For the Milford Theater, the past year has been a performance in its own right.
Renovations, scheduling, and marketing have been steadily building to the curtain rising on the theater’s second act. Overseeing it all is the theater’s first-ever artistic director, Beth O’Neil, a 15-year veteran of the New York City theater and film industry who was raised in Milford.
The theater has deep roots in Milford, and so does O’Neil, who was introduced to the arts here while growing up. Her education set her on a path to New York City, where she began producing plays and later became a film producer, working with big names like the late Oscar-winner Philip Seymour Hoffman. Her collaboration with Hoffman brought O’Neil back to Milford in 2010 for a screening of “Jack Goes Boating” at that year’s Black Bear Film Festival.
“It was a sell-out evening for the film, and I cherished the warm reception both the film and I received that night,” O’Neil said.
She moved back to Milford ten years later. “Milford has always been one of my favorite places in the world,” she said. When New York City was devastated by Covid-19, she and her family sought the safety and charm of her hometown.
At that time, Bill Rosado, a patron of the arts, saw an opportunity to save the then-struggling theater from the fate befalling similar venues. Although he built his wealth in auto sales, Rosado is also an independent film producer with a passion for documentaries.
He purchased the theater, adding it to his portfolio of local businesses. He then approached O’Neil to be the Milford Theater’s first artistic director, to help him realize his goal of making the theater a place that can “give the true artist a gateway.”
“She has very much the same vision I have,” he said.
She accepted, but not before realizing this was not a simple job offer.
“One asset Milford has is very talented people who have left the area to develop their careers,” said Rosado, who recognized O’Neil’s artistic flare when she was young. “I knew her talents. I knew her passion for the arts.”
Programming for the community
The Milford Theater was built as a summer theater for locals. Rosado and O’Neil seek to continue that focus as tristate residents emerge from a year of lockdown.
“The arts can heal people,” O’Neil said. “A big part of this job is to create programming that facilitates that healing.”
Her programming plans include family movies, an educational film series, children’s acting classes, dance performances, live theater, and a monthly concert series with headliner musicians from a variety of genres.
Theater will also get a new look that honors the building’s past while creating a modern theater-going experience. When renovations are complete, an art-deco décor will recapture the romance of the early days of cinema. Patrons will be able to enjoy beer, wine, and cocktails at the theater bar before a movie or even during a musical performance or play.
A state-of-the-art sound system will enhance the experience. And tickets will be available through the theater’s website with easy checkout from a smartphone.
Rosado seeks to encourage artistic expression in the town he came to from Mexico 47 years ago.
“I’ve always had a passion for this small town that welcomed me,” he said. “Milford gave me a true introduction to American life.”
“The arts can heal people. A big part of this job is to create programming that facilitates that healing.” Beth O’Neil