Shielded by a large umbrella, politicians crossed the Shubert plaza, took places beside a pile of dirt, and swung shovels on cue—marking opening day of a two-year, $14.8 million plan to redo the city’s 100-year-old theater.
The performance took place Thursday morning outside the Shubert Theater. State and local officials gathered to help the theater break ground on two years of renovations that will repair aging infrastructure and build a new lobby and 150-seat performance space at the historic theater at 247 College St.
Mayoral communications chief Laurence Grotheer opened a broad blue umbrella and ushered Mayor Toni Harp—and whoever else would fit underneath—to a white tent in the middle of the plaza outside the theater. Politicians lined up against a special backdrop, a curtain printed with the words “Shubert 1914-2014.”
Board of Alders President Jorge Perez represented city legislators, who along with the previous mayor, struck a deal to sell the city-owned theater to Connecticut Association for the Performing Arts (CAPA), the not-for-profit that had been managing it, for $1. The city also agreed to pay $4.5 million over 10 years toward the theater, including $2.5 million in renovation costs.
“Happy Birthday, Shubert!” said Perez into the microphone. The Shubert went through a dark period from 1976 to 1984, when it was closed. Now, after 100 years, it remains “very viable,” Perez said. “We wish you another hundred years.”
Harp played the role of an urban mayor who is holding up the city’s end of that deal. (Click here for a detailed rundown of the deal.)
When her cue came to speak, Harp declared the Shubert “the cornerstone of the arts” in New Haven.
State Sen. Martin Looney and state Reps. Pat Dillon and Toni Walker played the parts of state legislators riding to the theater’s rescue with $4 million in state bond money.
“This year, in its 100th, it’s going to shine,” Looney said of the theater.
CAPA, which took ownership of the theater in December, secured the props for the scene. As the speeches began, CAPA’s Sheri Kaplan ducked backstage behind the curtain and emerged bearing short silver shovels. CAPA also secured one big pile of dirt, courtesy of Turner Construction.
Politicians got closer to the news cameras, lining up beside the pile of dirt. They performed their finale act: Tossing the dirt gently into the middle of the pile without hitting the photographers.
After the production, CAPA welcomed the performers next door to Roia for croissants, coffee and pistachio scones. Inside the restaurant, CAPA unveiled images of what the new theater will look like.
Kaplan ran through the construction show: Act I, taking place from now until Mid-October, will focus on fixing up ailing infrastructure. That includes fixing roofs and the HVAC system and putting in a new fire pump for the sprinkler system. The 1,650-seat theater will keep its historic details. (Click here for a previous story touring the space.)
Act II will take place next summer, from July to September 2015. That will entail building an addition on the front of the building that will bring the lobby further into the plaza, in line with the sidewalk. The Shubert will also create a small, 150-seat performance space to be used for small events, according to Caplan.
Looney sampled the croissants and gave them two thumbs up.
Then he walked past the empty stage, eager to return for the “grand opening” of a transformed historic space.