Linda Thorson stands on the stage, looking out into the expanse that may soon hold an audience. She speaks to test the acoustics and imagines those seeking entertainment will enjoy the sounds as much as she does.
Thorson even performs her usual pre-show routine, kicking her legs out and saying, “They love me, they came to see me.” And the renowned television and stage actress, can imagine how things could look inside Stratford’s Shakespeare Theatre if the “extraordinary facility” is renovated and opened once more for performances.
“You could have it described to you, but until an actor stands on the stage and has the feeling, you instantly have the feeling of being embraced by the audience and of longing to get out here and deliver performance to them,” she said during a Thursday morning tour of the lobby, stage and main seating area of the theater.
Thursday was Thorson’s first visit to the Shakespeare Theatre and the Stratford Stage Group plans to make sure it’s not her last. The group hosted a brief tour of the theater, closed since 1989, to let people know about what they plan to do if given the go-ahead.
Stratford Stage Group is still in negotiations with Stratford to renovate the theater. SSG wants to fix the 1,500-seat theater and bring theater companies from all over the world to the space. There are also plans to build an inn on the theater grounds off Elm Street and expand the current theater by adding two smaller performance spaces. But no work will begin until the town and SSG can finalize a land use and lease agreement.
Dan Wolgemuth, a spokesman for Stratford Stage, said the renovations may cost about $18 million. That includes improving lighting, sound equipment, air conditioning, heating and bathrooms.
“The last time it was done was 1985 and the codes have changed,” Wolgemuth said.
The contract negotiations are ongoing, he said. SSG attorney Barry Knott and Town Attorney Tim Bishop are hashing out the details, and any agreement they reach would have to be approved by the Town Council.
A portable stage is already in use for events outside the theater, including the ShakesBeer Festival taking place on Saturday. David Reed, who heads the Stratford Stage Group, say she plans to bring some big names to Stratford once it opens. He expects they can open Shakespeare in about two years after starting the renovations.
Thorson expects to be a frequent visitor if the main attraction is up and running again.
“I plan on coming back for the opening night and for every opening night and being in the plays and also in helping this theater in any way I can and making everyone aware of it,” she said, adding that actors “will be dying” to perform in Stratford.