Leaning back and looking up from your $100 dollar Broadway seat, you can certainly see the stars. Unfortunately, there’s no chance to see the sky. Long time Musicals at Richter director Kyle Minor admits their performances may not shine as bright, but at least the illumination from above is real and the stage really is the world.
“It’s appealing because the setting at Richter Park is gorgeous, and the stage is right back against the trees that hangover and flank it,” he says. The parking is free and so is the picnic making of your choice. “If you bring the right amount of beverages and friends, you can have a blast,” he says.
Richter got its start 24 years ago when a couple of WesConn students decided that Danbury needed a taste of outdoor theater. At Richter Park, a few outings of Shakespeare in the park preceded and lead the way to Musicals at Richter. Brad Blake, who was one of those students, carried that momentum towards instituting Summer Theater in Danbury.
Six years ago, he stepped aside giving way to Joyce Northrop’s management as art director but that’s not the only generational shift that Richter has seen. “We’re now in the second generation of performers,” says Mr. Minor. Among those are his 11 year old son Kieran, who’s under his father’s direction in this month’s production of Wonderful Town by Leonard Bernstein.
Based on a radio comedy from the 40s, Wonderful Town hit Broadway in the 1950s to its recent revival on the Great White Way. Richter is now following suit. “It’s a good old fashioned musical comedy,” he says, and seeing both his son and daughter take part in Richter’s schedule gives this Sacred Heart Theater professor a sense of satisfaction.
“It’s fun to see them practice something and do it well,” he says. His wife Priscilla, who has been acting and directing at Richter since 1990, probably feels the same way.
Others taking part, though, may not have the type of lineage that engenders them into the starlight like the Minors. “I think sometimes it’s just the fellowship of hanging out with other people,” he says, and then they discover that they really like it, he adds.
Same goes for the squeamish who are trying to acquire some of the social graces for school, business and life. “A lot of people do it to try to get over shyness,” he says.
Richter also opens the world to young people who might silently suffer in the absence of athletic ability or interest. “If they can develop a skill that builds their confidence, it opens them up to a whole new group of people,” he says.
Among those, only the directors receive a small stipend for their efforts, but that doesn’t mean the participants aren’t compensated for their dedication. “If you’re not getting paid, if should be fun,” he says. He’ll concur for everyone on that point and not all the enjoyment is work related. “We end up having some cast parties,” he says.
Of course, the labor and sweat that precedes the celebration at the end builds something you can’t get out around the water cooler at work or on the sidelines of your child’s soccer games. “When you do a theatrical production, it’s kind of like having an instant family,” he says. The sad part is sometimes when the production ends so do the relationships.
Still, family plays an important part in the success of Richter from both ends of the stage. First, it’s low stress entertainment and easily accessible at an unbeatable price. In addition, “The kids see it and they say, ‘wow, that looks like fun,'” he says, and soon enough they are doing it.
That’s artistically inclined or not, as the roles people can choose are numerous. Volunteers build sets, design costumes, usher the events and market and fundraise to the community. Therefore, he encourages the community to continue to support an arts scene in Danbury that’s a bit light. Meaning, he sees it as more than just entertainment for a community. “Art is a way for people to learn about themselves and learn about the world,” he concludes.
Rich Monetti interview of Kyle Minor