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Home away from home: the Hyde Collection in Glens Falls.

Traveling Players

This summer, the Adirondack Theatre Festival is producing four plays in five different places—not one of them a conventional theater. The ATF’s home, the Woolworth Theatre in Glens Falls, is undergoing necessary renovations for a scheduled opening next season. “This is a make-it-or-break-it season for us,” says producing director David Turner, explaining that “we chose the plays first, and the venue for the particular production came a close second.”

Save for three performances of the solo piece It Goes Without Saying at the Tannery Pond Community Center 45 minutes away in North Creek, the other four venues are within 15 minutes of the Woolworth Theatre. The most spectacular of the settings is the Lake George Recreation Center on route 9N, “atop what old-time Lake Georgers would know as the town dump,” Turner says, turning up a steep, crumbling blacktop road to probably the most gorgeous set of any production this season. While no trace of the dump remains, it seems that at one time even the garbage of Lake George had a great view. “They’re going to be blown away by this setting,” he continues. “Martha Bantu and I discovered it ice skating three years ago.”

The world premiere of The Lake’s End, a play set in Italy during the rise of fascism in the 1930s (which Bantu discovered during a residency at Dartmouth University last summer), will appropriately overlook the southern end of Lake George. The mountains provide the setting with a grandeur impossible for a set designer to re-create. “We’ll spray for bugs,” Turner says of the birch-and-pines-bordered spot. “There’s a nice breeze that kicks in around 8 o’clock the last three times I’ve driven up here; scaffolding will be built here [on what are currently basketball courts] for seats, and two tons of these patio stones will be laid.” Though ATF won’t promote it as such, the venue begs for people to bring picnic baskets and enjoy the view hours before The Lake’s End opens.

The other three venues are within five minutes of each other in Glens Falls. There is the Hyde Collection Auditorium, which was the venue for ATF’s Art in 2001. The Parish House of the Episcopal Church of the Messiah will host the East Coast premiere of the musical Bingo—“with a working electronic bingo board” Turner proudly demonstrates, complete with numbered ping-pong balls worthy of Yolanda Vega’s presence. The grittiest of the venues is the former warehouse of Adirondack Scenic, Inc., a three-story faded brick building around the corner from ATF’s offices. ATF’s current scene shop is at one end of the warehouse, and the snarl of circular saws in the background competes with Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas (bizarrely playing in one of the offices) as Turner completes a tour of this bare-bones space. The warehouse will be the setting for Yasmina Reza’s (Art’s playwright) The Unexpected Man. The performance area, with its two-story-high windows and freight elevator, screams “industrial” the same way The Lake’s End’s setting whispers “pastoral.”

“The Woolworth building has to be renovated,” Turner says. “We may regret it ultimately [using five different venues], but this is what we’ve been doing the past eight years, making the most out of nothing.”

—James Yeara

Rolled Over Beethoven

Regular listeners tuning in to WMHT-FM (89.1 and 88.7) last Thursday (June 12) discovered that most of voices they were used to hearing were gone. The Capital Region’s only full-time classical public radio station fired almost all of its on-air announcers and began taking much of its programming from satellite service Classical 24, a joint venture of Minnesota Public Radio and Public Radio International.

Gone were announcers Larry Nuckolls, Eric Willette, Mary Fairchild and longtime host Lawrence Boylan. These four announcers, combined, hosted 58 hours of classical music programming per week. In addition to this, three hosted locally produced, weekly one-hour shows, underlining the depth of knowledge and expertise WMHT will no longer have. Boylan’s The American Sound was a cross-genre survey of “America’s rich musical heritage.” Brave New Music was Nuckolls’ look at contemporary classical music. (Nuckolls is also a composer, and his works have been performed locally.) Operatic tenor Willette—who, according to the not-yet-removed station biography, has performed with the New York City and San Francisco Opera companies—hosted A Singer’s Note-book, which explored a wide variety of vocal music.

When reached for comment, Fairchild summed up her sense of loss: “It used to be a first-class radio station.”

Marcy Stryker, director of communications for WMHT television and radio, notes that some local programming remains. The station will be live weekday mornings from 6 to 10 AM, with either radio vice-president Christopher Wienk or operations supervisor Bill Winans serving as announcer; a new, one-hour weekday program to be called Bach’s Lunch will debut soon with an as-yet-undetermined host; and the current program No Ticket Required, which consists of taped broadcasts of recent local concerts, will remain.

The reason for the wholesale layoff, according to Stryker, is money. As previously reported in Metroland (“Last Light,” May 29), WMHT is undergoing extreme financial stress. Stryker says that the radio station operated at a deficit of $503,000 in 2002, and is projected to run a deficit of $400,000 this year. (Stryker says that the TV and radio stations are operating at a combined deficit of $300,000 so far this year.) The goal, she says, is to reach the break-even point in 2004.

Critics contend that the station is top-heavy with administrators, however, and point out that a hiring freeze instituted last year seems no longer to be in effect—WMHT television had a job opening for Art Director posted on its Web site as recently as last week.

When asked if the drastically reduced local character of WMHT-FM might cause regular listeners to tune out and the number of memberships to decline, Stryker admits “that is a concern.” She says firmly, however, that WMHT is not giving up on classical music: “We’re committed to the format.”

Others are not so sure. If the new format does fail, WMHT conceivably could drop classical music, or, more likely, sell its valuable spot on the dial. For now, however, you can still enjoy classical music on WMHT; it’s just that most of it originates in Minnesota, not at the station’s home in Rotterdam.

—Shawn Stone

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