CLIFTON PARK, N.Y. — After multiple public tours of the 37-acre site proposed for the Town Center Park, two visioning charettes, and one design workshop, the next step in the process is the presentation of potential designs.
Yet one group in town feels their suggestions for what to put in the park have fallen on deaf ears and if their pleas are not considered seriously with all the others, they believe the community as a whole will be less well off.
The town’s theater troupe, 'Not So Common Players', has had a presence on the site tours, the charettes, and at the design workshop. At each one, the troupe’s representatives have made it clear to anyone who would listen that they believe the town needs and deserves a community arts center on a small section of parkland.
Next year the acting troupe will celebrate its 20th anniversary. For two decades the group has begged and borrowed venues for building its sets, holding rehearsals, and performing the dramas, comedies, and musicals which are offered free to the community. Now, as the troupe continues the search for a permanent home, its members are asking for the community’s support in designating a small section of the proposed park for just that.
“We want a community center with a theater; one that has permanent seats, a stage, and a backstage area,” said longtime board member Sally Burke. “Every community around us has one and for a town, this size, with 37,000 people, to not have one is just a shame. Forty-three years after being promised one we’re still moving from space to space.”
Burke, along with fellow board member Pat O’Donnell, and board chairwoman Elisa Harrington-Verb, would like to see a start towards such a facility by having a three to four-acre slice of the parkland designated for a community arts center.
They envision a facility that has a community center space for groups to use, classrooms for artistic endeavors such as dance classes and art classes, spaces for set building and rehearsals, and a proper theater like the 250-seat Shenendehowa High School Little Theater.
Presently, the group builds its sets in an unused structure owned by the town, rehearses and stores its sets in space donated by Windsor Development, and performs wherever it can find an inexpensive performance area.
“The [Clifton Park-Halfmoon] library has been great about allowing us to use their second-floor programming room for free but we can only get about 120 seats in there,” Burke said. “When we had our performances of “Nunsense” we had to turn about 100 people away.”
The town has budget has included a $50,000 grant to the group in recent years, which allows the troupe to put on three free shows a year. However, the payment of royalties and other expenses for the shows is not cheap. Burke said the smaller shows cost around $15,000 to $20,000 each to produce while the largest one, the summer performance, costs upwards of $25,000.
“We couldn’t do any of this without the support of the town,” she said. “Supervisor [Philip] Barrett has been very supportive of us. And Bob Miller [Windsor Development] and Don Greene [DCG Development Company] have been great too by providing us space for rehearsals, for set storage, and for our Children’s Theater class but we need an arts center with a stage.”
Though the troupe seems to have no problem drawing actors to auditions, getting directors can pose a problem. Many times when a particular play is being discussed with a potential director the troupe can’t give him or her any idea where it will be performed because they don’t know themselves.
Harrington-Verb said the installation and removal of the sets, lighting and sound equipment for the plays puts a burden on everyone connected to the shows.
“The logistics of storing, packing, moving and installing our lights, sets and sound equipment for every show and then reversing the whole process to move everything back into storage at the is not only labor and time intensive, it is putting us at a disadvantage when it comes to finding qualified technical experts willing to work on our shows,” she said. “Not having a home base theater means our technicians work exponentially harder and longer than technicians at other theater companies.”
She believes the quality of the shows would be much better, and the grant from the town would go further with a community arts center.
“Not So Common Players has been a vagabond theater group for 19 years,” Harrington-Verb said. “We are perhaps the best attended cultural endeavor that takes place in Clifton Park.”
O’Donnell noted that if a community arts center was built it could be rented out to bring in revenue.
“It wouldn’t be a theater just for Not So Common Players,” she said. “There are a lot of dance companies and other performers out there always looking for spaces to perform.”
In discussing the desire for such a facility as part of the design of the Town Center Park, O’Donnell added that the emphasis in the town seems to be on outdoor activities.
“This is a great place to live, work, and play, but you can only play outside,” she said.
Burke was more emphatic that the town has enough trails and designating out a few acres of land as a start towards a community arts center wouldn’t dampen anyone’s love of nature.
“There are plenty of trails for people to go out and walk and see the trees and the birds,” she said. “We perform for many seniors in this town, and a lot of them will never use those trails they are talking about putting in that park. They get enjoyment from our performances. This community has good theater, and it needs a home.”