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Interview with Duane Campbell, Executive Director of the New Connecticut Theater Company

In a tale of two theatre companies, one had a building but was struggling to find enough people to put on a full season of plays. The other had plenty of people, but struggled to find places to perform. In October of last year, Bristol Theatre Arts collaborated with the Repertory Theatre of New Britain in the production of a play at the Rep’s historic theatre on Norden Street. That was the beginning of what became, in January of this year, “The Connecticut Theatre Company” as the theatres merged into a new entity. Stephen Hard, Executive Director of the Greater New Britain Arts Alliance, recently sat down with Duane Campbell, Executive Director of the new Theatre Company, to get the inside scoop on how it all came about and how it’s going.

Stephen Hard: Can you describe the process that led to the two theatre groups merging?

Duane Campbell: It was pretty organic. We were collaborating on the production of “The Christmas Scooner” and things were going so well that Sean Taylor, President of Bristol Theatre Arts (BTA), suggested we explore options going forward. Unlike our plays, there wasn’t much drama involved. Magic happened. Everyone meshed. The Boards met and voted separately for the merger. A new Board of Directors was formed out of the 2 Boards and the new Board decided on the new name.

SH: Who are the principal people involved now and tell us which theatre group they had been involved with?

DC: I was the Executive Director of BTA and Sean Taylor was the President. We are continuing in those roles for the new Theatre Company. Michael Bane was President of the Rep and is serving as Vice President of the CTC. Ben Silberman was also on the Rep’s Board and is serving as Treasurer of the new Company. Vivian Boucher is our Board Secretary.

SH: Tell us about the new name, especially how people felt about losing earlier identities.

DC: First of all, both the Rep and BTA were regional theater companies. Both the Rep and BTA were drawing both their participants and their audiences from much more than Bristol and New Britain. The new name does not really represent a geographical expansion. It recognizes what has been the case for many years. My wife and I, for instance, live in New Haven. In Bristol there were mixed feelings. They lost their name and the location in the City, so, of course, they were not as happy as the folks from New Britain, but it was seen as a good move by everyone involved.

Regarding the Rep, everyone was in agreement that we should keep the name of the building as the Repertory Theatre of New Britain because of its long history. Local people will always identify with “The Rep,” but I believe the shows will more and more be identified with the CTC for the quality of the work we are doing.

SH: The CTC has done its first few shows together (The Foreigner, Fiddler on the Roof and Rent). How have they gone?

DC: From a production point of view very well. Attendance has not been as strong as we hoped, but we expect to be building our audience as we move forward.

SH: Were there any differences between the two Companies and how have these been resolved?

DC: BTA was more into musicals than the Rep and that orientation will strongly influence our seasons going forward. The main compatibility between the two companies was that we both were interested in popular theater, crowd pleasing types of productions. The other thing is that BTA always wanted to have a full season but never had the place to do it. So we are planning an ambitious schedule of a new production every other month.

SH: What other plans are there for the new Theater Company?

DC: We want to do theatrical workshops especially helping playwrights in the development of new works for the stage. We plan to make it possible for the public to submit plays for us to consider producing. In general, we want to keep the lights on and the community engaged. We intend to be very out in the community and want the Theatre to be seen as a community resource. We will be continuing the Rep’s relationship with “Company in Tempo,” “Mixology,” and Patrique Hurd’s “In Harmony Productions.”

SH: So were there any negatives at all regarding the merger?

DC: The best way I can describe the merger was that it felt like it always was.

Exemplifying the new Theatre Company’s orientation toward crowd pleasing musicals, the Connecticut Theatre Company at the Repertory Theatre presents “Chicago” Aug. 22 to Sept. 9. Tickets and additional information can be found at www.ConnecticutTheatreCompany.org or by calling 860-223-3147.