift from a Ridgefield couple, was created by a local artist. Other murals enliven the interior of the performance area as well as the entryway to The Playhouse; all were gifts of Playhouse supporters.
A Success with Many Producers behind the Scenes
The successful opening of The Ridgefield Playhouse was the result of many contributors. The people of the town of Ridgefield have supported The Playhouse with an investment of town funds, the state awarded a grant of $200,000, and more than 600 families and local businesses have contributed to the restoration of The Playhouse. Many local designers, architects, builders, and craftspeople shared their talents during the restoration and construction. We have been blessed with contributions from artists Peter Yarrow through his gracious benefit performance, Debbie Gravitte, Stephen Schwartz, and Alan Menken who shared their talent at our first annual gala, and Patricia Schuster who was so generous through her estate.
So many have contributed to the shared vision of restoring this theater to become a center where our community can gather to celebrate and enjoy the arts. Thank you!