Offstage Improvements for Goodspeed


“MAME” opens the 2012 season at Goodspeed Musicals’ riverfront stage here in April, and as casting begins, the theater has a little something extra to offer top-level talent: housing in a new “artists’ village.”

Goodspeed has added 17 homes to its 28-acre campus in a $5.5 million project intended to bolster the fortunes of both the theater and the surrounding village.

For years, the company has put up visiting actors, directors and technical staff members in nine significantly older houses it owns in East Haddam Village. For all their historic charm, those houses have required cast members to cope with inconveniences like shared bathrooms.

The new homes are outfitted more like hotels. Every one of the 65 bedrooms has an adjoining bath, as well as an individual thermostat, extra sound-muffling insulation inside walls and a keycard lock.

“We built this with the same philosophy as for our productions,” said Dan McMahon, Goodspeed’s director of marketing. “Make it the best you possibly can, and it will stand the test of time.”

The design of the accommodations takes into consideration the theatrical pecking order. If you’re a V.I.P. like a Tony-award winner, you will have a three-bedroom house to yourself: a yellow colonial perched on a quiet hillside overlooking the campus. Next door, six town houses are intended for directors and choreographers.

Closer to the theater, a row of seven New England-inspired houses is arranged in a crescent, porches all facing a small green and walkway. The actors will stay in these three- and six-bedroom houses; one with two private apartments is reserved for stars.

Cast members will also be housed in two side-by-side houses and a lone third a short distance from the crescent.

“I think it’s fantastic,” said Mark Walter, East Haddam’s first selectman. “It’s exactly like the plans they showed us. And it fits in with the character of the village.”

Mr. Walter says he is also pleased that Goodspeed intends to divest itself of five older houses, returning them to the tax rolls and aiding the town in efforts to revitalize the village. Long-term plans call for moving town offices out of the village and redeveloping the town-owned property for shops, restaurants and residences. The houses Goodspeed will sell are contiguous to the redevelopment site.

“They want to sell to someone who wants to put in something that will enhance the actors’ experience, like a coffee shop or restaurant,” Mr. Walter said. “And that would keep theatergoers around longer, too.”

Several years ago, Goodspeed identified upgraded housing as essential to the theater’s ability to attract the best talent for its productions and to expand its offerings.

The state Department of Economic and Community Development awarded Goodspeed a $2.5 million grant to start the project. Much to the relief of Mr. McMahon, Goodspeed has since raised all but 5 percent of the remaining $3 million.

“We were a little bit concerned because this was our first capital campaign,” he said. “We’ve never been in debt and have become very self-sufficient.”

The project incorporates environmentally friendly features. The driveway around the crescent of houses is made of a concrete that allows water to seep through, rather than run off into the brook behind the property. (Think of a consistency like a Rice Krispies Treat, Mr. McMahon said.)

All windows are energy-efficient and oversize to maximize natural light.

Most significant, the houses are heated and cooled by geothermal systems that are expected to keep bills down to $100 per house per year.

The houses have kitchens and shared living and dining areas. The furnishings and paint colors are identical from house to house. “The point of that is equality — everyone’s getting the same treatment,” Mr. McMahon said.

A corollary to that: All guests are expected to clean and do their own laundry.

The houses will be occupied 10 months of the year. In addition to putting up people associated with productions, the houses will serve as incubators for new material. Goodspeed plans to start an artists’ colony program, in which writers, composers and lyricists apply to spend time living and working on the campus.

In the meantime, as fund-raising winds up, theater patrons are being asked to pay for furnishings, bedding, appliances and cookware for the houses. That way, “people at all levels of giving can have a part in the project,” said Elisa Hale, the public relations manager.

A gift of $25 pays for a wall clock, while $450 covers one of the flat-screen televisions that will be in every living room. And for $10,000, a donor can outfit an entire house.