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Home Sweet Home

StageWorks’ new theater is 57 steps directly southeast from Hudson’s Amtrak station. With a picturesque view of the tracks, the Hudson River, and the Catskill Mountains prominently in the distance, the new theater is three blocks from what StageWorks artistic director Laura Margolis calls “hopping Warren Street,” Hudson’s version of Lark Street filled with newly opened antique shops, boutiques, and restaurants. To be christened the Max and Lillian Katzman Theater when it opens this July, StageWorks’ space is three stories of a worn and dingy warehouse with 40,000 square feet of space for offices, stages, costume storage, scene construction, and actor housing (six bedrooms, two baths, kitchen, and recreation area on the floor above the stage), complete with off-street parking for the 100-seat theater planned for phase one of the project. “It’s a culmination of a dream,” Margolis said while adjusting a white plastic bucket under a steady drip from the ceiling.

Originally a flypaper factory 100 years ago, the industrial warehouse was donated by Richard Katzman, president and CEO of Kaz, Inc., a health-care supplier whose plant is adjacent to StageWorks’ new space. An industrial faded gray now, the former warehouse is at the bottom of the hill, the doors opening out to the steep backyards of row houses high up the hill. Warped stone retaining walls and busted chain-link fences complete the gritty street setting that is perfect for a theater company that has made a name by staging new works in gritty ways at its antiseptic former rented space 16 miles away in Kinderhook.

“This is our permanent home,” Margolis said, showing off the space while six members of the artistic staff put a basecoat of white paint on what will be the walls of the company offices. The two identical floors in the warehouse proper, dotted by blue-gray steel pillars 20 feet apart, with 12-foot-high ceilings, leave lots of space. “We will be a destination. The sign out front will say ‘StageWorks.’ We can store things here. We don’t have to take lights and sets and costumes down and schlep them to spaces from one end of Columbia County to the other. We can make our own schedule and expand the season. It’s our home.”

With an ambitious three-phase, five-year plan to ultimately have a two-story, 250-seat theater, phase one begins this year. “Come hell or high water, we open this July with some form of Play by Play. We’ve sent out personal invitations to playwrights we’ve produced in the past like Israel Horovitz [Lebensraum, 2003]and Cornelius Eady [Brutal Imagination, 2002] to create one-acts for our grand opening.”

“We’ll define our own home,” Margolis added, looking out of what will be, this July, the lobby off of Cross Street. Just off the lobby will be, within five years, a balcony garden with one of the best views in any area theater. “We will be the destination, a theater for developing new works, presenting local groups, teaching theater to high-school kids. . . . It’s a dream come true.”

—James Yeara

NYCB's Damian Woetzel.

Summer Ballet School in Jeopardy

The New York City Ballet is the central thread in a delicate and wide-ranging mesh that connects people and organizations throughout the region, New York state and beyond. As the community reacts to SPAC’s decision to evict the ballet from its summer home of nearly 40 years, Saratoga Springs residents are beginning to realize that, if the central thread is pulled, the entire fabric unravels.

One first-order effect of the possible loss of the NYCB residency is drastic change for the New York State Summer School of the Arts, School of Ballet. The School of Ballet, begun in 1976, is a four-week program for 68 of the state’s most talented ballet students. They are housed at Skidmore College and train in the Swyer studios behind the National Museum of Dance on the SPAC grounds. They learn technique, variations, character dancing and partnering, all under the artistic direction of Damian Woetzel, principal dancer of NYCB. Woetzel is assisted by faculty from the School of American Ballet, NYCB’s official school in Manhattan.

Mary Daley of the New York State Department of Education coordinates the summer institutes, which also include Saratoga-based programs in modern dance, orchestral studies, and jazz studies. Daley said that Woetzel conducted auditions in late February for the 2004 summer session.

In mid-February, Herb Chesbrough, president and executive director of SPAC, proposed to replace NYCB in 2005 and 2006 with three other, less-expensive dance companies that would perform for one week each. Daley said this would threaten the continuity and coherence of the summer ballet school. “The potential loss of NYCB raises critical questions we would have to address: What is our curriculum? Who would select the students? What criteria would the selection be based on?”

She said the school operates under the governor’s mandate and is required to offer “the highest curriculum we could find. We founded this school with City Ballet. We’ve never done it differently. The artistic director has always been a principal dancer. Without a company and a steady artistic director, how do we follow our state mandate? Dancers understand that companies have different techniques. Some techniques, you can’t mix and match.”

Daley said, “As soon as we get through auditions, we’ll be talking to Damian and the company as a whole. We don’t know what we’ll do, but we want to explore all our options.”

In Schenectady, Darlene Myers, artistic director of Northeast Ballet Company and its school, also is concerned about the potential loss of the ballet. She said, “A lot of my kids work in their productions in summer and are in the New York State Summer School of the Arts program, and I hire a lot of the NYCB dancers as guest faculty.”

The breakup will be felt in winter, too. Northeast Ballet performs one of the region’s major productions of The Nutcracker every December at Proctor’s Theatre. For decades, guest artists from NYCB have danced the principal roles of the Sugarplum Fairy and her Cavalier.

Myers said, “We have contracts out for December 2004 for Philip Neal and Maria Kowroski. Proctor’s is concerned because a lot of our Nutcracker audience is the following from the NYCB. Without the NYCB at SPAC in summer, I feel our Nutcracker is in jeopardy.”

Myers said she has a batch of Save the Ballet’s ticket pledges at her studios. “Sixty kids took them home and I expect that 59 pledges will come back,” she said.

—Mae G. Banner

The Show Goes On

Troy High School’s young crooners and hoofers have something to crow about: the hard work that went into staging this year’s school musical, Guys and Dolls, which extended far beyond the long hours at play practice.

Students and parents had to raise all of the funds necessary to stage the musical after massive budget cuts left Troy High School’s after-school activites either underfunded or unfunded [“Trouble, Right Here in River City,” Newsfront, Sept. 18, 2003]. Parents organized the Troy Boosters to raise money for their kids’ extracurriculars, and one by one, some activities were restored.

The theater students helped raise money by staging a “Broadway Revue” last October, which brought in about $3,000, enough to match a generous anonymous matching pledge for another $3,000. The remaining $6,000 needed to fund the musical came from other fund-raising activities. In total the Boosters have been able to raise about $50,000 since fall, and restored several clubs and sports teams that had been cut.

“I think we consider this a success even before the kids take the stage,” said Boosters secretary Sue Steele. “It’s just really exciting to see them on stage and see them again have that opportunity to show off their talents.”

So this Friday and Saturday (March 26-27), the curtain goes up in Veterans’ Memorial Auditorium at 7:30 PM. The ensemble cast boasts 48 students, and 15 play in the orchestra; there are about 200 students total involved with the production.

Proceeds from ads in the show’s program, as well as the $8 tickets, will go to the drama club for its future endeavors, as Steele said it looks like the same budget crunch will be repeated next year.

—Ashley Hahn


Photo by: Joe Putrock

Celebrating Freedom
The story of Elaine Bartlett’s two-decade-long journey through the criminal justice system is almost too strange and horrible to be believed. But it’s true, and has been told in the new book Life on the Outside: The Prison Odyssey of Elaine Bartlett, by Jennifer Gonnerman. On Monday, March 22, Gonnerman and Bartlett (pictured, l-r) were featured at a reception at the Corning Tower’s observation deck to celebrate the book’s publication. Also at the event: Assemblyman Jeffrion L. Aubry, Chair, Committee on Correction, and, very briefly, actor Charles Grodin. What happened to Bartlett is an almost textbook example of why the Rockefeller drug laws have proved to be an unmitigated disaster—which is probably why she’s one of the few inmates to have received a pardon from Gov. Geroge E. Pataki.

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