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ACT I: The Warner Theatre

Built by Warner Brothers Studios and opened in 1931 as a movie palace, the Warner Theatre was described then as “Connecticut’s Most Beautiful Theatre.”

The theatre was sold in the 1950s as part of a federally mandated divestment and damaged extensively in the 1955 flood. With business declining, the invention of television, and expenses soaring through the 1960s and 1970s, deferred maintenance began to take its toll. Facing certain foreclosure in 1981, the owners closed the Warner and in March of that year put the property on the market for $275,000.

With the theatre slated for demolition in 1982, a concerned group of citizens formed the non-profit Northwest Connecticut Association for the Arts, Inc. (NWCAA) to save the theatre. This group led a dramatic grass-roots campaign successfully raising the money necessary to purchase the Warner Theatre. The shared vision of those individuals is the foundation for the A Star is Reborn Campaign to restore and expand the Warner Theatre.

Restoration of the main theatre included:

  • Full upgrades of the Warner Theatre building infrastructure, including new roofs, motorized rigging, plumbing, sprinkler systems, HVAC, electrical service and fire and safety protection systems.
  • Americans with Disabilities Act improvements include expanded seating for people with disabilities, an assisted listening system for the hearing impaired, complete renovation of the restrooms, and the installation of an elevator from the orchestra level to the balcony.
  • Complete renovation of the Main Street façade, including the installation of the 50-foot vertical sign, a restoration of the original marquee, and restoration of store-fronts for the box office and adjacent vendors.
  • Installation of state-of-the-art lighting and sound systems.
  • The return of the star chandelier with gold tone ceiling, recreation of original wall color, and art-deco carpeting.
  • Complete restoration of all public areas of the building, including lobbies and auditorium.

The Warner reopened as a performing arts center in 1983, but restoration was not completed until November 23, 2002. On that historic day, thousands of Litchfield County citizens gathered on Main Street in Torrington to celebrate the realization of a common dream, namely, the gala reopening of the Warner Theatre after more than 20 years of fundraising, planning, and construction—truly a labor of love.

ACT II: Building On History

Originally one of the oldest continuously operating department stores in the country, the historic Mertz building in downtown Torrington was purchased in 2002 with the hopes of being transformed into a performing arts center and augmenting the existing Warner complex. After six years of planning and fundraising, the building was renamed the Carole and Ray Neag Performing Arts Center (after Torrington natives Carole and Ray Neag, who donated $1 million towards the project) in May 2008.

The building is home to:

  • State-of-the-art, 300-seat black-box style Nancy Marine Studio Theatre (named after a patron of the arts whose family generously donated the original site of the Studio Theatre at 69 Main Street).
  • The Warner’s on-site school for the arts, the Warner Theatre Center for Arts Education, including classrooms, rehearsal studios, private practice rooms, locker rooms, a dance hall, and a media center.
  • The 200-seat restaurant and micro-brewery, Backstage Restaurant.

The Warner complex also includes:

Today, the Warner is in operation year-round with more than 160 public performances and serves 100,000 patrons. More than 8,000 children grades K-12 are impacted by the theatre’s arts education programs. Close to $17 million in funding has been secured to date to complete these capital improvements. Funding included generous support from the State of Connecticut, the federal government, foundations, corporations, and individuals. ACT I was led by Ken Merz of Litchfield and Brian Mattiello of Torrington.

ACT II was led by Ken Merz and by Chuck Brower of Torrington. Together, and with the active support of the Warner’s board of directors, dedicated staff, and volunteers, the Warner Team continues to be engaged in fundraising, making this the most successful capital campaign for a private non-profit organization in Northwest Connecticut.

ACT III: Coming Attractions

While the restoration to the original art deco Warner Theatre and the creation of the Carole & Ray Neag Performing Arts Center are two crowning achievements that our community can be proud of, there is still more to come for our region’s largest performing arts center. Here’s a sneak peak of what the Warner will be working towards in the future:

Building an Endowment

While the impressive performing arts facilities that have taken root in downtown Torrington have been an important cornerstone for the economic and cultural vitality of our region, equally important is the need to establish an endowment fund that will ensure the future of the Warner Theatre. Recognizing the importance of an endowment fund, the Community Foundation of Northwest CT set forth a challenge to secure a lead gift for the Warner Theatre’s endowment campaign and Torrington Savings Bank met that challenge. While both institutions have generously donated to the Warner Theatre’s “bricks & mortar” fundraising efforts, helping to make both the restoration of the Warner Theatre and the creation of the Carole and Ray Neag Center possible, their additional support has now laid the groundwork for the creation of an endowment that will provide the necessary financial resources to ensure the longevity of Litchfield County’s largest performing arts center.

Stage House Addition and other Capital Maintenance Improvements

As a former 1931 movie palace, the Warner Theatre still has some limitations to operate efficiently behind the scenes for live theatrical productions. The construction of a stage house addition at the back of the Warner Theatre stage will provide new dressing rooms, facilities for set and props construction, a 2nd-floor backstage connector from the Warner Theatre Main Stage to the rehearsal studios located in the Carole & Ray Neag Performing Arts Center, and other efficiencies that will enhance the production qualities of our live theatrical performances.

In order to maintain the historic facilities, the Warner continues to review our ongoing equipment needs and maintenance to keep the unique facilities in top form.

NWCAA’s Mission

NWCAA’s mission is to serve our community’s diverse cultural needs and preserve the Warner Theatre as an historic landmark; to bring the community performance-oriented education programs, local productions and touring shows that are of the highest artistic quality possible; and to secure the Warner Theatre’s position as the focal point for performance excellence in our region.

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