Passing under the iconic arches flanking the entrance of the Bedford Playhouse, Home of the Clive Davis Arts Center, one is instantly transported to the era of old Hollywood glamour. From the old fashioned box office that greets guests to Paul Shaffer’s grand piano from the set of “The Late Show” with David Letterman gracing the foyer, it’s evident that the Playhouse boasts a rich history. The meticulous detail, however, beguiles the fact that it’s been mere months since the grand reopening of this cultural hub that’s now emerging as a bright star after a questionable future.
A Grassroots Movement
The Bedford Playhouse first opened its doors in April 1947 to much fanfare. In 1983, the theater was acquired by Bow Tie Cinemas and divided into two smaller theaters, losing much of its historic nature. In early 2015, when Bow Tie opted not to renew its lease, the beloved theater closed. That’s when the community unified to take action. Lindsay Hearon, director of marketing of the Playhouse recounts, “The community banded together in a ‘Save the Playhouse’ grassroots movement of sorts and reached out to local resident, John Farr, who was instrumental in resurrecting the Avon Theater in Stamford. The landlord gave us 120 days to raise $2M to prove there was significant interest in the project. That goal was accomplished in six weeks. That’s when they began taking us seriously.”
If the first phase of revitalizing the Playhouse was about generating support, then the second phase can be characterized by reimagining, rebuilding and redesigning the structure. According to Hearon, “Since a movie theater didn’t work, we needed to redefine the Playhouse’s role in this phase of its evolution. The local communities were craving a cultural hub. To tap into that void, we conceived of a space anchored by films, but with the capability to function as so much more. The introduction of a wine tasting room and café, where people grab a smoothie or meet friends for a drink was instrumental in the transformation.” Armonk resident and founding donor, Robert Greenfield concurs, saying, “My wife and I absolutely fell in love with the renovation and the overall experience. It’s this intimate, luxurious cultural destination that’s right in our backyard. It’s different from a movie theater or a concert hall. It’s about bringing the community together to have a dialogue, listen to directors speak about films, attend family programming or just have a drink with friends. You simply can’t beat this.”
To make this vision a reality, the team began working fervently, assembling a group of advisors. “We consulted with the absolute best,” according to Hearon, “from designers to architects to state-of-the-art technology teams to ensure that no detail was overlooked.” Amongst this exclusive team of advisors is local resident and music industry legend, Clive Davis. Hearon explains the icon’s role, “When Mr. Davis learned about what we were doing, he wanted to get involved both personally and philanthropically. He identified with the need to bring arts and culture back to the community. His decades of incredible experience and connections have been instrumental.” Davis’ contributions were so impactful that the Playhouse thanked him by designating the Clive Davis Art Center as its partner entity, an honor prominently reflected on the building’s façade.
“It’s different from a movie theater or a concert hall. It’s about bringing the community together to have a dialogue, listen to directors speak about films, attend family programming or just have a drink with friends. You simply can’t beat this.” – Robert Greenfield
A Marriage of Old and New
The grand opening of the Bedford Playhouse revealed an opulent interior depicting the perfect marriage of old and new. The theaters feature sumptuous, buttery-soft leather seating with trays for food and drink, vintage film posters and waterfall curtains, complemented by state-of-the art Dolby Atmos surround sound technology. “Our doors opened on September 30th, featured three days of fun-filled programming and culminated in a party with guests including Clive Davis and Paul Shaffer. We’ve been chugging along ever since,” Hearon proudly announces.
“Our programming incorporates a hybrid strategy of arts and film that touch topics that are captivating the community’s interest like the “Me Too” movement or politics–we’re not going to shy away from controversial issues,” says Hearon, further explaining, “We have a really exciting footprint where we take a movie and add a unique component to it.” One space in particular has been designed with flexible furniture to accommodate everything from a themed cocktail event to author reading event discussion to a children’s birthday party.
A series of unique events have already taken place. The Playhouse screened Always at the Carlyle, accompanied by a Q&A with the film’s directors complete with a cocktail event that recreated the hotel’s legendary Bemelmans Bar. Mary Poppins Returns featured a “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” Spelling Bee and costumed Mary Poppins offering spoons full of sugar up and down the aisles. Martha Stewart hosted a private event in the wine tasting room, while Glenn Close headlined a sneak preview screening of the Oscar-nominated film, The Wife, complete with a Q&A event and cocktail party; former head writer of SNL Alan Zwibel held a Q&A and a screening of Love Gilda. And, there’s no sign of the momentum slowing. In the coming months, the Playhouse is set to offer a special screening of 2001: A Space Odyssey, a Q&A with the David Boies, the subject of the documentary, The Case Against 8, and a comedy show starring comedian Robert Klein.
All of the excitement is evidence that the Bedford Playhouse has tapped into the community’s collective yearning for culture. “We’ve even seen the naysayers come out,” Hearon says, continuing, “People really want to join together in a cultural experience. The community has been hungry for this.”