In the News: The Belfry Theater
Bringing Back The Belfry
Historic Theater With Hollywood Ties
What do Paul Newman, Harrison Ford and Gary Burghoff (Radar from M*A*S*H) all have in common? They all began their acting careers at a small summer stock theater in Delavan, Wisconsin, called the Belfry Theater.
You wouldn't expect such a humble beginning for Hollywood royalty, but the Belfry Theater helped pave the way for their success. The building still exists today and has been sitting vacant for many years, on the west side of 67, across from Mercy Hospital.
Back in 1949, when Paul Newman was a Resident Actor at the theater, the Belfry was known for the grueling pace of their repertory system. Actors worked in the scene shop all day and performed nearly every night and while it was said to be exhausting, it was an effective form of training.
According to Jim McClure, village historian and Harrison Ford fanatic, "Ford, who was born in Chicago, attended Ripon College in Central Wisconsin and just a few months before graduating in 1964, dropped out of school because he was offered his first paid acting job with the Belfry Players." McClure continues, "After six plays, and as the last Resident Actor at The Belfry, he headed to Los Angeles in hopes of making a career in motion pictures."
It has been said that the Belfry's system was valuable for teaching young actors what was necessary to make their characters' traits clear and to sell plots in many different styles to an audience. Based on the legacy that it has left behind, they must have been doing something right.
The building went up for auction last year and was purchased by Transformative Arts, who intends to revitalize the theater, breathing new life into the community. It was thought, given it's proximity to the medical center, that the property would be been torn down and turned into a pharmacy chain or another big box store, but thankfully, Transformative Arts came to it's rescue. It's expected to re-open in the summer of 2016. (Renderings of the proposed lobby and theater are shown.)
This eager group plans to add on to the existing building, creating a beautiful 250 seat theater and an outdoor venue, with a sculpture garden and gazebo. This area will serve as a place to gather for dessert or a glass of wine, after the productions.
"As we embark on this long awaited adventure, we invite the community to be a part of it." She mentioned that businesses have donated a new roof and windows and they welcome any contributions and labor to help complete this project. You can also make a year end tax deductible donation to the casue.
With the Belfry's rich history of cultivating world class actors, we eagerly await the reopening of this wonderful theater. For further information, call the Belfry at 262-394-6460. For donation information, go to www.BelfryMusicTheatre.com.