Community theater group Hamden rises from the ashes after tumultuous 2020 season

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In December 2020, Cindy Simell-Devoe was standing in a kitchen baking enough cookies and fried eggplant for 250 people – all to keep her community theater alive. But really, the story begins about eight months before that.

“March 11, 2020,” Simell-Devoe said with a sigh. “I don’t know if I’ll ever forget that day.”

She is the founder / director / producer / occasional chef of The Whitney Players, a Hamden-based non-profit community theater company.

The theater was set for its March 12 debut of “The Wiz” when Simell-Devoe got a call from Hamden Mayor Curt Balzano Leng. All government buildings would be closed, which meant there was no place for players.


Simell-Devoe said after issuing thousands of dollars in checks to reimburse shows, summer camps and workshops, she was unsure of the Whitney Players’ future.

“There were times when I didn’t think [any shows were] will happen again, ”she said. “Now we will rise from their ashes. “

This phoenix-like transformation is due to a total restructuring of the group during the pandemic. The company shifted gears and started investing in virtual programs and smaller, socially distant classes and allowed gamers not only to survive, but to thrive.

Fast forward to this day in December. Simell-Devoe cooked so many dinners because the company’s virtual Christmas cabaret was the most successful in years, and every family that bought a ticket received a meal for four. And because theaters across the country were closed, actors from all over were able to join virtually.

“The show was more successful than when we did it in person,” she said. “Everyone was available, no one was absent on another show.”

CINDERELLA KIDS: Ava Valentine as Cinderella and Nicholas Carpenter as Prince Charming, both of Hamden, rehearse a scene for the Whitney Players Theater Company’s presentation of “Disney’s Cinderella Kids” premiering Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Thornton Wilder Auditorium, 2901 Dixwell Ave. in Hamden. The show will also be seen Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. The company also presents the musical “Cinderella, Prince Street Players Version” Thursday through Saturday at 7 pm at the Wilder Auditorium. The price of tickets for Cinderella Kids is $ 12 in advance, $ 15 at the door (cash or check). Tickets for “Cinderella, Prince Street Players Version” are $ 15 in advance, $ 18 at the door or online at Thewhitneyplayers.org.First digital media

Now the productions are back in person and players are ready to continue the legacy.

The company is focused on integrating young actors with experienced professional actors, and Simell-Devoe said everyone benefits.

“Young actors work with more experienced people and learn respect and gain knowledge by watching professionals,” said Simell-Devoe. “And kids bring an instant boost of energy the moment they walk in the door. It’s incredible.”

The theater has just completed its “High School Musical Jr” series. and is now preparing for her August show, “The Addams Family”.
Simell-Devoe said it was surreal to be back at the casting table after a year that left his life’s work on the line.

“I felt like I was playing my part in a reality production,” she said.

She said that so many talent had come to audition for “The Addams Family” that she decided to double the show, which means two actors will be performing from night to night. One of these actors features a newly married husband and wife playing the heads of the Addams family, Gomez, and Morticia. Their newborn comes at each rehearsal.

All ages are welcome to participate in the productions of Whitney’s players, from ages 4 to 99, according to Simell-Devoe.

That’s why, when she watched a recent rehearsal of “The Addams Family” to see actors and stagehands of all ages, from a newborn baby fascinated by lights, music and colors to a man of 90 years old who has been a staunch devotee. actress in Whitney’s productions from the start, she smiles.

After 18 years of community theater, one year almost brought down The Whitney Players, but now its legacy continues and its future is back on track.

The last show of the Whitney Players "The Addams Family" takes place August 11-14 at Hamden High School.

The Whitney Players’ latest show “The Addams Family” runs August 11-14 at Hamden High School.

Whitney’s players

“The Addams Family” takes place at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and 2:00 p.m. Saturday at Hamden High School, 2040 Dixwell Ave., Hamden. Tickets are $ 18 in advance and $ 20 starting August 10. To purchase tickets, visit thewhitneyplayers.org.


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