Hartford Stage's Paul Weidner Dead At 84. Memories.
Sad news on hearing of the death of Paul Weidner, Hartford Stage';s second artistic director who led the theater from 1968 to 1980. He died March 13 in his New York apartment. Five years ago I interviewed all five artistic directors for The Courant and asked them about aspects of their tenure. This is what the modest and charming Weidner said about his.
BY FRANK RIZZO
Among themselves, they call each other by the order in which they led Hartford Stagewith Jacques Cartier, who founded the theater in 1963 being "One."
"Two" through "Five" —- Paul Weidner, Mark Lamos, Michael Wilson and the theater's present artistic director Darko Tresnjak —- will gather to celebrate the theater's 50th anniversary and to discuss their times running the Tony Award-winning institution .
PAUL WEIDNER, 1968 to 1980; lives in New York.
On arriving: "I had been there for a few years as an actor and director so I was familiar of the turf when I took over but I wasn't aware of the shaky financial situation due to its growing pains. My first board meeting was an existential experience because there was the idea of abandoning it all.
That idea didn't prevail but I quickly realized I was taking on something I hadn't anticipated. It was quite a crash course but I had some really good people who were the heart of the board — Ellsworth Davis, Jack Huntington and Belle Ribicoff — and the company through those times, never trying to dictate my artistic policies. We muddled through and got it back into reasonable shape.
Moving into the new theater [at 50 Church St.] was euphoric because a few years before we were at another existential point. Some people thought we should abandon the whole idea of the new building because the money was not coming in. Cooler heads prevailed and the money eventually was found, among them from the United Arts Fund. They got wind that we were considering not doing the new building and they jumped in to pull us over the line. They recognized the sense of genuine enthusiasm the people in Hartford had towards the theater.
We didn't think of creating a second space in the new building because the old place was still available to use and stayed that way throughout my tenure. [It closed after that.]
Highs: Because it was a good production and also because it opened the new building, I'd say 'All the Way Home'. It had a strong American voice to it. Another highlight was a production of 'My Sister My Sister,' an African-American play and I was advocating getting African-American voices on stage.
And just for sheer ridiculousness, Christopher Durang's 'The History of the American Film.' I remember rehearsals being just laugh fests. It was a sharp, cohesive and collaborative production. It was a director's dream.
Lows: I remember a trying time when we were trying to get a production of a new play that also had a Broadway producer attached to it. It was going to start in Hartford, open out the season and then go to New York. But the star's schedule kept changing and we kept changing the dates and recalling tickets. It was quite hellish for the box office. We finally had to abandon the whole thing. It was a harrowing experience. [The show was "Bent" and the star was Richard Gere.]
Retro thoughts: Knowing what I know now, I think I'd have advocated the choice of Jack Dollard as architect for Hartford Stage's new building over the choice we eventually made of Robert Venturi. Venturi delivered what we needed — and were very explicit about — but I think we were seduced by his star power in the world of architects, and don't know what more he brought to the scene beyond that.
Dollard had designed the original theater on Haynes Street (renovating an existing building), which, despite its quirks, everybody loved. I'm sure he would have done as well starting from scratch on a new theater.