SSince its founding in 2005 by Gary and Francesca Scarpa, Center Stage Theater has provided Shelton with entertaining stage productions and a gathering space for the community. The theater provides opportunities for local creative talent to express themselves on stage and volunteers to assist with a variety of production responsibilities.
The theater has been part of Shelton’s Richard O. Belden Cultural Center since 2011—the site was previously home to Lafayette Elementary School, and the Stage Center shares its lease with Living Hope Church and Valley United Way.
“We take up most of the space,” said Managing Director Carla Supersano Sullivan. “The former gymnasium is our theater space, we have some classrooms that we occupy, the former kitchen is our costume shop and the former cafeteria is our palace shop.”
Before it was at the Belden Cultural Center, the theater operated alongside a combined bookstore and coffee shop in downtown Shelton, and the impetus for the combined business came from Oprah Winfrey.
“Fran Scarpa attended a presentation by Oprah Winfrey when Oprah turned 50 and Fran also turned 50 that same year,” Sullivan began. “Oprah said, ‘You can do anything you want, your life starts now, follow your dreams.'”
Unfortunately, the bookstore and coffee shop side faltered and ended up closing, but the advice was not fruitless because the theater proved very popular and its longevity can be chalked up to a focus on high-end production values and acting talent. and the director. .
For this year, as part of its subscription series, five “full” productions will be shown, which are the main attractions of the theater and with 10 performances each. “Footloose: The Musical,” his most recent full-scale production, was an adaptation of the 1984 film of the same name about disaffected youth confronting small-town authority. To better sync with the central themes of the story and better immerse the audience, the production recruited cast members between the ages of 14 and 23. And while his eponymous film has been popular for decades, the Center Stage musical sold out during its July 22-31 run. .
Marvelous Wonderettes: Dream On is the next full-scale production set for an Oct. 14-23 run. It is the fourth show of the “Wonderettes” series and follows the different exploits of four friends in high school. The production features an all-female cast and women in the lead in backstage capacities.
Finally, their final full-scale production of the year will be “Meet Me in St. Louis,” a Golden Age musical inspired by Judy Garland’s 1944 film.The show will run from December 2-11.
Sullivan said Center Stage “will announce our new season on November 14th and then start again next February with our season show.”
In between full-scale productions, the Center Stage Theater plays host to numerous small shows, cabarets and stand-up comedy lineups, many of which span one or two nights. Each year, Center Stage has typically had 90 to 100 “bright nights” in which some type of production was played.
“I would say next year it will go up to 115 to 125,” Sullivan said.
In addition to providing entertainment for its community, the theater also provides learning opportunities. The Education Center offers programming during the spring and fall semesters, as well as five weeks of summer camps, with 150 to 200 students enrolled each semester. The center teaches acting, singing and dancing starting in pre-K and going through high school, with some classes for adults as well.
Although the Stage Center attracts many young acting talents and students, the theater is multi-generational in its spirit, with some actors, volunteers and patrons in their eighties and nineties. In addition, since its inception, Center Stage has been set up in part by family members working together.
“It definitely started as a family affair with the founders, Gary and Fran Scarpa and their children and their extended family, who were initially involved in the productions,” Sullivan said.
These efforts have been appreciated by the Shelton community, which was evident during the pandemic closures.
“We missed them when we were in the dark,” Sullivan recalled. “They really missed not just the shows and the production, but that social gathering place when we were in the dark. They were very, very anxious to come back and give back to the community in our theater.”
The theater industry as a whole was hit hard by the pandemic and to this day even Broadway has not fully recovered. Center Stage has adapted and is financially secure for now, although the number of volunteers has not yet reached pre-pandemic numbers. The theater has adopted measures to combat the pandemic, including requiring the use of masks and refunding tickets and rescheduling a show because a lead contracted Covid-19.
“We’ve had to become very, very flexible, very nimble, even more creative than before to be able to do what we do,” Sullivan added.