Local Family Among Those Celebrating Palace Theater Centennial – The Newtown Bee

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By Shannon Hicks
WATERBURY — The Palace Theater formally celebrated its 100th anniversary last weekend with a documentary screening, a congressional proclamation, and the reading from a poem by a Newtown resident. The theater is celebrating its 100th anniversary in the 2021-22 season with a return to the best of Broadway and live entertainment.
Located in downtown Waterbury, the theater is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit performance arts center with a mission “to preserve and operate the historic Palace Theater as a performing arts center and community gathering place that provides a focal point of cultural activity and educational outreach for diverse audiences,” according to its website.
On March 26, a screening of the documentary Mister Wonderland, a film that explores the life of the great theatrical impresario Sylvester Z. Poli, who built the Palace Theater in 1922, was the afternoon’s feature.
The documentary originally aired on PBS in 2021 and sets out to find what remains today of Poli’s theaters and the communities they used to serve. Waterbury’s Palace Theater is one of only two theaters left in Poli’s empire.
Mister Wonderland was produced by New York City-based Awen Films, directed by Valerio Ciriaci, and produced by Isaak Liptzin.
Ciriaci and Liptzin, and Tim Nolan, all of Awen Films, were all at the theater to introduce their film last weekend.
In addition to the screening, guests enjoyed free popcorn and a champagne toast, which also included excerpts from Lauren Clifford’s “The Best Seat In The House.”
Clifford was inspired to write the long poem after she and her family attended a performance of A Christmas Story. The visit during the recent holiday season was the first for the Cliffords since the beginning of the pandemic.
“The Palace’s address is 100 Main Street, and it has turned 100 years old,” Clifford told The Newtown Bee in March. “I wanted to convey its history, architecture, and purpose — not just as a theater where you can go see a performance, but also as a place for happiness, love, learning, and healing.”
The title of Clifford’s work honors the fact that “it doesn’t matter which seat you have, the seat that you are sitting in is the best because of what you’re feeling and the experience you’re having.”
Clifford incorporated different perspectives into the poem, including Sylvester Poli’s rags to riches story, an immigrant overcoming prejudice to become a theater impresario, and his American dream coming true; Thomas Lamb and how he designed the Palace; a Waterbury Arts Magnet school student getting his break performing at the Palace; a Sandy Hook/Newtown mother attending the “From Broadway With Love” concert; a bride and groom whose love story started at the Palace; and the Palace’s patrons.
The work was incorporated into the March 26 program, with Clifford invited to read excerpts.
The afternoon also included the presentation of a congressional proclamation by US Senator Richard Blumenthal. State and local politicians and CT Office of the Arts Director of Arts, Preservation and Museums Elizabeth Shapiro were also among the special guests.
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