OLD SAYBROOK — On September 11, 2019 The Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center — The Kate — will welcome back Pure Prairie League, the first band ever to perform on their stage, to celebrate ten years of bringing music, opera, dance and theater to downtown Old Saybrook.
“Try to imagine Main Street without it now,” said Carl Fortuna, the first selectman of Old Saybrook. “It’s hard.”
“Hard,” because The Kate attracted over forty three thousand visitors to Old Saybrook’s Main Street in the last fiscal year alone, more than 78 percent of those from out of town; visitors who eat at the restaurants, stop for ice cream and visit businesses downtown.
“The economic impact The Kate has had is undeniable,” Fortuna said during a selectman meeting on Tuesday.
Restaurants in the area said that many of their customers arrive either before or after performances at The Kate.
“We are quite busy anyway, but we do have a lot of patrons from The Kate who make reservations here before or after the shows,” said Julie Purcell, manager of Liv’s Oyster Bar. “Kate customers are great. We love them.”
Despite its success, The Kate was not always a popular idea. Beginning in 2003, it took more than five years to renovate the old town hall into the 250-seat theater there today. In all, it was a $5.7 million project and the town still owns the building, making it responsible for maintenance and upkeep.
“Not everybody was in favor of this becoming a cultural arts center 12 years ago. I would like to think many people have really seen positive things come from what we do here,” said Brett Elliott, the executive director of The Kate since 2014. “When we opened a lot of people thought it might be for Friday or Saturday night performances. Just 50 or so a year. Last year we had 280 events.”
The Kate has continued to grow each year adding more shows and performances for all interests and age groups. The focus going into the next ten years will be to increase educational opportunities for youth, Elliott said.
“We really want to prioritize our educational programs. Currently we have Kate’s camp for kids age five to ten that teaches theater, confidence and public speaking,” Elliott said. “This summer The Kate launched an 11 to 13-year-old program where kids created music of their own with composers.”
During the academic year, The Kate hosts a children’s series and recently added movie Mondays which bring in families from around the area. The Kate distinguishes itself from many other nearby theaters by providing a place for local bands and productions performed by Vista Life Innovations, a full-service organization for those with disabilities.
“If you haven’t been here yet, you’re missing out,” Elliott said. “All the programs are so diverse, if you don’t find something you like here, I’m not really sure what you like.”
In addition to the anniversary show on September 11, the annual gala fundraiser, this year held on August 24, will commemorate ten years. At the gala, singer, actress and producer Christine Baranski will be honored with the spirit of Katharine Hepburn award.