STRATFORD, CT — An ambitious plan for Stratford’s former Shakespeare theater site would see a replica of The Bard’s 1614 Globe Theatre on a campus dedicated to the arts with the potential to draw hundreds of thousands of visitors to town each year. But with a cost of more than $70 million, it won’t come cheap.
“We want to create something unique, a national treasure, a famous historic theater,” said Tom Evans, a Stratford resident with a background in acting and business management who is the driving force behind the idea.
According to Evans, the time is right to commit to building a major attraction at the previous location of the American Shakespeare Festival Theatre, which was destroyed in a 2019 fire, but had largely been dormant for decades beforehand.
“We have a blank slate that hasn’t existed in Stratford for a long time,” Evans said at a preliminary discussion of the plans, held Wednesday via Zoom. “… Everyone wants something amazing to happen to this site.”
As of early Saturday morning, an online petition supporting the endeavor had more than 600 signatures.
Evans’s collaborator on the project is Jim Warren, founding artistic director of the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, Virginia. Together, the two hope to build the American Shakespeare Festival campus, an arts destination with the world’s only historically accurate recreation of the 1614 Globe, as well as a modern performing arts center and event space.
Audiences at the Stratford Globe would experience Shakespeare’s plays as they would’ve been seen during his lifetime, with actors playing multiple roles and interacting with the crowd. The performing arts center would stage musicals and current plays, and include a black box theater for local arts groups. Both buildings could also be rented for weddings and events.
The Globe would draw more than 300,000 visitors annually to Stratford and inject $50 million into the local economy, according to Evans, who noted high school and college students create a built-in audience.
“We’re going to do Shakespeare in a way that nobody is used to seeing Shakespeare done,” he said.
Evans budgeted the cost to develop the campus, which will be run by a nonprofit group of theater professionals, at $77 million. Anticipated funding sources included $33 million from the New Markets Tax Credit Program, $32.5 million from private investors, $7.5 million from a restaurant investor and $4 million from a tax-exempt state bond. Launch costs alone for the project are budgeted at $1.8 million.
Evans discussed his plan this week with Mayor Laura Hoydick and Director of Economic Development Mary Dean.
“I think it’s very exciting, it’s a great vision,” Hoydick said.
Evans’s plan reminded her of a similar proposal from several decades ago, which was granted a contract but never came to fruition, she said.
“This is why the town’s more careful than not, because they’ve been burned in the past,” Hoydick said.
In the wake of last year’s fire, a Stratford subcommittee, of which Evans is a member, has been evaluating possible uses for the site, which is deeded to the town by the state. The subcommittee is expected to present its research to the Stratford Redevelopment Agency in October.
Before any proposal, including the Globe replica plan, could break ground, it would need to be vetted by the mayor’s office, Town Council, and various boards and commissions.