Saying that a proposed location near the Walled Garden would not work, park officials last week suggested that the Summer Theater in New Canaan find a way to present its 2021 performances on major athletic fields.
Members of the Parks and Recreation Commission voted 10-1 at their April 14 meeting for city officials and a representative from the designated agency to work with the organization to organize a stage, tents and displays. Courtroom seats located near the southwest corner of Waveny’s main athletic fields, north of the main road through the park.
“I think this pitch is incredible,” President Rona Siegel said at the meeting, held by video conference.
The area is flat, with good access to parking and toilets, she said. It will also be visible to those who use the park and especially motorists entering via Lapham Road, she said.
“It then makes people curious, then it gets a bigger audience and an ability to sell more tickets,” Siegel said. “I like that it’s in Waveny Park. One more function in this magnificent park.
Siegel and curators Carl Mason, Gene Goodman, Francesca Segalas, Jack Hawkins, Steve Haberstroh, Matt Konspore, Hank Green, Jake Granito and George Benington voted in favor of studying the land as a potential venue for summer theater. Commissioner Laura Costigan voted against, according to records from the Recreation Department.
As he proposed to the Commission in January, Summer Theater executive producer Ed Libonati came to the meeting to seek permission to hold performances in July along the north side of Luge Hill which goes from the fountain to the pond. The area has been cleaned up in recent years by the Waveny Park Conservancy.
Libonati explained how production would be set up, powered and made accessible to people with disabilities while trying to “not disrupt the natural rhythm of what is happening in the park at this point,” but Commission members did share their concerns. They included the wear and tear of the newly created hillside lawns, access for people with poor balance and conflicts with the Powerhouse Theater and the Carriage Barn Arts Center, which also host summer events.
Siegel also noted that Parks & Rec earlier in the same meeting approved a full Conservancy planting plan near the pond itself.
“I certainly think the park is big enough that we can help the summer theater,” she said. “I think our hesitation is, so much work has gone into the base of this Waveny Pond and I hate to see it hurt in any way or make us back down. We are talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars, not just a few thousand. And I think we’re so dedicated to it.
Libonati said Summer Theater is looking this year to have four weeks of programming and have around 250 people on its Saturday and Sunday shows. The installation would take place in mid-June and the shows are scheduled to run through July – anchored by an all-female production of Dolly Parton’s “Honkey Tonk Angels” – and will end with the destruction of the site in the first week of August, he said. .
Regarding the proposed site at the Waveny sports grounds, Libonati said: “My only fear is that we are competing with the sport there. We have done this in the past and it has been difficult.
He added: “I’m just a little hesitant and giving the little bit of a step back” because installing on a different site than the one planned would mean restarting pre-production.
“So we’ll try to make this field work as much as possible, but revisit the other site if there’s a problem,” he said.
Responding to Libonati’s concerns about sports, recreation director Steve Benko said there are no men’s softball leagues that play on weekends and most are finished by 7:30 p.m. The proposed area is “out of the way,” said Benko.
Granito asked if there would be a parking problem for the Family Fourth in Waveny if the Summer Theater tent was located on the sports fields.
Libonati said the main tent is 60 feet by 100 feet and the two additional tents needed for production are around 500 square feet. Commissioners said they would monitor state guidelines for outdoor events to understand how many people would be parked on the grounds on July 4.