Summer Theatre of New Canaan Seeks To Run 2019 Season in Pocket Park Downtown

One of New Canaan’s favorite summertime entertainment venues is seeking to move closer to the downtown for its 2019 season. 

The Summer Theatre of New Canaan, a nonprofit organization founded by town residents Ed and Melody Libonati, is seeking a temporary special permit to run its acclaimed shows in New Canaan Library’s pocket park on the corner of Maple Street and South Avenue. Known as “Christine’s Garden,” the park would play host to popular Summer Theatre of New Canaan or ‘STONC’ shows—recent seasons have featured “Kiss Me, Kate,” “Singin’ in the Rain” and “West Side Story”—from the end of June into early August, under an application filed recently with the Planning & Zoning Commission. “For the past 15 years STONC has worked with multiple town departments and commissions to successfully present its theatre programs at Irwin Park and in Waveny Park,” the application said. “However, the Waveny location we have utilized for the past 10 years now presents significant issues that tend to inhibit our ability to deliver a season. This is largely due to recent major sports field construction and increasing programming/scheduling of these new adjacent sports fields.

Summer Theatre of New Canaan Mulling Alternate Sites for Future Seasons

As the 15th season of the Summer Theater of New Canaan approaches, Executive Producer Ed Libonati told the Parks and Recreation Commission at its regular meeting last week that moving to another location within or outside of Waveny Park for future seasons is a possibility. The discussion came up as Libonati provided details about the company’s upcoming season, which includes an expanded five-week run of “Kiss Me Kate” starting June 28 and performances of “Peter Pan,” “Balloonacy,” and “James and the Giant Peach” by the Theatre for Young Audience starting on June 23. Libonati said that while the company saw 99 to 100 percent capacity for the main stage performances and 75 to 80 percent capacity for the children’s performances last season, the location of the tent and the activities surrounding it has created a few challenges. “During the summer, we bring a tent and we set it up in a field across from one of the softball fields and, this year, the fields are being repaired, which is creating some issues with getting tent up properly, so we’re working that out now with [Public Works Director] Tiger [Mann] and [Parks Superintendent] John [Howe] to make sure everything works out well,” he said during the March 14 meeting, held at Lapham Community Center. “We’re fit into a very tight spot there between the woods, the gas pipeline, and three football fields.

Summer Theatre of New Canaan To Feature Cole Porter’s ‘Kiss Me, Kate’ in Expanded 2018 Season

Following up on hugely popular runs of “West Side Story” and “Singin’ in the Rain” in each of the last two seasons, Summer Theatre of New Canaan for its big musical this year is turning once again to a classic Broadway show. The company that sets up its outdoor theater at Waveny each summer is putting on Cole Porter’s “Kiss Me, Kate” in 2018 for an expanded five-week run starting June 28, according to STONC Executive Producer Ed Libonati. “It’s a great show with great songs,” he told NewCanaanite.com. “It’s terrific.”

A “play within a play” that revolves around a musical production of Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew,” “Kiss Me, Kate” follows the intertwining and conflicting love interests of those behind and starring in The Bard’s famous work. “You have Shakespeare and all the antics that go on backstage with the actors and life as it goes on in the theater,” Libonati said.

‘We Would Like To Exhaust the Opportunities in New Canaan’: Popular Summer Theatre Program Eyes More Traditional Venue

When Ed and Melody Libonati launched Summer Theatre of New Canaan in 2004, they needed about 50 people, including local actors, to put on their live shows—Shakespeare in the restored walled garden at Waveny, and Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Cinderella” at Saxe Middle School. For the season featuring “Singin’ in the Rain” that closed last week, the longtime town residents required nearly 125 staff members and another 40-plus volunteers to put their performances at the tent in Waveny near the New Canaan High School parking lot. In order to continue its program and move toward a sustainable model, the nonprofit organization now must get to a point where it’s revenue from programming exceeds that which comes in through fundraising, according to Ed Libonati, STONC’s executive producer. “To get on a more sustainable trajectory for our organization, we need a large venue,” he told NewCanaanite.com recently when asked about the future of STONC in town. “We also need to amortize the cost of the people that we hire and we can do that by spreading out over a longer season, as well.”

The demand for STONC’s award-winning shows is there for that longer season, according to Libonati, and a more permanent, traditional facility would allow the organization to meet it.

‘She Is Getting Every Ounce of Performance That These Actors Can Give’: Town Resident Ali Tesluk Makes Professional Directorial Debut with Summer Theatre of New Canaan

Though she’d spent many years singing, dancing and acting—and in live theater programs familiar to New Canaanites, including at the Performing Arts Conservatory on Pine Street, St. Luke’s School Theatre and Summer Theatre of New Canaan—town resident Ali Tesluk came to directing unexpectedly, as a sort of fallback. It was 2014, her senior year in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree in theater arts at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Penn. Tesluk had a directing class under her belt when went out for the acting part of a gypsy in “The Mystery of Edwin Drood”—a part she didn’t get. “I went to the head of the Theater Department and I asked him for some feedback, and he pretty much said to me, ‘You were so great, you were so great, but the other girl who got the part, it was her turn,’ pretty much,” Tesluk recalled with a smile during an interview in downtown New Canaan on a recent morning, about two miles from the outdoor stage where she soon will make her professional directorial debut.