On a clear summer’s night, one can unmistakably see the constellations of stars shining brightly against the midnight sky.
Closer to Earth, you can also get your fill of shining stars of a different sort at the Ogunquit Playhouse.
Located at 10 Main St. in Ogunquit, Maine, the Ogunquit Playhouse is just a little over an hour by car, and offers Broadway and Hollywood professional performances in a historic, summer stock theater atmosphere.
The list of headliner performers that have appeared over the years at the Playhouse is literally a Who’s Who of film, television, and stage star power, thanks to the important part the Ogunquit Playhouse has played in the history of the performing arts.
The Ogunquit Playhouse first opened its doors in 1933 with the help of accomplished Broadway actor Walter Hartwig and his wife, Maude.
The opening of the Playhouse was prompted by the “Little Theater Movement” of the 1920’s and 30’s, which pushed to bring quality theater venues to areas outside of New York City.
Originally, the Playhouse was nothing more than a converted garage, as were many summer theaters of the time.
With the help of Hartwig’s Broadway connections, a host of successful stage actors, directors and producers came to the little, seaside town of Ogunquit to perform in Hartwig’s new theater group.
As success for the Playhouse continued to grow, so did the need for a more substantial theater in Ogunquit, and the Hartwigs eventually bought a parcel of land on Route 1. Soon after, plans were in motion to build an actual theater that would rival those of New York City.
The new Ogunquit Playhouse opened its curtains on July 17, 1937. It was the first, and remains the only summer, seasonal theater of that era built exclusively for summer stock theatre.
Because he had such a deep love for the performing arts, Hartwig also started the Manhattan Theater Company, which offered an eight week acting course in Connecticut and New Hampshire. As part of the curriculum, students would also perform with headliner stars at the Ogunquit Playhouse.
After Hartwigs death in 1941, his widow continued with his theater work.
The onset of WWII caused the closure of many summer theatres, but the Ogunquit Playhouse survived.
By 1950, Maude Hartwig already hired company actor John Lane as the Playhouse General Manager. Seeing his dedication to the theater and performing arts, Maude offered to sell the playhouse to Lane, which he gladly accepted.
Almost immediately after the purchase, Lane and his partner, Henry Weller, started long-range plans to renovate and modernize the building.
Soon, Lane became a leader among summer stock professionals and was instrumental in starting the Council of Stock Theater (COST).
The popularity of COST was able to attract film, tv, and stage talent, adding more success and attention to the Playhouse.
Lane was well aware of the importance of the summer stock movement to the performing arts community, and formed a foundation to ensure the longevity and maintenance of the Playhouse after his death.
By the early 2000’s, summer stock theater started to fade from popularity, so the board of the Playhouse’s foundation appointed Bradford Kenney Artistic Director of the Playhouse. He embarked on a new era for the Playhouse with the performance of fully staged musical productions, which continues to be a crowd favorite today.
In 2014, the Ogunquit Playhouse was deemed a structure of National Significance on the National Registry of Historic Places for its contribution to the performing arts.
Today, Ogunquit Playhouse has an extended 26-week season, running from May through October (significantly longer than its original 10 week season of 1933), and produces five to seven musicals annually.
Besides offering award winning performances, the Playhouse also offers 90 minute Behind the Scenes Tours or a 45 minute Stage Door Tour. These tours allow visitors to view the greenroom, sound room, and original dressing rooms used by such Hollywood royalty as Bette Davis, Christopher Plummer, Betty White, and Steve McQueen.
If this year’s summer plans include a trip to New England’s seashore, don’t forget to do a little stargazing in the beautiful, coastal town of Ogunquit, Maine. Enjoy plenty of sunshine on the beach, and starlight on the stage of the historic Ogunquit Playhouse.
For a full list of this season’s performances and ticket prices, or to book a backstage tour, visit www.tickets.ogunquitplayhouse.org.