'It's not Broadway; it's the Bradley'

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Putnam - posted Tue., Nov. 19, 2013
The community came out in support to help raise funds to repair a portion of the plaster ceiling of the Bradley Playhouse that fell back in September. File photo by Denise Coffey.
The community came out in support to help raise funds to repair a portion of the plaster ceiling of the Bradley Playhouse that fell back in September. File photo by Denise Coffey.

Eliza Kimball remembers traveling back and forth from Pomfret to New York for a job she held years ago. “I was a migrant worker,” she quipped. “On the weekends, I’d take the kids to the Bradley Theater. We loved it. We used to joke and say, ‘It’s not Broadway; it’s the Bradley.’ It was wonderful.”

Kimball isn’t alone in savoring memories of the Putnam institution. Many area residents know the Bradley as the home of The Theater of Northeastern Connecticut, a volunteer organization dedicated to producing quality theater. TNECT produces six shows per season, but the Bradley is host to other productions as well.

For more than 20 years, the Bradley has hosted comedies, dramas, full-blown musicals and some avant-garde works. It has developed a reputation as a serious theater where high-caliber performances are staged. Some performers who starred in Bradley productions have gone on to bigger stages. But it is how the theater has connected area residents to the arts that has won its place in the hearts of many.

Those people showed up in force on Nov. 16 for a benefit aimed at raising money to fix the theater’s ceiling. A portion of it fell in September. Since then, its doors have been closed while engineers examined it and plans were made for its restoration. Estimates to fix it range from $50,000 to $150,000, according to Mike Gallo, president of the TNECT Board of Directors. “We expect to come in under that,” Gallo said. “Plaster fell. It had nothing to do with the integrity of the building. The roof and walls are fine. It’s just the age of the ceiling,” he said.

The Bradley is 112 years old. It started out as a showcase for live theater. Actors and production crews came to town on the train. They settled for the duration of the show at a hotel across the street. They’d travel with trunks, set up the stage, take it all down after the show and head on to the next stop. “The shows came to you,” Bob Sloat said, “you didn’t travel.” Sloat is a Bradley aficionado who has directed many a performance and orchestra there.

“Of all the places we do theater around here, the Bradley is the only real theater,” he said. “We have black box theaters and school auditoriums, and there’s nothing wrong with them, but they aren’t theaters.” A dedicated theater means crew members can work on costumes and set design day or night. Rehearsals are easier to schedule. The stage doesn’t have to be cleared for a school assembly, or cleaned nightly by a cleaning crew. “There are all kinds of things that make it more difficult,” Sloat said.

The Complex Performing Arts Center, Little Theater on Broad Street and Killingly High School all have pitched in to make the last few Bradley productions possible. Actors and actresses have used space over Victoria’s Station to rehearse. And with the proceeds from the benefit at CPAC, the Bradley is one step closer to getting its ceiling fixed.

Chefs at area restaurants provided food and beverages for the event. Area businesses contributed baskets, gift certificates and services for a silent auction and raffle. Local performers provided entertainment. And the community came out.

“Tonight is a beautiful testament to the theater,” said Marian Marchesseault. “It has such a rich history. It’s important for culture. This community cares enough about it to come together to support it.”

For more information or to donate to the repair project, go to www.thebradleyplayhouse.org.

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