Originally called American Shakespeare Theatre. Changed to American Festival Theatre in 1988. Now called The American Shakespeare Festival Theatre at Stratford. Stands on the site of some of Stratford’s first settlers, including John Peat (ancestor to “my” Mr. Peet) and John Brinsmaid who’s homelot was where the theatre stands. Building began in 1954 and in 1955 “Julius Caesar” was the first play preformed.
Winston Churchill remarked that “(the theatre) completed the 3 sides of the triangle” and expressed his hope that The 3 Stratfords (England, Canada and US) might serve to bring the 3 great English speaking peoples of the world closer together.
Celebrities who have preformed there include: Roddy McDowell, Jack Palance, Jerry Stiller, Kathryn Hepburn (who owned a small red cottage house near pond) Ed Asner, Jack Landeau, Jessica Tandy, Helen Hayes, Hal Holbrook, Ruby Dee, Elizabeth Ashley, Fred Gwynne, Lynne Redgrave, Christopher Walken and many others. John Houseman was artistic director for a number of years.
The house itself is made from “Angelique” a kind of Teakwood from France. Originally a shipment of wood came from France to the 1939 World’s Fair. The French went to war and the Teak was stored on Long Island. Finally France donated the wood for use at the theatre and it covers the place both inside and out. It is said that the hardness of this wood made it impervious to nails and so, every piece had to be hand drilled!.
The sundial seen above the second floor terrace doors in the front of the building was a gift from the Timex Company and is the only one known designed for Daylight Savings Time. The Shakespeare Family crest can be seen at the top of the sundial. A sunburst in the center symbolizes genius setting fire to all it embraces. This is flanked by the figures of Comedy and Tragedy. They are crowned with stars of inspiration.
Things went downhill and the property was sold to the state in 1983. The plays were not drawing crowds and tickets were being advertised 2 for 1. The Stratford Star ran an article in 1990 claiming “a multitude of problems” including lights, traffic, trash, theft and rape..The state spent $100,000 to put the building in working order and during the first week of the play “Funny Thing” air conditioning broke, and actor Michael McShane was rushed to Bridgeport hospital twice. Performances were cancelled. it seemed the inaugural summer season was a financial disaster. 3 days later the Fire Dept. responded to a call when faulty installation filled the theatre with smoke, costing the theatre $16,000 a day for portable air conditioning. There was huge misunderstanding about the lighting system which resulted in neighbors complaining, and costing even more money.
Shakespeare Theatre aka Stratford Festival Theatre (Stratford) – Elm Street – There is a sense of being watched, weird occurrences such as electronic equipment malfunctioning while on the grounds, etc. Many psychic photographs have been obtained on the property. Murder, death, and rape have been reported to have occurred here adding those elements into the mix.
May 1995 a man named Nelson Rivard was killed on the Shakespeare Theater grounds. Stabbed 8 times by George Oskai, who lived in a nearby boarding house. Police found the murder weapon and bloody clothing. No motive was ever given.
Reports of a rape and murder of a young girl (early 20’s) doing aerobics on the property during her lunch hour, but I have not been able to substantiate this with documented proof.
Many of the librarians here in Stratford recalled that an old man was found frozen to death at the theater but again we were unable to find any corresponding articles.
The administration building of the theater complex was originally built in 1785. Other sources believe it was built in 1830 or 40 or greatly modified at this time. Thought to have been built by General Matthias Nichol and inherited by his son Captain Samuel Nicholl. It eventually became the home of nephew Samuel Nicholl Benjamin.
Wings to the home (administration building) were added in 1890. An old detached building, said to be older than the main building, in the rear, served as a kitchen and was used to accomodate Revolutionary War soldiers. Near this, on the corner of Elm and Stratford Aves. is an old Elm tree (for which the street was named – it used to be called Front St.) believed to be 200-300 years old. Other elms which lined the street died due to disease.
Many times theaters are haunted. They are often darkly lit places that absorb energy inward. The stage is bright and gives off energy to those in the audience and the furniture and walls itself. This creates a kinetic flow of energy that can lock in on the people sitting there, compounding and harnessing the power of thought energy that is going on on a creative level. Altered states of consciousness can occur because of the imagery from the performance. A collective mind system and communal energy clusters in the space and leaves it’s impression or imprint. Spirits who have a mundane existence, go to a place of fantasy that they can identify with while caught between worlds. There is usually a story of a stagehand or actor, long dead, roaming the old time theaters and movie houses.
The entire area of this part of Stratford seems to have more than it’s share of paranormal phenomena. One recent Cosmic Society investigation just two blocks from Mr. P’s (where a man was killed during a fight and then his father returned with a gun) and also Jerry’s pizza known to be haunted. Our case was one that incorporated many unsavory acts, such as Black Magik and Devil worship, suicide pacts and a harmful poltergeist.
Due to beaurcratic red tape that installing any renovations to the theater, Cosmic Society has yet to actually enter inside the theater, a place we’ve often visited, but only from the outside.
Renovations are scheduled to begin on “white house”, the former theater administrative building, which stands at the entrance to theater grounds. Almost every person I’ve ever visited the property with has had queer feelings regarding the “white house.” One psychic has seen a woman in the middle upstairs window looking out at her. I have sensed a woman’s presence on the third floor looking out a back window, but didn’t see anything, and another independent psychic told me “There’s a lady on the third floor watching!”
Maybe we’ll get in there, too….!
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