Tommy Brent, Theatre-By-the-Sea Producer, Dies at 88

Obituaries   Tommy Brent, Theatre-By-the-Sea Producer, Dies at 88
Tommy Brent, a producer on the New England straw hat circuit who put in more than two decades as producer at Rhode Island's historic Theatre-by-the-Sea, died on June 4 at his home in Manutuck, RI. He was 88

To his last day, Mr. Brent lived and breathed the theatre. He was expected to join the theatre's opening- night party on June 3, but did not show up.

Mr. Brent was first introduced to Theatre-by-the-Sea — the proverbial old barn that was converted into a theatre in 1933 — in the late 1940s, when he was involved with a documentary film about theatres in New England. He returned in 1958 for a one-year stint as its press agent. By 1966, the Theatre-by-the-Sea owners had decided to demolish the theatre. With only hours to spare before the demolition began, Mr. Brent stopped the destruction by investing his own funds to re-open the theatre.

When he arrived at the site, in March 1967, he saw that damage to the buildings was too severe for him to fix alone. He placed an advertisement in the local paper for volunteer workers to help make necessary repairs. The work was finished in time to open the summer season in 1967.

Brent acted as producer and manager of the theatre from 1967 to 1988, producing over 100 musicals and plays.

Mr. Brent faced crisis again in 2007, when it seemed the theatre, following four years of inactivity, would be demolished in favor of building single-family homes on the nearly six acres the theatre occupies. He identified possible purchasers and producers, and helped broker the sale of the place between FourQuest Entertainment, an entertainment company which took over the lease in 1988, and current owner and longtime friend Bill Hanney. "Without my dear friend Tommy Brent, I would not have had the opportunity to purchase such a magical place," Hanney said in a statement. "I remain committed to continuing his legacy."

The theatre was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.

Born in Washington, DC, Thomas Brent Cheseldine got his start at a barn theatre in Arlington, VA, and moved for New York in 1941. He landed an usher's job at the New Amsterdam Theater.

Mr. Brent is survived by over 45 nieces and nephews. He will be buried at Cedar Hill Cemetery in Maryland in his family plot. Condolences may be sent to the family at Debra at 10495 West Drive, Fairfax, VA 22030, or an online guest book available at . Memorials may be made to Theatre-by-the-Sea at in his memory.

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