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From Glens Falls to Broadway

Two of Capital Repertory Theatre’s productions this year, the season opener Proof and the holiday presentation Fully Committed, are among the most produced plays by Equity theaters in the country this year. But the popular Fully Committed has regional roots—it had its debut production in 1998 in Glens Falls—and is being directed by the ever-busy and ever-inventive artistic director of the Adirondack Theatre Festival, Martha Banta. Banta at least eschews the safer road for the more adventurous path, with full support from the powers that be at Capital Rep.

“We talked about finding an actor who had played Sam before, but I didn’t want to direct something that was someone else’s idea,” Banta said in a recent phone interview, between directing the third rehearsal of Fully Committed in NYC and running off to a dress rehearsal for Blue Window, which she was directing at the Juilliard School. “It would be cheating if we had used someone who had done the play before. It’s a one-man show, and the memorization is quite an ordeal. But I’d just be taking their money if an actor who had someone else’s directions and choices played Sam.” As Fully Committed is a one-actor, 90-minute show about the trials and tribulations of taking reservations at a trendy Manhattan restaurant, Sam is the show.

While Banta didn’t direct the inaugural 1998 production at ATF, she had seen the first staged reading earlier in that year in NYC, and had seen the subsequent Off-Broadway run with cocreator Mark Setlock. “Becky Mode (the credited author of the play) and Mark went to school, and Mark would be the first to tell you that he’s an actor, not a writer. It’s interesting for me: I saw it through its paces—the rewrites—but I hadn’t directed because I couldn’t get Mark’s version out of my head. Then Maggie [Mancinelli-Cahill, Capital Rep’s artistic director] suggested it, and they were tremendously supportive when Oliver Wadsworth was cast.” Banta has worked with Wadsworth in ATF’s Art and The Deal. “He’s the first person I thought of; he’s the most specific actor I know for character development, and that’s vital in a play like this. Oliver is just an incredibly diligent actor. He just finished an Arizona production of Angels in America, and leapt into this. Three rehearsals and he’s already grasped 6 or 7 of the 37 characters he has to play. It’s physically demanding: The phone rings constantly, and Oliver has to physically create both characters and both sides of the conversation.”

Though Banta has spent time as a high-schooler in Glens Falls and as ATF’s artistic director as an adult, Albany is new territory for her. “I’m excited to be working upstate. People who go to theater upstate bring a fresh perspective that’s willing to be open to [a production] till it’s over. That’s very different from New York, where people have seen everyone do everything and have made up their minds before sitting down.”

—James Yeara

Putting Up a Good Front

Plans for an addition are in the works at Albany’s Steamer No. 10 Theatre, and thanks to some generous supporters, the construction project could be breaking ground soon. Ric Chesser, the theater’s manager, says that once the proper building permits are in place, construction of a new entranceway and lobby at the Steamer No. 10 will begin.

A challenge grant awarded to Steamer No. 10 by the Wright Family Foundation is largely responsible for making the proposed building project economically feasible. The Wright Family Foundation, a Schenectady nonprofit group, offered to match every dollar raised independently by Steamer No. 10, up to $10,000. Chesser says the organization has raised about $3,000 so far, and he’s encouraged that it will meet the $10,000 mark.

Additional support has been pledged by the Bricklayers Local #2, which has offered to use the Steamer No. 10 project as a training site for its apprentices. This means that much of the brickwork will be done at no cost to the theater; this donation amounts to roughly $20,000 more, estimates Chesser.

Once complete, the new entranceway will be hard to miss. Designed by Townsend Associates through the City of Albany’s C-1 Neighborhood Improvement Program, the addition will resemble a fantasy castle. Steamer No. 10 is primarily a children’s theater, and the castle-inspired design is meant to illustrate the theater’s ongoing commitment to kids.

But preservationists needn’t worry about the construction of an incongruous eyesore. Design elements from the historic 19th-century firehouse the theater occupies will be incorporated into the new entranceway. The work will be done in brick, and the planned castlelike towers will be reminiscent of the existing hose tower. “We’ve been very involved with the neighborhood association; [we’ve] talked to people about what we were planning on doing and gotten feedback,” said Chesser.

The new addition will surround and extend out from the existing entranceway on Western Avenue. It will serve as a lobby, which is good news for winter theatergoers, and be large enough to accommodate receptions and fundraisers.

Steamer No. 10 supporters are excited about the renovations going on at the theater and hope they can afford to make more improvements in the future. “The new entrance is all we’re aiming for right now,” said Chesser, “But at some point we’d like to replace the windows, which are state of the art for 1891.”

—Paul Hamill

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