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Historic Connecticut Theater Burns Down

The American Shakespeare Theatre, where actors like Katherine Hepburn once walked the boards. is no more. The theatre building in Stratford, Connecticut burned down over the weekend.

The American Shakespeare Theatre opened in 1955 with a production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. James Earl Jones, Christopher Plummer and many others appeared in productions over the years.

The theatre also hosted the Ed Sullivan show when Bill Haley and the Comets first performed “Rock Around the Clock” for a national audience. The last regular season was in 1982. It featured a production of Hamlet with Christopher Walken in the lead role.

Former town council member Beth Daponte said even though it was shuttered for decades, the theatre was a point of pride for lots of Stratford residents.

“There was a history to that theatre. If you ever went in there you could see the absolute beauty of it. And you don’t see theatres like that anymore. And I’m afraid we’ll never see this theatre again, either,” Daponte said.

Edward Goodrich, former chairman of the town’s arts commission, spent years trying to revitalize the theatre after it closed. He said he doesn’t want the fire to mark the end of Shakespeare in Stratford.

“It was a tragedy. And we could have saved it,” Goodrich said. “But all is not lost. A lot is lost. But all is not lost.”

The Connecticut Post reports Stratford’s fire marshal says it will be some time before the cause of the fire is identified. 

This report comes from the New England News Collaborative: Eight public media companies, including Rhode Island Public Radio, coming together to tell the story of a changing region, with support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Photo of the American Shakespeare Theatre building in Stratford, CT, December 6th, 1955.
Photo of the American Shakespeare Theatre building in Stratford, CT, December 6th, 1955.