Curtain about to open on new theater with a lot of history in Branford

New Haven

BRANFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — While most live theaters are still closed, a new theater is about to open in Branford. On April 23rd, the Legacy Theater will officially open. It may be a new performance space, but it has a lot of history.

Everything inside the Legacy Theater is brand new. Workers are still building some of it, but this building has a long history of entertaining people. It opened in 1903 as one of New England’s first movie theaters.

“Then, in the ’20s, it became home to live theater productions,” explained Keely Baisden-Knudsen, the artistic director of the Legacy Theater. “You had the Parish Players, but you also had some iconic figures like Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten.”

It changed into a parachute factory during World War II, then was a girdle factory for a while. Then, in the 1960s, was purchased by the Weill family. They entertained generations of local kids with their large marionette collection.

Their Stony Creek Puppet House closed in 2007. The building was not in good shape, so there was a lot of work to do. Baisden-Knudsen and others got money for a total renovation. They took great pains to keep every board of the historic facade looking just like it did in the 1920s. Inside, though, is all 2020s.

“We have just about everything any theater could hope to have in terms of the equipment, the sound, the lights,” Baisden-Knudsen said.

That includes motorized lighting, just like you would see on a Broadway stage.

“We also have our outreach program, which is the Wheel Life Theater Troupe,” Baisden-Knudsen said. “It’s for those who ambulate with crutches or use wheelchairs.”

They can even do technical jobs, thanks to a wheelchair lift that allows handicapped access to lighting and sound booth. The theater also has a high-tech air handling system that disinfects the air with UV light. Even so, less than half the seats will be filled this season.

“Every other row is going to be completely empty,” said Baisden-Knudsen. “On our website, when you buy tickets, two seats on either side of you are completely vacant.”

That’s the bad part about opening in a pandemic. What has turned into the good part is, they have had out-of-work Broadway professionals helping design and build the Legacy. Aladdin star Telly Leung will be the first performer because Broadway theaters are still closed.

“I’m so excited that we will be able to offer live theater this month, which I think, obviously is a rarity at this time and we are very humbled and very grateful that we have been positioned in such a way that can actually happen,” Baisden-Knudsen said.

The theater also offers classes, children’s programs, and the yellow house right next door is for artists in residence. People can come here and compose and write here on the Branford waterfront. For more information, go to https://www.legacytheatrect.org/

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