Our Founders, Gary & Francesca Scarpa
When people in Shelton and the Lower Naugatuck Valley think of theater, they think of Gary and Francesca Scarpa. The couple met in 1973 when they were dancing partners in a college production at Southern Connecticut State College. They began their directing career with a production of The Music Man with the Shelton High School Drama Club in 1976 when Gary was a young English teacher and Francesca was a senior in college.
In the ensuing years, the couple devoted themselves to theatre education and to providing high quality, affordable theatre to the citizens of their community.
Gary and Francesca directed and produced over 100 productions in their 46 year career. Besides directing at Center Stage Theatre, Gary and Francesca founded the highly acclaimed Youth CONNection in 1983, a theatre group for high school and college students. In addition, they directed productions for the Shelton High School Drama Club, the Sacred Heart Academy Drama Club, the Shubert Theatre Summer Academy for the Performing Arts, the Orange Players, the Amity High School Drama Club, the Quinnipiac University Theatre Department, and the Connecticut Experimental Theatre.
The Scarpas have had a profound impact on thousands of young people whom they have directed over more than four decades. In the process, they devoted their lives to using their theatrical talent to serve the community of Shelton and the Lower Naugatuck Valley.
As a couple, they have been recognized for their service to the community, having received the Silver Seal Award from the Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Millennium Award given by the City of Shelton. Francesca Scarpa has been honored as Woman of the Year by the American Committee on Italian Migration. Gary Scarpa has been recognized by Long Wharf Theatre as Outstanding Theatre Educator as well as the Shelton Jaycees who named him Educator of the Year in 1989. In 2010, the Scarpas were recognized by the Boys and Girls Club of the Lower Naugatuck Valley with the prestigious Raymond P. Lavietes Service to Youth Award. In 2017, Gary and Fran were honored as inaugural inductees into the Shelton High School Hall of Fame.
After nearly 30 years of directing, Gary and Francesca Scarpa opened Center Stage in February of 2005. The seed of the idea was planted the previous spring when Francesca attended a motivational seminar given by Oprah Winfrey. Inspired, Francesca, with the help of Gary, brainstormed and came up with the idea of opening an independent bookstore/coffee shop, which would also house a black box theatre, in downtown Shelton. In short, the theatre thrived while the bookstore did not, and the Scarpas proceeded to focus all of their energies on theatre activities. Center Stage Theatre soon became a non-profit organization and a major theatre venue for residents of Shelton and surrounding communities.
The theatre produces five full-scale productions a year, four of which are with age appropriate casts and one of which is its annual Youth CONNection summer musical, with a cast of high school and college students. Center Stage is also a leader in theatre education, offering year round programming for students in grades K-12. In addition to theatre arts classes, students also have the opportunity to perform in Junior Musicals and the Teen Musical Theatre Workshop and Musical Theatre Workshop Jr.!
Throughout the year, Center Stage also presents a variety of cabaret events, which feature Broadway, jazz, folk, and rock performers. In addition, the theatre hosts events for civic organizations like the Valley United Way and the Valley Community Foundation, to name a few.
Center Stage Theatre’s talented performers and behind-the-scenes set builders, lighting technicians, and costumers are all volunteers -- a community of creative people who love theatre and who also love the community for whom they present theatre.
Today, Center Stage continues to grow and thrive at the Richard O. Belden Cultural Center and its goal is to continue to be the major entertainment venue for the performing arts in the Lower Naugatuck Valley for many years to come.