Steps from the train station downtown is the Fairfield Theatre Company, a former machine good factory that now serves up a steady stream of musical performers. From rock to reggage, blues to pop, the FTC brings musicians from all genres to the masses, at StageOne at 70 Sanford St., and The Klein in Bridgeport.
At the helm of it all is Eileen O'Reilly, the company's managing director.
To shed some light on this downtown highlight, the Fairfield Citizen sat down with O'Reilly to learn more about her and this venue.
Q: Eileen, you are the managing director of the FTC. How long have been serving in this capacity and what are your responsibilities?
A: I started a few years ago when we presented a powerful Irish play Howie the Rookie. My responsibilities have changed and grown but I've done everything from bartending to marketing to currently working on a variety of outreach efforts. In a nutshell I work to promote the organization as a whole in different ways. I create partnerships with a variety of groups -- other arts institutions, local businesses, educators - all groups interested in serving the community. I also work with our energetic board of directors to support their efforts in raising funds to sustain FTC.
Q: In addition to the Stage
One on Sanford Street, the FTC has a much larger venue in The Klein on Fairfield Avenue in Bridgeport. Can you tell us when the FTC got involved with The Klein and what you are able to provide the community by having both venues?
A: Miles Marek, FTC's producing director, was asked to manage The Klein Auditorium in 2007. Instead, he suggested FTC become the managing authority and we put our first show on, The Derek Trucks Band, in the fall of 2007. The Klein Auditorium is owned by the City of Bridgeport and has a board of directors that oversees its operations.
By taking on the management of The Klein, FTC was able to expand its audience -- The Klein has 1450 seats. StageOne here in Fairfield has 200. The Klein allows us to bring bigger names to the region. Since 2007, we've presented over 50 shows including Peter Frampton, George Carlin, K.D. Lang.
Q: Do you think most people in Fairfield and surrounding communities are aware of all the musical talent you play host to, or do you think you're more of a hidden gem, known only to a certain segment of the population?
A: Our awareness is definitely growing, a vivid indicator is our opt-in email list, currently at 35,000 names. I remember when we were excited if we had a few thousand. In terms of FTC as a hidden gem, yes and no, our audience comes from the surrounding towns as well as NY, NJ, MA and Rhode Island, but ironically enough, we still meet people from Fairfield who come in and say "I didn't know this was here." The good news is once they walk in the door they always come back. Hopefully this interview with the Citizen will help.
Q: The FTC offers up an eclectic array of musicians, from B.B. King to The Doobie Brothers to Richie Havens, as well as local bands. How do you decide what acts, large and small, to bring to your stages? Is it by board vote, or the decision of a select few FTC members? Please explain. Also, when it comes to local bands, what is the FTC looking for?
A: Staffers Tyler Grill and Stacy Marzik choose the talent, negotiate the contracts and create the dynamic year-round line up we present. Our board loves music and sends suggestions but they do not choose the performers. Our members also send suggestions to us and you can to by using Iwannasee@fairfieldtheatre.org. Regarding local bands, we look for talent, draw and the ability to energize their own following. They should have some internal marketing capability.
Q: I know the FTC is not just about music. Haven't you also hosted comedians and provided a venue for plays? How often do you put on plays? I don't see them advertised very frequently, so what does it take for a play to make the cut and wind up on the FTC calendar?
A: Lots of great questions. First, we have just announced we are presenting an original Christmas musical on December 14 and 15, The Big Holiday Broadcast of 1959 written by Weston actress Joanna Gleason. Local stars Keir Dullea (2001), Mia Dillon (Tony nominee from Crimes of the Heart), Chris Sarandon (The Good Wife) and Jim Noble (Benson).
Our overall mission is to provide a variety of quality live entertainment. Yes, we have presented comedians as well as play readings, spoken word entertainers, children's performers and classical and jazz musicians in addition to the contemporary music we present and the charity events we host.
We are eager to present theater, but it comes with costs so we look for the right artistic opportunity and the funding to support it. We anticipate bringing more theater to Fairfield in the future as we increase our fundraising.
Q: What is the most challenging part of being the managing director of the FTC?
A: Like any small business employee you are constantly switching hats and your priorities are often driven solely by focusing on what will pay the bills, so we switch gears often here and you have to be nimble. I am taking Pilates so I can keep up.
Q: You've probably seen dozens of shows over the years. In your personal opinion, which act did you love the most, and why?
A: This is one of those "which of your kids is your favorite" questions. So many shows stand out, but a handful I can mention are the actress Jayne Atkinson performing her one-woman show Lionheart, about Eleanor of Aquitaine; she was mesmerizing, I saw almost every performance. The recent Crimes of the Heart Reunion Cast Reading with Mia Dillon, Mary Beth Hurt and the rest of the original Tony-winning cast, was hilarious and moving, a great night of theater at FTC. We have also hosted a film series Martini and A Movie the last few years and I love the quirky smart audience, their questions and the give and take with the host Joe Meyers. Musical shows that stand out, the recent Indie musician Marco Benevento was fantastic; he plays a piano like you've never seen it and his music is otherworldly. It was hard to get up from the seat, his playing is so hypnotic. Google him and you are in for a treat. Also the horn playing and New Orleans funk of Trombone Shorty, a young musician you will be hearing about soon if you have not already. He played lively and hard and had the audience on their feet from his first song, a Stevie Wonder classic. Other standouts -- K.D. Lang at The Klein, all the classic blues guys I will never forget 90-year-old Robert Lockwood Jr. and his contemporary Honey Boy Edwards; these dapper gentlemen dressed in suits and spats play guitar and tell stories that truly make you feel you are sitting on a porch in Turkey Scratch, Arkansas (Lockwood's hometown). Also Ricki Lee Jones was a blast, funny as well as playing great music.
Q: What, if anything, is in store in regards to the future of the FTC? You already have two venues. Where do you go from here?
A: We are planning to complete the expansion of our facility at 70 Sanford St. to contain an additional performing venue and transform the space into a fully faceted arts and cultural center.