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Lortel spreads the love

Playhouse will get $2 million

One old barn theater may be on the way to demolition only to make way for another.

In a settlement supervised by two state attorneys general, the Lucille Lortel Foundation awarded the not-for-profit Westport Country Playhouse a $2 million capital grant, bringing the Playhouse’s $30.6 million capital-endowment drive within $200,000 of its goal. The building adjacent to the Playhouse, which includes studio, rehearsal and reception space, will be named the Lucille Lortel White Barn Center.

The foundation also will provide a $500,000 operating grant over 10 years to create the new White Barn Theater Program at the Playhouse, which this year completed a major renovation and expansion, transforming the 75-year-old facility in downtown Westport to a year-round operation.

The gift was to “continue the legacy of the White Barn Theater,” which is situated in a residential area on the Westport/Norwalk line but has not been in operation since 2002. The settlement now frees the foundation to sell the prime property in the Connecticut exurbs. Sale price is expected to be about $2.5 million, with that money returning to the Lortel foundation. The 18-acre estate includes the 148-seat, converted White Barn, parking area, Lortel’s home, several ponds, a brook, meadow and wetlands.

The original White Barn Theater was founded in 1947 by former actress and theater philanthropist Lucille Lortel for the purpose of presenting unusual or experimental works. Lortel died in 1999 at age 98. Joanne Woodward, outgoing artistic director of the Playhouse, knew Lortel; both theaters have served the western Connecticut summer scene for decades.

“The gift fulfills the mission of the foundation and the White Barn Theater and continues Ms. Lortel’s efforts on behalf of emerging theater professionals,” said James Ross, president of the foundation, which has $30 million in assets.

The Lortel foundation still controls the Off Broadway Lucille Lortel Theater in New York. In 1986, the annual Lucille Lortel Awards were named in her honor, celebrating outstanding Off Broadway productions and achievements.

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