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Bradley Playhouse - Front Street, Circa 1905
OUR HISTORY
Known by various names throughout its history - Putnam Opera House, The Imperial, Putnam Theatres, Inc – the beloved Bradley Playhouse came from a dream and has prospered to present day as a classic treasure of the Putnam, Connecticut community.

On July 16, 1892, Ransom Bradley, who dreamed of building a magnificent theater, purchased property on the corner of Front and Livery Streets in downtown Putnam, CT. Designed and constructed by Charles H. Kelley of Putnam, Bradley’s dream took life, with the theater being completed on January 29, 1901. 

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“From the main entrance on Front Street, a 10-foot wide corridor leads up to the ticket office. This space is all decorated with leaded glass, theatrical figures in white and gold, and a tile floor at entrance. The theatre is to have 973 opera chairs, four boxes with white and gold chairs, and not a poor seat in the house. On entering the theatre, at the rear is the foyer, check room for coats, and ladies’ and gents’ toilets and a marble drinking fountain. Each box in the foyer is fitted with plate glass mirrors. Each side of the foyer arch is a 6-foot stairway to the balcony floor and rear balcony. The theatre is decorated with…papier-mâché and colored old rose, green, ivory-white and gold. All draperies are of green, boxes and balcony rails are brass. The balcony front is decorated with a festoon of cupids in white and gold and the boxes in ivory and gold. Carpets are dark red. All seats are in mahogany with Moroceonie seats. All have wire hat racks under and nickel numbers and letter to each…The building is a thing the city should be proud of and a vote of thanks should be given to Mr. Bradley for building such a fine playhouse for the use of the public.”

The Putnam Patriot, 1901

The Playhouse proudly welcomed visitors and brought lively entertainment to downtown. In its early years, the playhouse featured not only picture shows, and Live Theater, but also hosted several benefit nights to raise funds, including for the newly established Fire Brigade in Putnam. One such Fire Brigade benefit saw 1,095 attendees and raised a “grand” total of $50.75.  

Postcards announcing a production of “The Old Homestead” in 1922 refer to the Putnam Opera House. Later, the playhouse was titled “The Imperial” and in 1927, Morris Pouzzner renovated “Putnam Theatres, Inc.”. No matter the name of the time, The Bradley Playhouse has held a marquee in the landscape of downtown for more than 120-years. And that brilliant history was made possible in part through The Northeast Repertory Theatre which was formed in 1984, bringing live performance back to The Bradley with a six to eight show main season. The current organization, incorporated in 1991 as the Theatre of Northeastern Connecticut at The Bradley Playhouse (TNECT), gained non-profit status in 1992.

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It is the mission of Theatre of Northeastern Connecticut, Inc. to produce and sponsor quality theatre and entertainment for the residents of Northeastern Connecticut and the surrounding areas; to promote and model a culture that values diversity, equity and inclusion; to encourage the development of creativity through the support of local artists, regardless of race, ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation or physical or mental capacity; to support and enrich the communities that we serve, through active participation in community initiatives; and to facilitate education and hands-on experience in the creation, direction, and production of theater and the performing arts, in a space that is safe and welcoming to all.

“Superlatives are needed to describe the remodeled playhouse…from roof to cellar nothing has been neglected that could give comfort and pleasure.” [Putnam Patriot]

The Playhouse has seen many renovations and refurbishments through its vibrant history, with the TNECT members and supporters dedicating countless hours and upholding their goal throughout to restore the Bradley Playhouse to its full glory.

 

Due to a number of fires – the first and second being in 1914 just 14-hours apart – the theater has seen numerous interior changes. After the 1914 fires, major sections of the interior needed to be rebuilt, the thrust of the stage was removed, the orchestra pit was covered over, and the balcony section remodeled. On December 9, 1937, a short circuit caused another fire, which soon became an enormous blaze. Fortunately, a specially designed asbestos curtain dropped and contained the fire to the stage area but nonetheless, the playhouse sustained thousands in damages including the loss of all scenery, properties, and their “talking picture apparatus.” 

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Just as the brilliant history was made possible in part through partnership with the Theatre of Northeastern Connecticut at The Bradley Playhouse (TNECT), so have the many preservations, restorations and enhancements. TNECT led efforts to refinish the display cases in the entryway with gold leaf and restored the beautiful 1927 glass chandelier in the early 2000's. The most noticeable exterior improvement came in with the grand marquee. The 2007 campaign to reconstruct this famous sign concluded with tremendous successfully and the new marquee, as seen today on the building, made the Bradley Playhouse a focal point in Putnam’s downtown revitalization. 

The largest project in recent history for the TNECT was in 2016 after a large section of ceiling suddenly caved in. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but the incident forced the cancellation of the holiday show and threatened to devastate the always precarious financial solvency of the playhouse. Numerous supporters rose to the challenge, notably Tom and Kathy Borner, and Tom and Peter Thurlow of Hilltop Construction. The beautiful theatre ceiling was restored, and the lobby renovated, all in time for the playhouse to reopened for its most successful year to date!

TNECT members and Board of Directors continuously strive to provide audiences with greater accessibility. In 2023 TNECT volunteers, board members and many generous donors worked to install an automated wheelchair lift in our front entrance area, in addition to improvements to accessible bathrooms and assistive hearing devices. 

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