Final Curtain Falls on Wayside Theatre; Ending 52-Year Run

Posted: August 8, 2013

The Winchester Star

Byron Brill, the chairman of the Wayside Theatre Board of Directors, talks with theater staff this morning about the board's decision to close. (Photo by Ginger Perry)
Wayside Theatre closed its doors at midnight, ending its 52-year run in Middletown. (Photo by Ginger Perry)
Warner Crocker, Wayside's artistic director for 15 years, announced his resignation six weeks ago. (Photo by Scott Mason)
MIDDLETOWN – Wayside Theatre’s final curtain has fallen.

The community theater closed as of midnight, ending its 52-year run.

Byron Brill, president of the Wayside Theater Board announced the closing last night at rehearsal. The board voted unanimously last night to close.

The season’s second production “Boeing Boeing” was scheduled to run through Sunday.

Wayside’s Artistic Director Warner Crocker resigned as artistic director at the end of June after 15 years. Crocker stayed on through the opening of “Boeing Boeing.”

The theater was on the brink of closing during the winter, when its revenue could not cover expenses.

After an appeal to the community that raised more than $100,000, the theater stayed open and proceeded with the new season. In March, Wayside Theatre Board President Byron Brill announced the decision to keep the theater open, after more than $80,000 had been raised.

This was the second year such an appeal had been made, but the first time that the sale of subscriptions for the new season had been delayed.

Crocker, at a February town hall-style meeting about the theater’s future, pointed to a drop in donations and ticket sales as key problems. The theater had gone from highs like the 2006-07season, when its attendance was 30,214, to 20,010 people in 2011-12.

The theater’s budget had been cut from $900,000 in 2006 to $700,000 this year, and its staff went from 19 to 12, Crocker said.

Real estate tycoon and philanthropist Leo Bernstein established the summer stock theater in1962 to draw patrons to his other business, the Wayside Inn.

The original company was created in 1961 as the Maralarrick Players and in 1962, Bernstein bought Wayside's current home (a converted 1930’s movie theater), gave it its name, and soon brought in the first artistic director, Owen Phillips, Crocker said.

It is also where some famous actors honed their craft. When it was a summer stock company, Chris and Susan Sarandon, Peter Boyle, Stacy Keach, Kathy Bates, Donna McKechnie and Dana Delaney all performed there, Crocker said.

The theater was owned by Bernstein for only a short period before an independent nonprofit organization, Wayside Foundation for the Arts, took over in 1966.

The 173-seat theater underwent a $1.9 million renovation in 2007-2008 to improve conditions for patrons and the performers.

The theater produced 8-10 shows in less than three months when it first opened and did so well into the 1980s before going to a seven-month season and, finally, a yearlong slate in 2003.