The troupe, anchored by a theatre family and run with their extended family of colleagues, presented for many summers at the Ivoryton Playhouse in Ivoryton, CT, before negotiations with the venue prompted a parting of ways after the 2005 season. A search for a new home commenced. The 2006 season was dark, but in 2007 a production of The Foreigner was staged at the Chester Meeting House in Chester, CT. Two Connecticut critics named it one of the "Ten Best Plays of 2007."
Talks with the leadership of the new Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center & Theater in Old Saybrook, CT, did not result in a contract.
A late June announcement to friends and subscribers read: "We at The River Rep Theatre Company, after 20 years of bringing theatre to the Connecticut Shoreline, find that it is time to move on. We had high hopes that a place could be found which would enable River Rep to grow artistically, survive financially and continue to build on its long-standing reputation. But after exhaustive efforts we have been unable to secure a venue which would make it possible for us to continue to offer highly acclaimed, first-rate professional summer theatre."
The producing partners — Evan Thompson, Joan Shepard, Jenn Thompson, Owen Thompson, Warren Kelley and Stephen Kunken — thanked the community for its support over the years.
"It is with a heavy heart that we say to you — our partners and friends, goodbye and thank you one and all for 20 years of joy and laughter," the statement read. River Rep began in 1987 when New York producer Jane Stanton drew a band of actors together, opening a summer season at the storied Ivoryton Playhouse, which was famous in the mid-20th century before a decline. The new troupe was an immediate success, starting with Noises Off.
River Rep offered classic summer stock fare, including comedies, farces, musicals and mysteries, but was not afraid to stretch and stage Gilbert and Sullivan (which won producing partner Owen Thompson a Connecticut Critics Circle Award for direction), works by Stephen Sondheim (including Follies), recent Broadway fare (Proof, featuring River Rep's father-and-daughter producers Evan Thompson and Jenn Thompson playing father and daughter) and Shakespeare.
"We are exceedingly grateful and proud to have been a part of these communities," Warren Kelley, River Rep's artistic director, said in a statement. "Over the years, as we grew and broadened our mission, our audience went with us. They embraced us as we did more challenging work like Follies, All My Sons, Comedy of Errors, The Mikado. The response to our presence, not to mention the work, was welcoming from the first year."
In all, 96 main stage productions were produced — about five shows per summer in an 11-week season.
David Auburn, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Proof, came to talk at the theatre during River Rep's 2004 production.
River Rep's Intern Company, developed by Jenn Thompson, was well known and competitive in the college theatre community. Each year a new group of theatre students from across the country came to work as stage crew and actors, learning every craft from lighting and carpentry to wardrobe and acting. Interns were often cast in roles on the mainstage, unlike most other similar theatre programs.
The producing partners continue to work as actors and directors in New York City and around the country.
For more information about River Rep Theatre Company, visit www.riverrep.com.