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Truth keeps ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ fresh
Actor says most audiences are seeing show for first time
Sunday, January 2, 2011
By Bill Buell (Contact)
Jonathan Preece plays Tevye, a Jewish milkman, in the national touring production of "Fiddler on the Roof," playing Tuesday through Sunday at Proctors.
The music and the story are wonderful, but according to John Preece, the thing that keeps audiences coming back to see “Fiddler on the Roof” is its truthfulness.
“It’s history. It’s based on what was really happening in Russia,” said Preece, who will be playing the lead character of Tevye in the national touring production of the classic Broadway musical coming to Proctors.
“It’s not one of the made-up things, like ‘Legally Blonde.’ It’s true, and it also touches on a lot of things that are universal for everybody, like family values and a man’s relationship with God, his wife and his children.”
While Zero Mostel and Chaim Topol are the two actors most closely associated with Tevye, a Jewish milkman living in the small Russian town of Anatevka, Preece has also clearly made the role his own. This is his ninth national tour of “Fiddler,” and while he has performed as Tevye more than 1,500 times, sometimes serving as understudy to Topol and Harvey Fierstein, he has also portrayed other characters in the show, such as Lasar Wolf.
Read more at http://www.dailygazette.com/news/2011/jan/02/0102_tevye/
CEO of Proctors, Schenectady
Dear Governor Cuomo
December 31, 2010 at 9:40 pm by Philip Morris
Once again, so much hope comes with your inauguration. I say once again not about your particular beginning as Governor as much as what seems to have been true of New York’s highest office holder’s beginning for many years.
We hope for a kind of clarity. Our state wide concerns, much like our national ones, frustrate us because we want them to be simpler to solve than they possibly can be, else we want to be clear what the complications are. So far, we feel more like pawns than participants.
We also hope for a magician. In all likelihood you are not a magician, so we will, inevitably, be disappointed in this. Why a magician? Because who else could walk the line between wants and abilities without some sort of magic?
For me, I also hope for something particular to what I believe in and work on. I hope you will see, as few others in your role have seen, the intimate connection between our state’s and our many community’s health and our creative capacity. Somehow, we in the arts feel more needed than ever and simultaneously more ignored than ever. I have been amazed that during your transition, there was no official connection for the arts community to provide input. I am afraid you, too, will not realize the depth of opportunity our arts community can provide for a brighter New York. It is not only a lost opportunity, but also a continuing “leak” in our ability to create new and thrive.
Somehow, I hope for an era of realignment rather than an era of decline. In this, your office and your inauguration is a larger opportunity for hope than anything else.
We don’t need a thrash and burn approach. We need a measured thoughtful strategic approach. We have been disappointed before, but we still have hope.
'Fiddler' will make you feel rich
Published: Thursday, December 30, 2010
By Bob Goepfert
SCHENECTADY - The role of Tevye in "Fiddler on the Roof" is one of the most beloved creations in all of musical theater. It’s such a rich role some actors spend a lifetime performing it without ever growing bored.
One such actor is John Preece who is playing Tevye in the production of "Fiddler on the Roof" that plays Proctors Theatre in Schenectady Tuesday through Jan 9. He estimates he’s played the role in over 3,000 performances.
Not only has he starred in the play for the equivalent of nine years, he’s been the understudy to people like Theodore Bikel and Topol through four other national tours.
Add to that, back in 1971, as a young actor, he played the supporting role of Lazar Wolf 1600 times.
You can say with confidence that John Preece knows and understands "Fiddler on the Roof."
Strangely he is reluctant to analyze the role in too much depth. He believes it is up to the audience to determine who the man is and to discover his values for themselves.
Preece says quite simply, "It is one of the best roles ever written. He is an honest man who has a sense of humor. He’s devoted to his family and to his god. Best of all he’s a human being who knows he has flaws and he doesn’t have all the answers."
And though Preece doesn’t mention it, the character has a couple of memorable songs in a show rich with memorable songs. What the actor does say is his tender show stoppers - like "If I Were A Rich Man" and "Sunrise, Sunset" - are beautiful but more important he say, "they drive the character forward."
This is Preece’s ninth national tour of "Fiddler" and speaks of the production with pride. "One thing I like is the actors are all age-appropriate for the roles. You don’t have a 40-year-old playing one of the daughters."
Another virtue according to Preece is, "We do the script word for word. There is not improving on stage. Some tours permit bored actors to take liberties. We honor the text."
His years as a character actor have taught Preece to be unselfish. "I’ve seen some portrayals of Tevye where the actor thinks this is a one-man show and tries to command center stage. That’s the wrong approach. This is ensemble theater you need all the characters and stories to be of equal importance."
Though he doesn’t like the idea of being on the road for 40-weeks a year while his wife lives in Springfield, Ill. (to be near her family) Preece has a stress-free approach to performing.
Perhaps that’s because he once gave up the stage and had a successful career as a restauranteur.
Indeed, he has some local connections within that industry. Between the years 1980-1990 he owned the Balsam House in Chestertown and operated another restaurant near Gore Mt.
He intends to spend a day visiting the areas to see some old friends.
But when theater called - or perhaps more accurately Tevye beckoned - he went back to his first and truest love: the stage.
Despite his identification with Tevye, Preece is not a one role actor. He’s played Don Quixote in "Man of La Mancha," the devil in "Damn Yankees," Ben Franklin in "1776" and has produced more than 35 productions of his own.
However, when the call comes to play Tevye he drops everything and boards the bus.
That bus lands in Schenectady on Tuesday.
"Fiddler on the Roof" Proctors Theatre, Schenectady. Tuesday to Jan. 9 346-6402www.proctors.org
Actress shares love for 'Fiddler' family
By Michael Eck Special To The Times Union
Published: 12:00 a.m., Thursday, December 30, 2010
Julianne Katz is playing Hodel -- Tevye's second-oldest daughter -- in the touring production of "Fiddler on The Roof" that opens the new year at Proctors. This is Katz's first national tour, and she says her character is an important element in the play, representing the great changes that rock Tevye's hermetic little village to its core. Hodel, she says, begins the evening siding with her father and his love of tradition, and ends it in love with Perchik, a radical socialist bent on bringing Tevye's old world into his own brave new one.
Q: "Fiddler on the Roof" is a classic. What in it speaks to you, and what in it do you think will speak to people seeing the show, perhaps for the first time, perhaps for the 10th time?
A: "Fiddler on the Roof" is as relevant today as it was when it opened in 1964. I think we can all relate to the struggle that Tevye faces with upholding his traditions in an ever-changing world. We are living in a fast-paced, constantly changing world, and it's a challenge to find balance.
The relationships between the characters are what speak to me the most. The family dynamics between Tevye and Golde and their daughters are so true to life; there is so much love in the family, and yet they are not afraid to speak their minds to one another.
The show is also very funny! People who have seen "Fiddler" before seem to remember the sadness and the meaningfulness, but they seem to forget how much humor is in this show. Our audiences laugh all night long!
Q: On a personal level, what do you relate to in your character?
A: I find a lot of myself in Hodel, and I also find a lot of traits in her that I admire and strive for -- she is an idealist, she is spirited and speaks her mind, she is brave and assertive, and she loves her family and values humanity.
Q: What kind of research did you do to create your role?
A: Before starting rehearsals, I read Sholem Aleichem's "Tevye the Dairyman," the book of short stories that the show was based on. The stories gave me a great deal of insight into the characters, and into the time period and setting of the show.
Q: Had you seen "Fiddler" on stage or on film before being cast? If so, how does that influence your interpretation?
A: I have never seen "Fiddler" performed on stage, although this is my third production that I have been a part of as an actor. I used to watch the movie as a young child.
I think that as actors we are subconsciously influenced by every performance we see and are a part of (good and bad), and I'm sure my previous "Fiddlers" have shaped my relationship with the show.
Q: How important is tradition to you and your family?
A: I grew up in a family with a Jewish parent and a Catholic parent and was saturated with the traditions of both cultures. Tradition is extremely important to my family, and we try to uphold as many as we can. However, we have also gotten very good at adjusting to constant changes that come our way and at welcoming beautiful new traditions into our lives.
Q: Is Fiddler's story and message contemporary, or simply nostalgic?
A: I would classify "Fiddler" as a piece of historical fiction; since history seems to repeat itself, I think the message will always be very contemporary.
Q: What's your favorite song in the show? Favorite dramatic moment?
A: I have so many!
I love performing "Matchmaker" and "Far from the Home I Love" every night, but I also have many favorite moments to watch. I watch "To Life" from the wings almost every night, and I love listening to John Preece and Nancy Evans (Tevye and Golde) sing "Sabbath Prayer" to us (the daughters).
My favorite dramatic moment is my goodbye scene with Tevye.
Q: What is your New Year's resolution?
A: To enjoy the many adventures this year will bring, and to have a "glass half-full" attitude always.
Michael Eck is a frequent contributor to the Times Union.
At a glance
"FIDDLER ON THE ROOF"
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday
Where: Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady
Continues: 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday; 2 p.m. Thursday, Saturday, Sunday. Through Jan. 9.
Info: 583-0062; http://www.proctors.org
Proctors: On & Off Stage
December 29, 2010
Our city's resurgence
By Francesca Mancino
Today I have a hard time believing my memory of what downtown used to look like -- the ghost-town atmosphere that now have all seemingly faded into the past.
Our city's resurgence
By Francesca Mancino
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
As I peered out through Proctors office windows the other day I noticed State Street. Wow, big deal, you say … let’s move on to another blog. But hold on now -- I mean I REALLY noticed State Street.
Sometimes it’s easy enough to pass by or walk through a place and be oblivious of my surroundings because I was either on a pressing task, or on lunch, and the street was simply just my backdrop.
But as I stared out the window then, I noticed …. signs. Long, brightly lit, rectangular signs for businesses jutting out from the front sides of their buildings -– signs for Bomber’s, SEFCU, Paul Mitchell The School, Nico’s Pizzeria and CVS.
Then I noticed the buildings' newer facades, some of which had been brought back from their once destitute appearance and now repaired and reconstructed within the past year or so.
Read the full story: https://www.dailygazette.com/weblogs/proctors-stage/2010/dec/29/our-citys-resurgence/
Author Francesca Mancino has worn many a Proctors hat in her 12 years, and might change into a few more in the next 12. As corporate advertising manager at Proctors, she handles all Playbill, ticket stuffer, web and movie advertising. If you are interested in advertising or would like more information regarding these options, please contact her at (518) 382-3884 ext 135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Welcoming the New Year
Free MVP Health Care Organ Concert Series
Hudson - Mohawk Theatre Organ Society
Claudia Bracaliello and Harold Russell
Schenectady, NY - MVP Health Care invites all Capital Region residents
and visitors to attend a free noontime organ concert featuring "Goldie" --
Proctors mighty Wurlitzer Organ on the Mainstage at Proctors on January 11.
The Tuesday, January 11 event will feature two performers: Claudia Bracaliello and Harold Russell.
Ms. Bracaliello hails from Prattsville, NY and has been a church organist for most of her life. The theatre organ, however, is a relatively new genre for her. A retired Physical Therapist, she served in the Navy during the Vietnam War, and is married to Ray Bracaliello. Claudia is on the board of the Hudson Mohawk American Theatre Organ Society (HMATOS) and volunteers to work on Goldie. She also is the sub-dean of the Hudson Catskill chapter of the American Guild of Organists. (AGO).
Mr. Russell, a GE retiree, will make his Noontime Concert debut at the January 11 event. A member of the 1983 installation crew for Goldie, he has been actively involved in the organ’s maintenance since then. A self-taught organist, he has played for own enjoyment for most of his adult life. The January 11 event will mark his public debut.
“I will try to capture the true sound on the theatre pipe organ as it was played so many years ago,” he says about his January appearance at Proctors.
Both of these organists will share the hour, offering selections of their own choosing. Both will demonstrate the marvels of "Goldie", an 18 voice,
three-keyboard instrument that includes a full set of percussion Instruments and a grand piano that can be played from the organ console.
These popular organists will share the hour, offering selections of their own choosing. Both will demonstrate the marvels of "Goldie", an 18 voice,
three-keyboard instrument that includes a full set of percussion Instruments and a grand piano that can be played from the organ console.
All events in the free MVP Health Care Organ Concert Series at Proctors begin at noon and are sponsored by MVP Health Care - helping Capital Region residents to take on life and live well.
The series showcases the artistry of area organists and the versatility and the power of "Goldie," Proctors mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ.
The Golub Foundation and members of the Golub family -- in memory of Bernard and Sunshine Golub -- gifted the mighty Wurlitzer to Proctors.
Since the installation of Goldie, Proctors has maintained a chapter of the American Theater Organ Society, which provides the services of the
Organists who perform Proctors noontime concerts, as well as the crewmembers who maintain Goldie.
Plan ahead. 2011 MVP Health Care Organ Concert Series:
TUESDAY, FEB. 1:
CARL HACKERT, ROBERT KLEINSCHMIDT AND GUESTS
TUESDAY, MARCH 29:
CHARLES JONES, SCOTT RICHARDS
TUESDAY, APRIL 26:
TUESDAY, MAY 24:
JIM BROCKWAY, JOHN WIESNER
TUESDAY, JUNE 28:
ROBERT FREDERICK, GREG KLINGLER
MORE? For more information on the MVP Health Care Concert Series at Proctors, contact Frank Hackert at (518) 355-4523; email@example.com.
- 30 -
JPMorgan Chase Foundation Grants $25,000 to Proctors
For Innovative Media Initiative in Schenectady Schools
Schenectady, NY -- Proctors has received a grant of $25,000 from the JPMorgan Chase Foundation to support MediaWorks, an interdisciplinary, cross-curricular program that adds media arts to a group of 80 ninth grade Schenectady High School students. The innovative, hands-on media-arts experience is expected to provide youths ages 14-18 with new ways of learning by integrating media technology with their regular classwork and gives them the powerful tool of expression in an ever-growing technological world.
Through the program, a videographer works with a team of teachers in an interdisciplinary curriculum, which includes English, social studies and reading. Schenectady teachers receive support and training in effective ways to integrate video into the classroom though project-based learning. The goals of the program are to increase critical thinking and problem-solving abilities for both students and teachers; to enhance communication within the classroom and foster student initiative and collaboration. The program also is expected to reduce student absences, increase academic success and foster mentorship between teachers and the video consultants.
The program is modeled on a successful effort in Jamestown, NY where test scores rose for those involved in the video media program.
Philip Morris, Proctors CEO noted: “We very much appreciate JPMorgan Chase Foundation’s support of this program to use the arts to improve academic success in the Schenectady Schools. Proctors has a special relationship with the Schenectady Schools as the hometown school system. We also serve 400 other schools in 56 districts with our education program and are very proud of our arts in education program which touches over 30,000 young people a year.”
Proctors Education Program offers numerous opportunities for young people, and adults alike, with in-school, after-school and community programs, as well as live school day shows, teacher events, workshops, teen programs and summer and winter camps.
For more information on the Media Immersion initiative at Proctors, contact
Joey Hunziker, Youth and Community Programs Manager, firstname.lastname@example.org, (518) 382-3884 x 197.
A Fusion of Classical and Rock: Handel’s Messiah Rocks at Proctors
Whether you’re a fan of classical music or classic rock, Proctors in Schenectady has a show for you this holiday season. On Tuesday, December 21st at 8pm, Handel’s Messiah Rocks will take the main stage at one of downtown Schenectady’s most famous locales.
The groundbreaking production launched a 50-city tour in November of this year, marking the newest interpretation on an oft-updated 300 year old oratorio. George Frederic Handel’s Messiah (composed in 1741) was first adapted by Mozart, who melded it with the popular music of his time. Messiah Rocks aims to do just the same, combining Handel’s most famous oratorio with the familiar sounds of classic rock.
Handel’s Messiah’s rock fusion becomes a three-part, ninety-minute show that mixes the original work’s orchestra and voice with contemporary rock instrumentation. The original Messiah directly interprets the Christian story of the Messiah in the Bible, which the show aims to explore as “the Mystery of Faith, the Power of Love, and the Hope for Peace.” Central themes are the questions of light, darkness, sadness, and beauty in the story of the Messiah. The 90-minute performance is appropriate for all ages.
Messiah is directed by Dani Davis, co-founder and president of Half Pint Productions. Also a Half-Pint co-founder is composer and music supervisor Jason Howland. The four stars of Handel’s Messiah Rocks are Ramona Keller, Matthew G. Myers, Marty Thomas, and Melinda Bass. Keller has appeared on Broadway and in plays as diverse as Dreamgirls and Bklyn the Musical. She has also performed with Hugh Jackman in Las Vegas’ musical review In Time. Myers toured previously with Jesus Christ Superstar, The Rocky Horror Show, and Grease. Thomas is a Grammy-Nominated Artist who has appeared in The Secret Garden and Wicked on Broadway, in addition to touring Europe with the Harlem Gospel Singers. Bass has played Sandy in Grease, Kate Murphy in Titanic, and has a BFA in Musical Theatre from Ithaca College.
Tickets for Handel’s Messiah Rocks range from $20 to $60 and can be purchased online or at the Proctor’s Theatre Box Office. Visit www.proctors.org/events/messiah_rocks for more information.
The show will also air on PBS throughout the month of December. Visit the show’s official website at www.handelsmessiahrocks.com for air dates.
–Jessica Nicosia is an Assistant Editor of The Free George.
Proctors Voted BEST THEATRE by Troy Record
I wanted to let you know that we’ve counted all the reader’s votes, and Proctors was voted Best Theatre. We’ll be publishing the results Thursday, December 23rd,within The Record.
Entertainment Advertising Consultant
The Record, Greenbush Life, Latham Life & River Life
Troy, NY 12180
One gift, many benefits
By Nora Lum Special To The Times Union
Published: 12:53 a.m., Sunday, December 12, 2010
Giving the gift of membership to any arts organization is also a gift to the arts. With perks ranging from discounted performances, admittance to dress rehearsals, liberal ticket exchanges, champagne toasts and invitations to exclusive events, subscription packages offered at Capital Region arts venues start at as little $25.
This year, think about giving a different kind of gift.
For many arts organizations, donations and membership subscriptions are a large part of their annual revenue. Proctors, for example, gets about 10 percent of its funding from membership and sponsorship, accounting for approximately $1.5 million. For smaller nonprofits, such as Home Made Theater in Saratoga, individual ticket sales account for only half of their annual budget.
Michele Desrosiers, managing director at Capital Repertory Theatre in Albany, says, "I think the most important thing is that our subscribers are really the people funding the seasons ahead of time -- they're our investors."
While the gift of membership also supports the arts, the year-round benefits of subscriptions and memberships vastly outweigh purchasing individual tickets. Subscribing to Capital Rep, for example, offers discounted ticket prices and liberal exchanges for a year's worth of performances. Home Made Theater's membership includes admittance to two dress rehearsals, invitations to all special events, an opening night champagne toast and an acknowledgement in its program.
"I think anytime you're a member of any cultural institution or arts institution, you're saying that you really value its role in the community," says Desrosiers. "When you're purchasing a subscription, you're saying that you value their body of work."
Most nonprofit arts organizations accept donations and offer memberships. Below is a list of a few around the Capital Region. Contact their box offices for more info on subscriptions, memberships and upcoming performances.
Albany Civic Theater
Subscriptions to a four-show season start at $45, or the price of three shows at the individual ticket price. The subscription also comes with liberal exchanges and a guarantee of seats to any performance. Membership is divided by amount of donation at the levels of Member, Friend, Patron and Angel, and comes with a handful of privileges such as a free subscription to the theater's newsletter, Stagewhisperer.
Contact: 462-1297; http://www.albanycivictheater.org; 235 Second Ave., Albany
Capital Repertory Theater
Date Night for Two: For $80, this package includes pre-show music and complimentary hors d'oeuvres for the second Tuesday of any performance. If ordered before Dec. 31, it will also include a Rumors Hair Salon Express Package, two free beverages at Capital Rep Cafe, and two complimentary desserts at DP, an American Brassiere.
Girls Night Out Subscription Package: Priced at $133, this package includes two tickets to "Crowns" and "Kingdom of the Shore," two free desserts at DP, two Rumors Hair Salon Express Packages and discounted rates at the Hampton Inn in Downtown Albany.
Six Pack Subscription Package: For $249, this subscription package offers six ticket vouchers to any performance during its 30th Anniversary season and can be used in any combination.
Subscription pricing for the 2010-11 season ranges from $152-$249 at full price and is discounted for students, teachers and senior citizens. Subscription perks include ticket insurance, discount coupons, parking passes, frequent buyer bonuses, hassle-free exchanges and discounts to other theaters.
Contact: 445-7469; http://www.capitalrep.org; 111 N. Pearl St., Albany
Home Made Theater
Subscriptions to a series of three performances are priced according to seating, and range from $57-$73. With the subscription, the ticket price of an individual performance is discounted up to $20. The theater also offers a Flex Pass package that allows you to choose any performance on any given date in the performance season. Subscription benefits include ticket insurance, "Bring a Friend" discounts, a buy-one-get-one discount at Curtain Call Theater in Latham and invitations to all HMT events.
Contact: 587-4427; http://www.homemadetheater.org; 19 Roosevelt Drive, Saratoga Springs
Schenectady Civic Players
Full five-play season subscription starts at $55, a significant discount to the individual ticket price of $15 a performance. Exchanges are allowable under the subscription and gift certificates are also available.
Contact: 382-2081; http://www.civicplayers.org; 12 S. Church St., Schenectady
Nora Lum, a senior at University at Albany, is a Times Union intern.
Many nonprofit arts organizations in the Capital Region offer memberships and subscriptions. We don't have space to run all of them, but here are some more contact information to help give you gift-giving ideas:
Albany Institute of History & Art: 463-4478; http://www.albanyinstitute.org
Albany Pro Musica: 436-6548; http://www.albanypromusica.org
Albany Palace Theater: 465-3334; http://www.palacealbany.com
Albany Symphony Orchestra: 465-4755; http://www.albanysymphony.com
The Arts Center of the Capital Region: 273-0552; http://www.artscenteronline.org
The Egg: 473-1845; http://www.theegg.org
The Hyde Collection: 792-1761; http://www.hydecollection.org
New York State Theater Institute: 274-3200; http://www.nysti.org
Proctors: 346-6204; http://www.proctors.org
Schenectady Light Opera: (877)-350-7378; http://www.sloctheater.org
Troy Savings Bank Music Hall: 273-0038; http://www.troymusichall.org
Saratoga Performing Arts Center: 584-9330, Ext. 117; http://www.spac.org
Holiday ‘Melodies’ warm hearts
Christmas concerts help children at Albany Med
Sunday, December 12, 2010
BY GERALDINE FREEDMAN
Photographer: Bruce Squiers: Helen Cha-Pyo directs a rehearsal session of the Empire State Youth Orchestra and and Empire State Youth Chorale at Albany Academy of Girls for the "Melodies of Christmas."
SCHENECTADY — The 31st annual “Melodies of Christmas,” the CBS 6-produced holiday extravaganza, opens Thursday in a five-show run. Because it is a fund-raiser for the Melodies Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders at Children’s Hospital at the Albany Medical Center, the shows have come to mean something more to the many high school students who participate.
“The concerts are different than normal concerts,” said Clare Criscione, a violinist from Albany High School in her second year with the Empire State Youth Orchestra. “They’re special. We’re raising money for an organization and the kids are having fun doing it.”
Kody Carpenter, a senior at Colonie High School and a member of the 73-voice Empire State Youth Chorale for the last three years, said the shows have become part of his life.
“I’m singing Christmas songs from October [when the Chorale begins rehearsals] to now. It’s part of my holiday season,” Carpenter said laughing. “The added bonus is that it’s also a fundraiser.”
The members of the ESYO and the Chorale are only part of the huge joint effort that goes into making Melodies a showcase of talent that helps the Melodies Center to serve almost 700 children who come from a 25-county radius. To date, more than $6 million has been raised. Price Chopper and Freihofer’s Baking Company are the shows’ sponsors. Together, they’ve inaugurated a special Melodies Cookie Tin Collection, which is for sale in Price Chopper stores.
‘Melodies of Christmas’
WHERE: Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady
WHEN: 7 p.m., Thursday, Friday and Saturday; 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 19
HOW MUCH: $25
MORE INFO: 346-6204, www.proctors.org
‘Melodies’ will be broadcast over CBS 6 at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 24; and at 8:30 a.m., 1 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 25.
Every year the show mixes the traditional with the new. This year, baritone Art DeLuke returns to sing “O Holy Night” and Girl Scouts from the Scotia-Glenville Service Unit #207 will run up and down the aisles as walkabout critters. Liz Bishop and Greg Floyd of CBS 6 will be the hosts. Professor Louie and the Crowmatics, a five-piece rock, country and blues band, will play several holiday songs, including “Motherless Child,” “Christmas Must Be Tonight” and “Santa Loves to Boogie.”
The Northeast Ballet ensemble company dancers, who usually dance to a segment from the “Nutcracker Suite,” will do a new ballet based on Chabrier’s “Joyeuse Marche.” For the orchestra, ESYO music director Helen Cha-Pyo, who’s in her eighth Melodies, chose a program that emphasized peace.
“We need to bring that back . . . to promote peace,” she said.
Instead of doing the usual sing-alongs to each Christmas carol, the orchestra will do a medley of tunes. There will also be a festive fanfare and a few holiday favorites, such as “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”
All are arranged by Randall Bass, who is well-known for his exceptional Christmas arrangements for choruses and orchestra, said Cha-Pyo.
Although the 95-piece orchestra will do the traditional “Hallelujah” chorus from “Messiah,” it will play some works it hasn’t performed on Melodies before. These include Carl Neilsen’s “Oriental Festival March,” a Spanish lullaby, and the “Toy Symphony.”
For more than 150 years, musicologists believed the symphony was a Franz Joseph Haydn creation, Cha-Pyo said, but recent scholarship indicates that it was really written by Leopold Mozart, the father of Wolfgang.
The work calls for several percussion instruments not usually found in traditional scores.
“There’s a toy piano that Ned Fleisher [the chorale’s director] found and brought in,” said ESYO percussionist Colleen Bernstein. “It sounds great and it will be tons of fun to play.”
Bernstein is one of five percussionists involved in the show. Robert Cosgrove, who heads the section and is also co-timpanist, said he was excited about how he would divide the tasks among the players.
But the showstopper for almost everyone is when several of the children who are patients at the Melodies Center come on stage and then sing “Silent Night” along with the audience.
“I cry every time,” said French hornist Caroline D’Ambro, a senior at Hoosick Valley High School, who has played Melodies each of the last five years. “You think as a teenager how bad your own life might be and then think of all the things they’ve gone through. It’s a lot to think about.”
ESYO cellist Jacob Efthimiou, a home-schooled high-school freshman, said he remembers coming to Melodies as an audience member when his siblings played in the orchestra and thought then that the concert would be a fun thing to do. But now that this year will be his second year on stage, the impact of seeing the Melodies kids on stage, some of whom are the same age as him, has hit home.
“It’s powerful. I’m thankful for how blessed I am,” Efthimiou said. “But it’s cool to raise money for them, to help them out.”
Trumpeter Emily Bobrick, a senior at Greenville High School, said these kids make all the difference.
“It’s great to create awareness. It’s really rewarding,” Bobrick said. “It’s hard to believe someone is going through something like that and we’re up on stage playing music and having fun.”
The concerts affect the adults, too.
“I get chills when the kids come on stage,” Cha-Pyo said. “You talk about bravery. They come to say thank you. They have a greater impact on us.”
Cha-Pyo has garnered some unexpected notoriety through Melodies.
“I was on a Mexican cruise and a couple, who turned out to be from Albany, recognized me,” she said laughing. “They said, ‘Aren’t you that Melodies conductor?’ So this show gets around. It’s very powerful — kids helping kids. You can’t get connections better than this.”
Fleisher, who has directed the chorale since 1984 and annually auditions up to 300 kids between 15 and 18 for the few slots, said few people know that Gareth Griffiths, an ESYO board member, works with the Melodies Center children in case some of them don’t know the carol.
It was Griffiths who also got him involved. Her son was at the time singing in both the Melodies chorus and the Shaker High School choir, which Fleisher directed, until his recent retirement after 35 years.
Since the ESYChorale gathers only for these shows, Fleisher said it’s been heartening to see how those singers who have been in the chorus before bond for this event.
“It’s wonderful to see,” Fleisher said, adding that because the chorus members come from such a broad geographical range, he’s been able to gather the brightest talents. “If not for Melodies, I would never have gotten to know these kids. Lucky me.”
One singer’s story was especially meaningful. After auditioning, the girl told him that when she was a little girl, she had been one of the center’s cancer patients. If it hadn’t been for Melodies, she might not be singing for him.
“It puts it all in perspective,” Fleisher said. “It humbles us all.”
Philadelphia Orchestra on the big screen at Proctors
By Michael Janairo Arts And Entertainment Editor
Published: 12:00 a.m., Saturday, December 11, 2010
With wintry weather dominating the forecast, you could probably use a taste of summer right now.
For classical music fans, nothing says summer in the Capital Region better than the Philadelphia Orchestra, which calls the Saratoga Performing Arts Center its summer home.
On Monday, you can see the Fabulous Philadelphians as you've never seen them before, as a live recording will be shown on the massive screen at the GE Theater at Proctors.
The program, which features Robert Spano conducting and Jean-Yves Thibaudet on piano at Verizon Hall in Philadelphia, is the first in a five-part series of concerts that continues through May and makes use of high-definition technology to bring the concert-going experience to the big screen.
Tickets for each concert of the series cost $18; $16, seniors and students.
Buy tickets at Proctors box office at 432 State St., Schenectady, call 346-6204 or go to http://www.proctors.org.
The concerts and the programs:
Spano Conducts Sibelius: 2 p.m. Monday, Dec. 13: Robert Spano, conductor; Jean-Yves Thibaudet, piano; Sibelius Suite No. 1 from "The Tempest"; Ranjbaran Piano Concerto; Sibelius Symphony No. 5
Gilbert Conducts: 4:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 23: Alan Gilbert, conductor; Richard Woodhams, oboe; Lindberg EXPO; Rouse Oboe Concerto; Beethoven Symphony No. 6 ("Pastoral")
Tchaikovsky and Macmillan: 6:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 28; Charles Dutoit, conductor; Vadim Repin, violin; Berlioz Overture to Beatrice and Benedict; MacMillan Violin Concerto; Tchaikovsky Concerto No. 2
All Russian: 6:30 p.m. Monday, May 9; Vasily Petrenko, conductor; Stephen Hough, piano; Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2; Prokofiev Symphony No. 5
Beethoven Symphony No. 9: 8 p.m. Monday, May 23, and 9:45 a.m. Tuesday, May 24; Charles Dutoit, conductor; The Philadelphia Singers Chorale; Stravinsky Symphony of Psalms; note: tickets for the 9:45 a.m. May 24 concert are $7 students; $8 all others
Theater review: Solving a Christmas mystery proves to be uproarious fun
Thursday, December 9, 2010
By Matthew G. Moross
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‘Sister’s Christmas Catechism: The Mystery of the Magi’s Gold’
WHERE: Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady
WHEN: Through Sunday
HOW MUCH: $20–$39.50
MORE INFO: 346-6204, www.proctors.org
SCHENECTADY — Tired of the Nutcracker? Bored with Scrooge? Fed up hearing about George Bailey’s “wonderful life?”
Maybe it’s time to journey back and a take a good look at the original Christmas story. And who better to guide you, offering all the insight, wisdom and true cheer of the holiday season, but the saintly (and more than a little sarcastic) Sister from Catholic school.
But wait! Sister has been watching too much television and is now convinced there is a Christmas mystery along with all the wonder and glory, and she needs our help to solve “Sister’s Christmas Catechism: The Mystery of the Magi’s Gold,” currently on stage at Proctors GE Theater.
Maripat Donovan’s series of nun “entertainments” have been mining the nostalgia and humor of a Catholic school upbringing for more than a decade and the latest holiday-themed installment is one of the best. With their odd mix of script and stand-up, these Catechism Sister acts consistently prod and poke at our past, allowing us to laugh at previous fears and offer comfort in the regimented and sure scholastic world of our youth.
Music and lessons
The evening class starts with some Christmas carols, courtesy of the choir from the Messiah Lutheran Church (Sister explains she couldn’t get a choir from a Catholic Church as they were too lazy) and then glides into a quick review of Catholic dogma, concentrating on the Christmas story. Calling on members of the class to answer her questions, she offers rewards to the devout and those who correctly remember the teachings. A sour face and a word of warning lie in wait for the forgetful and fallen.
After the refresher course on Christmas, Sister explains that she has always been puzzled by what happened to the gifts of the Magi after they were delivered. The frankincense and myrrh were easy to explain away — they were used up as potpourri — this story took place in a barn after all. But the gold. What about the gold?
In a hilariously odd moment at the top of Act II, the evening turns into CSI — Bethlehem meets “The Worst Christmas Pageant Ever.”
By using members of the audience to re-create the scene of the crime, Sister morphs into Sister Nancy Drew, narrating a hastily put-together Christmas pageant with members of the audience as the Living Nativity. It’s like an episode of “Cold Case” with Christmas carols. When the police tape is removed and the culprit is revealed, the credits roll and so does the class — on the floor with laughter.
Up to the task
Keeping the audience connected with the conceit in an improv-type event is no easy task but Nonie Newton-Breen as the dry, poker-faced nameless Sister, never lets the wimple slip. The wry and deadpan look remains as she passes out Purgatory postcards to the sassy or praises the virtuous with a sticker and a box of chocolate. Newton-Breen is a master of the craft and the perfect mix of sternness and innocence.
So “bye-bye” Tiny Tim, and get lost Frosty. Who would have thought that the true Christmas spirit could be found in a Catholic improv Quinn Martin stage production?
This is a perfect holiday present.
Holiday tour gets Sara Evans, family in Christmas spirit:
Thursday, December 9, 2010
By Brian McElhiney (Contact)
Country music singer Sara Evans brings her Holiday Tour to Proctors tonight.
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Family is always a welcome addition on Sara Evans’ tours.
The country singer’s brother, Matt Evans, is her backing band’s bassist and leader. Her mom is her hairdresser and makeup artist. And Evans’ three children, who were pretty much raised on the road, join her on most tours.
“All three of my children learned how to walk on a tour bus,” Evans said from her home in Birmingham, Ala., less than a week away from the start of her holiday tour, which heads to Proctors tonight.
“They love missing school to go on the road. What they don’t love is doing their schoolwork on the road — it’s very hard to get them to sit down and do it. Then I’ll say,
‘If you don’t do your work, you can’t travel with me,’ and so they’re like, ‘Fine.’ ”
When: 8 p.m. tonight
Where: Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady
How Much: $50-$20
More Info: 346-6204, www.proctors.org
Evans has always had a strong family connection in her musical life, singing along with her six siblings in her family’s band by the time she was 5. Brother Matt has been Evans’ songwriting partner and musical director since the two moved to Nashville from their home state of Missouri in the early ’90s.
“He’s truly one of my best friends on the planet, and has always had my back,” Evans said. “He’s three years older than me, so we have this great working relationship — I respect him as my older brother, and because I’m his boss, he respects me, too. But it’s a great mutual friendship — people are always saying we’re like Donny and Marie [Osmond].”
With her holiday tour, the family focus is highlighted even further. Half of her set will feature her hits, including “Born to Fly,” “Suds in the Bucket” and “A Real Fine Place to Start,” with the other half focusing on classic Christmas songs such as “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” the title track to last year’s holiday EP made up of songs previously recorded by Evans.
Fun first time around
This is only Evans’ second holiday tour, following last year’s in conjunction with the EP release. At first, she was actually a bit wary of the idea of mounting a holiday show.
“We did this last year; it was primarily on the West Coast, and I wasn’t sure what I would think about doing a Christmas tour,” Evans said. “It turned out to be so much fun, and just a really great change for us to be able to sing songs that aren’t the hits.
“Also, just to get everybody in the Christmas spirit — it sounds kind of cheesy, but when you perform these songs, you really do start to remember things. Many nights, I’ve kind of choked up singing these songs. It’s very nostalgic; you kind of remember what it’s all about.”
Evans will have plenty of new material to tackle on the road this time out. “Stronger,” her first all-new studio album since 2005’s “Real Fine Place,” is due to be released early next year, with two singles, “Feels Just Like a Love Song” and “A Little Bit Stronger,” already released to radio.
During the interim period, Evans released “Greatest Hits,” which featured four new songs, in 2007. Evans also divorced longtime husband Craig Schelske that year, marrying radio show host Jay Barker the following summer. These changes contributed to the album’s delay.
“I haven’t made any new music, released any new music, in almost three years,” Evans said. “I got married and moved to Birmingham, and with all those changes I had a lot of adjusting to do. I decided not to release any new music because I knew I wouldn’t have the heart to go out and promote it properly, and I didn’t want to leave my husband to go on tour. I still don’t want to leave him, but I feel more settled; things are in motion in Birmingham.”
A novel idea
In addition, Evans published her first novel, “Sweet By and By,” early this year. It’s the first in a series of three novels, with a story focusing on a mother-daughter relationship in the South. The second is due out in January.
“When I was approached about writing this novel, I thought, ‘Well, I’ll take this meeting, but there’s no way that I can write a novel’ — you know, I’m creative, but I’m not that creative,” Evans said. “But I went away, thinking about it, praying about it, asking myself what I could write about, and then it came to me. I will write a story that is similar to all of my favorite stories and movies, which are all Southern-inspired, like ‘Steel Magnolias’ or ‘The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.’ ”
The past few years have been a heavily creative time for the singer, in her music as well. Evans co-wrote about six songs on the album, with Matt and producers Nathan Chapman and Tony Brown. It’s the most she’s written for an album in a while, as “Real Fine Place” featured mostly outside writing credits due to the birth of Evans’ third child.
“It’s just fun, but it’s exhausting,” Evans said of the songwriting process. “Usually it’s me getting together with one or two other people, starting around 10 o’clock. We all come with ideas, and we’ll come to a conclusion about which idea we want to write. Sometimes it’s an all-day-into-night affair; sometimes the song writes itself and we’re done in three hours.”
Still enjoys the ‘wows’
Since first hitting the national country scene with her traditional sounding debut album “Three Chords and the Truth,” Evans has been a fixture on both the country and pop crossover charts, with at least four No. 1 hit singles in her career. But no matter how many songs she writes, the thrill she gets when one of those songs hits the charts has not diminished.
“Especially when we write a song that ends up going on the album, and then it ends up as a single, and then it becomes a hit,” Evans said. “Then it’s like, ‘Wow, I remember how the entire process started.’ Like, it was just one sentence that somebody said that inspired this song, and to see those songs make it all the way to where everybody in America knows it, is just such a great feeling of accomplishment.”
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SISTER’S CHRISTMAS CATECHISM @ PROCTORS, 12/7/10
December 7, 2010 at 11:14 pm by Michael Eck
by Michael Eck
Special to The Times Union
SCHENECTADY – Nuns are funny. Not while you’re in school, trembling from the ruler, mind you, but after the fact, nuns are funny.
That, at least, is the message of the entertainment world, where properties like “Sister Act,” “Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You” and the “Nunsense” franchise have been making lapsed Catholics laugh for years.
“Sister’s Christmas Catechism: The Mystery of the Magi’s Gold” is part of another franchise — “Late Night Catechism” — and the show is at Proctors, in the GE Theatre, through Sunday.
Nonie Newton-Breen plays Sister, a role she’s been inhabiting (pun intended) for years. Plays is the right word, too. Portrays would be a bit too strong, because the show is every bit as much stand-up comedy as it is theater.
From the start Newton-Breen works the crowd, improvising quick returns to their responses to her questions. And like a good comic, she remembers names and traits, returning to them when she needs extra fodder.
One hapless gent, Mike, for example, ended up a riff throughout the evening. Catholic school, with its uptight rules and grand hypocrisies, is easy to skewer, so Newton-Breen does just that — right down to giving out little prizes to audience volunteers, of which there are plenty.
She does use a script, penned by franchise founder Maripat Donovan, but it’s actually more of a frame.
The focus of this piece — the requisite holiday show — is the story of the nativity. It’s splashed up with a mystery of who took the Magi’s gold, but that’s just a MacGuffin to keep the jokes going.
What makes the bit funny is that Newton-Breen drags members of the audience down and dresses them up in outlandish outfits (like a bathmat, bulldog clips and a toilet seat cover for the sheep) in order to make them act out the scene.
In an age old routine she gets bits out of the volunteers’ day jobs, finding her own gold on Tuesday when she pulled two priests out of the crowd.
“I didn’t see you hiding out,” she said to a cleric from Amsterdam, “or I would have gotten to you earlier.”
What makes this piece alive is that it’s fresh each night, even if most of the jokes are dusty. Newton-Breen’s delivery is wry, knowing and even at its darkest, still kind.
It’s also anchored by the fact that the franchise actually does raise funds for retired nuns, with Newton-Breen giving a moving post-show curtain speech about the show’s efforts.
If you plan on going, bring friends. It’s definitely the kind of comedy where is more is merrier, especially if a member of your party accidentally lands onstage.
SISTER’S CHRISTMAS CATECHISM
Performance reviewed: 7: 30 p.m. Tuesday
Where: GE Theatre, Proctors, 432 State Street, Schenectady
Running time: 2 hours; one intermission
Continues: 7:30 Wednesday through Sunday. 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Info: Info: 346-6204; http:/www.proctors.org.
Proctors: On & Off Stage
What's red and white? 1) Santa 2) wine festival
By Judy Decker
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
When someone asks me about my job at Proctors, I tell them that I get to have the most fun at work!
As special events manager, I always have a party in the works. Sometimes more than one! Catchy titles, fun themes: All are part of a day’s work.
To be sure, there is also the hard work that goes along with the fun of bringing an idea to life. Things such as linens and wine glasses, or invitation ordering and hiring the band, take time and effort. Yet, nothing quite matches the feeling of seeing what started out as an idea come to life on the day of the event!
On Sunday, Dec. 5, for instance, the Theatre Guild at Proctors hosted its annual "Lunch With Santa" before the matinee performance of Northeast Ballet’s "The Nutcracker." The intimate GE Theatre at Proctors was set with round tables decked out with festive red and green linens, seasonal greenery and holiday centerpieces.
Lights twinkled on the buffet table spread with child-friendly lunch selections from Home Style Caterers. But the star of this show was the big man himself, Santa, who lingered at each table and visited with each of the 215 guests. Did I already tell you that I do have the most fun? It was wonderful.
From the formal 2010 season-opening gala on the recently named Apkarian Stage to our cleverly titled "Franks n Steins" (a hot dog and brew party during the run of "Young Frankenstein"), there is rarely a dull moment.
Now that Santa has left the building, what’s next you ask? Valentine’s weekend is just around the bend and with it comes the third annual "Capital Region Wine Festival – Romancing the Grape," on Feb 11 & 12. Talk about fun!! With wines from around the world and around the state, the festival gives wine enthusiasts a terrific experience of wine tasting. Of course, all that wine sipping needs the balance of fine food. The festival offers samplings from our area’s great restaurants, many with an international flair. Throw in some chocolate and dessert samplings and you have a Valentine’s weekend to be remembered.
The festival opens with the grand opening reception on the Apkarian stage in the main theatre with the music of Sonny & Perley, and beautifully presented and delicious hors d’oeuvres. Charles Krug Wines -– this year celebrating 100 years of fine winemaking -- will kick off the two-day celebration with a taste of their wines and a taste of their history as well. Then, guests are off to the participating restaurant of their choice for a "Romancing the Grape" menu, specially selected for the evening.
Saturday is the grand tasting -- and grand it is!! I’ve spoken to many of the participating wineries and restaurants and they are getting ready to “bring it!” The weekend is overflowing with great wines and savory foods. The events come to a close with a champagne reception and live auction featuring fabulous wine to please both the oenophile and the everyday wine explorer.
I hope you join me. Together we can say “I had the most fun at Proctors!”
Judy Decker has served as special events manager at Proctors for more than three years. During that time, she has worked closely with the Theatre Guild at Proctors, a 200-person volunteer group that works on fundraising events and hosting VIP members of theatre in the historic Delack Guild Room at Proctors. (The Theatre Guild at Proctors celebrates its 20th year this season.) In addition to the Guild events, Decker manages the annual Craft Festival and Wine Festival attended by more than 1,000 patrons. All told, she says, she shepherded more than 50 events -- and counting -- so far!
To read more about the third annual "Capital Region Wine Festival –- Romancing the Grape," on Feb. 11 & 12, or other events at Proctors, click HERE.
Taking Flight: Just about everything except The Karamazov Brothers flies at their zany shows
By Jennifer Abel/Explore
Published: 05:15 p.m., Monday, November 29, 2010
Since they call themselves The Flying Karamazov Brothers, you might expect the troupe of performers appearing at Proctors Theatre on January 22 to be trapeze-swinging refugees from a Russian novel, rather than the comedy jugglers they actually are. (Their motto, by contrast, nods in the direction of French philosophy: Juglito ergo sum: I juggle, therefore I am.) So when I chatted with co-founder Paul Magid, a.k.a. Dmitri, the first thing I asked was how a group of performers originally from Santa Cruz, California came to name themselves after airborne Dostoyevsky characters.
Magid laughs. "It's a funny story. In the old days -- when Nixon was President -- we were hitchhiking, which is how we got to our shows then. We got a ride with Mary Sullivan, the niece of Ed Sullivan."
Back then, Magid says, the group "had names like 'Tuck and Roll,'" but only until they found something better. "At the 1974 World Expo in Spokane, we were sitting outside Mary's van. Howard had read The Brothers Karamazov."
During the free-floating conversation that follows, Howard draws parallels between each character in Dostoyevsky's novel and the band of jugglers at the World Expo. Nearly four decades later, here's how the troupe explains it on their website: "Mark Ettinger (Alexei) is our resident musician, composer and conductor. Rod Kimball (Pavel) is our master juggler. Paul Magid (Dmitri) is our writer, director, and founder. Nick Flint (Maximov) is our media savant. Stephen Bent (Zossima) is exceptionally tall."
So they became the Flying Karamazov Brothers, though they chose their name based on a false assumption. "Being college students, they had no idea that most Americans had neither read the novel nor even heard of Dostoevsky; they never imagined that they were setting themselves up for a lifetime of being asked where their trapezes were and complimented on how well they spoke English."
As Magid ruefully observes years later, "We had a small joke: that we could always change it." They never did.
Howard Patterson and Paul Magid originally met at the University of California at Santa Cruz. "It was a school that didn't have grades, so we could do lots of shows." Despite the no-grade system (they did pass/fail instead), Magid still graduated valedictorian before becoming a full-time performer, somewhat to the dismay of his parents. "No, they didn't like that," he laughs. "I was supposed to be a doctor." It took them awhile to come around. "I think it was not until we were on Broadway in 1983."
So would Magid characterize the modern Karamazovs as comedy jugglers or juggling comedians? He pauses before answering. "I'd say we're a modern commedia dell'arte troupe ... our niche is we have no niche." They don't merely perform but interact with the audience, too. One of their best-known audience-participation acts is "the Gamble."
"We bet the audience a standing ovation against a pie in the face," says Magid. "The bet is to juggle any three objects heavier than an ounce, lighter than ten pounds, and smaller than a breadbox ... nothing alive and nothing to make the Champ stop being alive." If the three items are juggled for a count of ten the audience owes a standing ovation; should anything fall, flying pies join the flying Karamazovs on stage.
Another routine is called "Jazz," which Magid says is based on musical theory although there's no actual music; instead the performers talk constantly throughout an improv juggling routine. "Four people, one person passing to three others, the drummer who keeps the beat, the guy in the middle like the bass player ... it's the visual equivalent of jazz."
Whatever else you can expect to see when the Karamazovs perform at Proctors, don't expect flawless perfection. "Our theory is, juggling is dropping. The tension: Are those things gonna stay up in the air? When they fall to the ground, we describe that as juggling." The show is also suitable for all ages: "A two-year-old will love our show, a 20-year-old will love it for different reasons, a 92-year-old for different reasons again."
The Flying Karamazov Brothers: will appear Saturday, January 22 at the Mainstage at Proctors Theatre in Schenectady. Tickets are $20, $25, $30 and $35. They will also appear Saturday, March 5 at Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington, Mass. Tickets are $15 (children under 15), $32 (members), and $37.
NYSTI's many benefits face extinction
By TOM KEYSER STAFF WRITER
Published: 12:39 a.m., Sunday, December 5, 2010
Ebenezer Scrooge opened the New York State Theatre Institute's "A Christmas Carol" this weekend with a bitter "Bah! Humbug!" Then, of course, he is visited by Christmas ghosts and transformed into a warm, kind and generous man.
Employees and supporters of NYSTI are hoping for similar visitations by benevolent souls, humans preferably, to help them avoid extinction at the end of the year. Unless the institute raises $200,000 by Dec. 31 -- an unlikely prospect because only $30,000 has been raised so far -- "A Christmas Carol" will be its last production, says David Bunce, a veteran NYSTI actor-teacher and its interim leader.
Created by the state Legislature in 1974 as an educational component to schools -- and funded largely by the state ever since -- NYSTI is suffering from a confluence of events that Bunce calls the perfect storm: a scandal involving its founder and producing artistic director, the state's fiscal crisis and a change of administrations in Albany.
Its mission for 36 years has been to educate students about theater and to use theater to excite them about learning. But NYSTI, based in Troy, has enough money to operate only until the end of the month, Bunce says. Its state funding for next year has been eliminated.
The theater-teaching troupe -- all state employees -- is ill-equipped to raise a lot of money, especially in a short time. Because it has received funding from the state, it has never created a fundraising office or had a grant-writer on staff. Bunce, who accepted the job of interim producing artistic director in May, says he has been meeting with corporate leaders and state legislators trying to save the company.
"We're between a rock and a hard place," Bunce says. "The state wants to see the private support to say, 'OK, if people are willing to give money then they really do want this program badly enough for us to take a look at it.' But the private people are saying, 'Yeah, but if the state support's not there I don't know if I want to donate.'"
Even if NYSTI were to raise $200,000, that would finance the institute for only the first three months of 2011. The hope then would be that Gov.-elect Andrew Cuomo would reinstate NYSTI funding in his budget.
Cuomo's executive budget won't come out until the third week in January. And by then, most likely, "we're gone," Bunce says.
NYSTI's demise would be an irreplaceable loss for the Capital Region and a black eye for the state, says Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill, producing artistic director at Capital Repertory Theatre.
"I think people need to understand that NYSTI is a state authority dedicated to the arts," she says. "And New York state has the richest legacy of theater in the entire United States. We are the top of the line.
"But when that kind of funding goes away, when that authority goes away, what does that tell us about our state's commitment to the arts, about the importance of the arts in our culture right now? Regardless of how you feel about leadership at institutions, look at the bigger picture."
Leadership is what got NYSTI in trouble. In April, the state inspector general released a report that concluded that Patricia Snyder, NYSTI's founder and producing artistic director for 36 years, had engaged in nepotism, self-enrichment and questionable spending of state funds. Snyder resigned, as did NYSTI's board of directors. Gov. David Paterson replaced the board with mostly members of his senior staff.
"NYSTI's role is critical," says Susan Scrimshaw, president of The Sage Colleges; NYSTI uses Russell Sage College's Schacht Fine Arts Center for its productions. "It doesn't just expose students to theater. It's teaching theater. I think losing NYSTI would be a terrible loss for our schools."
In March, NYSTI performed "Romeo and Juliet" set in modern-day Iraq. The young lovers were from Sunni and Shiite families.
"So it became a teaching tool for what's going on in the Middle East," Scrimshaw says.
The same with "The Miracle Worker," she says, as a teaching teacher tool for language and non-verbal communication, or "The Diary of Anne Frank" as a teaching tool for the Holocaust.
"All the lessons that have come through this program are so important," she says.
Also, she says, when you eliminate aspects of children's education that have to do with creativity, then you're decreasing children's ability to think.
"Without creativity, you're not a good thinker," she says. "You're not the kind of person who's going to do what has been so successful for this country, which is to be entrepreneurs and innovators."
Philip Morris, CEO of Proctors, agrees. He says the potential loss of NYSTI comes "at a time when every futurist, employment consultant, everybody talking about employment in America says the same thing, that the skills kids need in the future are going to be skills of analysis, communication and collaboration. And the arts are probably the most significant honer of those skills."
Morris, Scrimshaw and Mancinelli-Cahill have all met with Bunce about what will happen if NYSTI dies. Scrimshaw says Russell Sage already contributes about $500,000 in-kind per year by providing the theater, maintaining it, paying for heating and electricity, and providing space for costume storage.
"We're not in a position to do more," she says. "I wish we were. But this is a tough time for everybody."
In return, NYSTI actors, directors, set designers and other professionals teach classes at the college, and Sage students act and participate in productions and serve as interns.
"That's been a very important selling point for our theater program," she says. "We're one of only five on the whole Eastern seaboard that has that kind of relationship. So we're very concerned about the impact on our theater program if NYSTI closes."
Morris and Mancinelli-Cahill say their organizations, which already offer extensive programs for children, could take over some of what NYSTI does, but not all of it.
"We're looking at how we can work together," Mancinelli-Cahill says. "But it won't happen overnight. And it won't happen without people putting some money back in.
"Can we do the volume and intensity of what NYSTI does? No. You can't just take $3.5 million away and expect that all the services will be instantly picked up, and you won't feel a loss. And anybody who thinks you can is kidding themselves."
That was NYSTI's annual budget, $3.5 million -- about $3 million from the state and about $500,000 from tickets sales and tuition. The institute has put together a three-year plan that would cut its budget next year to $2.5 million.
The savings would come from not having to pay the employees who, in the wake of this year's troubles, took early retirement, got laid off or found other jobs. From a staff of 28 in the spring, NYSTI is down to 15. Also, Bunce says, NYSTI could save money by hiring consultants rather than full-time employees.
Of that proposed $2.5 million next year, the state would provide $1.5 million, and NYSTI, through fundraising, would provide $1 million. The state's share the next two years would decrease to $1.35 million and $1.25 million as NYSTI ramped up its fundraising initiatives.
"We're going to keep fighting to the very end," Bunce says. "But if we don't find a save, if we don't work this out, then Dec. 31 is our last day, for everyone."
Tom Keyser can be reached at 454-5448 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
"A Christmas Carol"
When: Through Dec. 19; 10 a.m. Tuesday through Friday and Dec. 14-16; 2 p.m. today, next Sunday and Dec. 19; 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday, Dec. 17 and 18
Where: Schacht Fine Arts Center, 5 Division St., Russell Sage College, Troy
Tickets: $22 adult, $18 senior citizens and students, $12 children and students 12 and under (25 percent discount for groups of 10 or more)
Info: 274-3256, http://www.nysti.org
What NYSTI does
Produces six or seven plays per year; 10 a.m. school-day performances are attended by about 32,000 students and teachers, weekend performances by about 12,000 adults.
Works with teachers to coordinate plays with curriculum; provides teachers a detailed study guide for each production; sends actors or professionals affiliated with production into schools beforehand to introduce students to what they'll be seeing; conducts class afterward about what they saw.
Conducts professional-development workshops for teachers.
Provides acting and technical assistance to schools putting on plays.
Performs smaller production in schools; it's currently winding up a four-person play about bullying called "The B-Bomb Show" that began in October.
Runs a Theatre Arts School on Saturdays.
Runs two summer programs for students -- three-week SummerStage and four-week Summer Theatre Institute.
Runs a February program in circus skills called WinterStage.
Provides internships for college and graduate students, high-school seniors and educators-in-residence.
This story is part of a new and ongoing series of stories examining the effect the economy is having on arts in the Capital Region.
City native's band releases song/video 'Schenectady' (with video)
Friday, December 3, 2010
By Kathleen Moore (Contact)
A still photo from the music video "Schenectady" by the group Yarn.
A Brooklyn band has released a music video about the city that used to light and haul the world.
The song is titled “Schenectady.”