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Remembering Downtown

After seeing their old commercial districts endure long, depressing declines, the three largest cities in the Capital Region have been doing their best to lure people back downtown—to play. In the development equivalent to dangling carrots in front of bunnies, arts centers, brew pubs, nightclubs, restaurants and performance venues have been restored or constructed, polished and promoted to lure suburbanites downtown. (With regard to their former vibrant shopping districts, the cities have accepted defeat.) In the old days, when most people lived in the cities—B.S., aka Before Suburbia—downtown was the only place to go.

WMHT-TV brings back these days when Albany, Schenectady and Troy bustled with activity nearly every night in the new documentary Remembering Downtown. Premiering Sunday night, the locally produced special focuses on the period in the middle of the last century when Frear’s, Barney’s and Myer’s were the places to shop, and the Palace and Proctor’s were first-run movie houses. (If you don’t recognize those names, you need to watch this special.) You might also have bumped into Mr. Peanut in front of the old Grant’s on a busy State Street in Schenectady (photo courtesy Schenectady County Historical Society). According to host Bob Cudmore, “In the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s, downtown was where you shopped, met your friends and let the hustle and bustle banish loneliness. Shopping was a social event then. There was a feeling of warmth.”

Coproduced by Cudmore and award-winning producer Steve Dunn—the pair also collaborated on The Iron Horse in Schenectady: Locomotives for the World—Remembering Downtown mixes movie clips of the “good old days” with personal reminisces by a number of local folks.

Remembering Downtown will premiere Sunday (Dec. 1) on WMHT-TV, channel 17, at 8 PM.

Cirque Éloize Nomade

This is not the circus that you remember attending as a child. You’ll find no huge tents, no smelly elephants, no overzealous ringleaders. And you probably will not get stuck to your seat, your gooey cotton candy having morphed into superglue. In a sense, you might say that this is a circus for the grown-ups, although children are just as likely to be awed by the seemingly magical feats that the performers carry out.

Nine years ago, seven graduates of Montreal’s National Circus School created an animal-free, European-style circus and called it Cirque Éloize. The performers, who are all originally from the Magdalen Islands off the coast of Quebec, chose the term éloize because it refers to sightings of heat lightning on the horizon on hot days. The troupe liken their show to the same kind of brilliance and energy that heat lightning gives off.

Cirque Éloize, which has been referred to by The New York Times as the younger sibling of the famous Cirque du Soleil, is essentially a traveling circus consisting of singers, dancers, acrobats and other entertainers. They have put on numerous productions, including Excentricus, a circus of comedy and live music centered around the inner workings of relationships, and Cirque Orchestra, in which the circus shared the stage with an orchestra, blending the arts of circus and contemporary music and dance.

The group’s latest production, Nomade, explores the similarities between the lives of nomads and the lives of circus performers. Both types of people live the majority of their lives as travelers, and both can tell stories of glamour and extravagance, but also of sadness and loneliness. The show tells the story of two groups of drifters who cross paths and initially quarrel, but eventually they get along, meanwhile displaying to the audience the “rituals of vagabond life.” The show will consist of both modern and traditional circus performers: Clowns, jugglers and trapeze artists will combine their talents with the singers, dancers and acrobats.

Cirque Éloize Nomade will come to Proctor’s Theatre (432 State St., Schenectady) on Tuesday (Dec. 3) at 7 PM. Tickets are $25, $22 and $18, and are available at 346-6204, online at, and at all TicketMaster locations.

O Christmas Trees

Tis the season for decorations of all kinds. And the most decorated item of the season, the tree, will be celebrated in a variety of festivals in our area.

The first one to mention has been open for about two weeks at the Berkshire Museum (39 South St., Pittsfield, Mass.). The museum’s galleries are filled with 200 trees decorated by local businesses and organizations. In addition to the trees, the museum also features a railroad exhibit cocurated by local model-train enthusiasts Tom Wells and Joe Ryan. There will also be an old-time G-scale train, which will wind its way through miniature trees decorated by local schoolchildren, on its way to Santa’s workshop. The museum is open daily 10 AM to 5 PM; admission is $8, $6.50 students and seniors, $5 members and children 3-18, $4 student and senior members, $3 members’ children 3-18, and free children 3 and under. For more information, call (413) 443-7171.

Another festival began this past Saturday at the Bennington Museum (West Main Street, Bennington, Vt.) and will run through Dec. 8. There are more than 80 holiday trees, wreaths and other seasonal decorations in a variety of styles on display throughout the museum. The festival is open daily 9 AM to 5 PM, and regular museum admission is charged. On Sunday (Dec. 1), the museum hosts the Festival of Trees Sugar Plum Day from 1 to 3 PM, which includes storytelling, crafts and activities geared toward the kiddies. Santa Claus will be on hand for photos, and the Sugar Plum Fairy will also visit. Admission is $4, $10 per family. On Dec. 8, the festival concludes with a Grande Finale Gala featuring a silent auction of the trees, wreaths, arrangements and gift-certificate trees. There will also be hors d’oeuvres, libations and live music. Tickets are $22, $18 members. For more information, call (802) 447-1571.

The Albany Institute of History & Art (125 Washington Ave., Albany) hosts its 19th annual Festival of Trees tomorrow (Friday) through Sunday (pictured). This year’s theme is Holiday Traditions—A Matter of Taste, inspired by the Dutch-heritage theme of Albany’s 350th Beverwijck celebration and the institute’s fall exhibitions. The festival will also include holiday decorations, Gingerbread Lane, the Holiday Express train display, an expanded holiday shop, raffle prizes, Holiday Café, face painting, Dutch tile making, arts and crafts workshops and a visit from Sinter Klaas. The festival is open Friday and Saturday (Nov. 29-30) from 10 AM to 8 PM, and Sunday (Dec. 1) from 10 AM to 5 PM. Admission is $8, $6 members, $3 children 5-12, children 4 and under free. For more information, call 463-4478.

Proctor’s Theatre (432 State St., Schenectady) will also feature their third annual Holiday Showcase. Although not a festival of trees per se, it does feature 70 trees decorated in the spirit of the season, entertainment on stage, refreshments in the Holiday Café and Santa will be available for photos (fee charged). The showcase runs 11/27-12/1 Wed, Sat-Sun 10 AM-4 PM; closed on Thu; and open Fri 10 AM-6 PM. Admission is $6, $3 children 6-12, children 5 and under free. For more information, call 346-6204.

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