Hartford Stage and Hartford Public Library Unveil New Program

Check out a theater show … at your local library.

Hartford Stage and the Hartford Public Library have joined together for what they describe as a “multi-tiered community partnership” which will increase Hartford residents’ access to live theater. The main way that will happen is through free tickets to Hartford Stage shows, distributed through the library.

The institutions held a joint press conference at Hartford Stage Friday to announce the project.

The partnership has three main components:

• Hartford Public Library will start a “Library Pass Program” this week where library patrons can “check out” tickets to Hartford Stage shows the same way they might get a museum pass. The main library and all its branches will each have two tickets available for every performance of every Hartford Stage show. Patrons can get the tickets by using their library cards. The tickets can be reserved in advance.

• The library will be overseeing a “Neighborhood Ambassador Program.” Representatives of each neighborhood in which the city has a library will get to see each Hartford Stage show, then be able to see the show again and bring several other people with them.

• The library will select books pertaining to each Hartford Stage show. The books will be on display in the lobby of theater, where they can be checked out using a library card.

“We’ve been talking internally for a couple of years now about how Hartford Stage can better engage the Hartford community,” Hartford Stage Managing Director Michael Stotts said in a Thursday phone interview.

On Nov. 27, Hartford Stage officially announced a separate community-engagement initiative, where local nonprofit organizations from “Hartford’s underserved communities” are given tickets to multiple Hartford Stage shows. Walk in the Light Church of God, the Salvation Army Marshall House Family Shelter and Community Renewal Team’s Generations are the first three organizations to be selected; participants, ranging in age from 9 to 51, attended the recent Hartford Stage production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and will also see the theater’s next two productions.

Hartford Stage Associate Artistic Director Elizabeth Williamson says “this is the perfect time to launch the library program,” since the theater’s next show — “Feeding the Dragon,” written and performed by Sharon Washington, running Jan. 11 through Feb. 4 — is about Washington’s childhood experiences living in the custodial apartments of public libraries in New York City.

Bridget Quinn-Carey, CEO of the Hartford Public Library system, notes that Hartford Stage also has upcoming shows based on books by Agatha Christie and Edith Wharton. “We are actively promoting this program,” Quinn-Carey said in a phone interview on Thursday. “A big part of promoting it is through the ambassadors — how do we get these tickets in the hands of people who otherwise might not be going to the theater?”

The Hartford Stage/Hartford Public Library arrangement is not the first partnership between a city library system and a major regional theater in Connecticut. The Long Wharf Theatre created a successful partnership with New Haven Public Library five years ago. Passes for tickets to all Long Wharf performances are available at New Haven Public Library branches as well as a number of suburban libraries. The main NHPL branch also maintains a bookcase in the theater’s lobby.

Steve Scarpa, Long Wharf director of marketing and communications, says the program has been “engaging people we don’t always engage” and has led to a larger number of theater-related library talks and activities.

“The individual library passes program was modeled after museum passes,” Scarpa says. After the program took off, “theaters both locally and nationally have been in touch, asking about our model.”

Williamson and Stotts both say the Long Wharf program was an inspiration, and that they were also inspired by the Wadsworth Atheneum’s decision last year to waive admission fees to the museum for Hartford city residents.

At the Friday press conference, Hartford Stage Artistic Director Darko Tresnjak spoke of growing up in Yugoslavia, where most media was government-controlled but where “a small municipal library” gave him “a window into the world. It was imagination, and it was freedom.”

“Feeding the Dragon”’s writer and star Sharon Washington described the project as “a perfect partnership” between “ two of my absolute favorite institutions, and two places that have had the most impact on my life — a theater and a library.”

Margaret Patricelli, whose Robert and Margaret Patricelli Family Foundation is the lead funder of the project, said it “gives visitors to both organizations the feeling that ‘I belong here,’” and that “the strongest reason, for us, to believe in this program is the grass roots elements.”

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