Joanne Woodward to Step Down as Westport Playhouse Artistic Director

News   Joanne Woodward to Step Down as Westport Playhouse Artistic Director
 
Joanne Woodward, who gave the summer stock institution Westport Country Playhouse a new lease on life when she took up the reins as artistic director in 2001, will resign her position at the end of this year to become artistic director emeritus.
Joanne Woodward
Joanne Woodward Photo by Aubrey Reuben

She will remain throughout the 2005 season. The search for a new artistic director will be led by the Playhouse board of directors, coordinated by Management Consultants for the Arts of Cos Cob. Woodward's successor will begin on January 1, 2006. "I'm the same age as the Playhouse. It got a renovation, but there's not much they can do for me," Woodward said in a statement. "This seems like the right moment in my life, and in the theatre's, to adjust my role at the Playhouse, since we'll soon be in a beautiful new space and will become a year-round enterprise."

The arrival of Woodward changed the fortunes of the Playhouse, which until then had been soldiering on for many years without artistic distinction. Under her stewardship, the theatre saw its first transfer to Broadway in decades: a production of Our Town starring Paul Newman and directed by James Naughton. (Newman, Woodward's husband, participated in many other fund-raising events.) She also directed several productions, including The Constant Wife and Three Days of Rain, and attracted New York actors and directors.

Her most significant contribution, however, is doubtless the renovation of the theatre's home. The Playhouse presented an abbreviated two-play "on the road" season in 2004 as it waited for its classic barn-theatre home to be modernized and renovated. Both shows were presented at Westport's temporary home at The Ridgefield Playhouse for Movies and the Performing Arts.

The Westport Country Playhouse was converted from an old barn in 1930 by Lawrence Langner, the head of the Theatre Guild, and architect Cleon Throckmorton. There had been several plans over the years to convert the building into a year-round arts center, but the building's fair-weather outfitting had made this a practical and financial impossibility.

The current renovation, in the works for years, will replace the ancient pews with benchs that will have the feeling of pews. The Playhouse will get a roomy, L-shaped lobby overlooking the garden and bathrooms on both the orchestra and balcony levels. Roofs beams which have obscured patrons' views of the stage will be removed, and an orchestra pit will be added to assist in the production of musicals. Actors will get new dressing rooms and designers will be given a new scene shop. The seating capacity will shrink from 707 to 580. Retained will be such traditional playhouse features as the colored bunting draped over the balconies, and the original proscenium arch.

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