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Act On It

April 3, 2010

by Caitlin Farrell

ALBANY NY – The first week of April kicks off many productions and performances for 2010 season at the Steamer No. 10 Theater.

(Caitlin Farrell)

Upcoming events at the theater including the daily shows for students during the break in April, followed by C.A.S.T. spring and summer programs, and, a production of Bye Bye Birdie.

The Steamer No. 10 Theater is holding “April Vacation Daze” during the week of April 5th. Every weekday this coming week shows are scheduled at 10 a.m., 1 p.m., and sometimes at 3:30 p.m. Childrens acts are brought in from all over the country. The acts include the Tanglewood Marionettes portrayal of “Sleeping Beauty” on Monday, Rodger the Jester on Tuesday, Sill Bill Magic on Wednesday, Steamer No. 10’s own production of “Rumplestiltskin” on Thursday and Gizmo Guys on Friday. Tickets will be sold for $10 in advance and $12 at the door.

C.A.S.T. or Creative Arts at Steamer Ten is a theatrical program for children ages 8-18. They are currently working on a production called  “The Good (And Bad) Fairies of Nottingham” that will be performed the first weekend in June, after 10 weeks of practice.

“It’s a cross between ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and ‘Robin Hood,’” said Suzie Dunn, C.A.S.T. program director.

She came to Steamer No. 10 a year ago from New York City. She moved up to Albany because she wanted a slower environment for her daughter to grow up, and still have all the benefits of a city. Last summer she helped revamp the summer program by including voice and dance lessons along with acting.

Dunn is part of the permanent company at the theater along with Robert Rice, C.A.S.T.’s musical director. Both Rice and Dunn are in all of the year-round productions and they cast each time for all remaining parts. They perform each show for three consecutive weekends after their grueling two weeks of preparation. Also during this time they do school performances at schools and at the theater.

Along with preparing and performing Steamer No. 10’s productions Rice and Dunn teach classes to prepare for C.A.S.T. productions like called  “The Good (And Bad) Fairies of Nottingham.” According to Rice, practice runs two or three nights a week for two hours each. But because of the summer C.A.S.T. program they are here a lot more.

“In the summer we live here,” Rice said.

The summer program is in six week-long sessions where kids explore acting, singing, dancing and other parts of putting on a show. Three-fourths of the children enrolled are returning participants. According to Dunn it’s pretty popular and is continually growing.

Also this summer there will be an adult and childrens production of “Bye Bye Birdie.” This show will be cast during June and practices will run through August when the final musical performance will take place.

“When you take into account classes, rehearsals, and other events, the building is in use on average 8 to 12 hours each day, seven days a week, 365 days a year,” said Steamer No. 10’s executive director Ric Chesser.

Evolving from the Washington Park Theatre Company, which produced and presented shows in the Capital Region from 1980 to 1990, Steamer No. 10 Theater was able to convince the city to let them rent the century old firehouse that had recently closed back in 1988.  After a three-year renovation project, the Theater was opened in 1991.

“When trying to decide upon a name for the company we looked at the building,” said Chesser. “There, carved into the brick above the engine door: AFD 1891 – STEAMER NO.10. ‘Carved in stone; that must be our name.’”

(Caitlin Farrell)

During the renovation the theater received plush old movie theatre seats from the old Hellman Theatre, formally on Washington Avenue. Those were replaced 15 years later with the help of a group of students from The College of Saint Rose. Also the masons, sheet metal workers and painters unions used the theatre as a project to train their apprentices. The renovation of the theater was a combined effort of community support in the form of donated labor, materials, grants, and financial donations.

The lobby of the theater is an addition on the existing building. As soon as they started construction there was a delay, the City of Albany, who is the owner of the building, removed an underground oil tank and found petroleum contamination.  They removed more than 500 cubic yards of contaminated soil. Because this prompted a year delay costs went up and it became more expensive to finish the work. Soon after resuming construction the mason developed cancer and left the project. Steamer No. 10 now estimates that it will cost between $100,000 and $150,000 to complete the work.  They have raised enough to complete the exterior brickwork, the roof, windows, and doors, but with the economic climate it has become hard to raise money.  On the bright side there are several contractors who have offered to donate the interior work once the exterior is complete.

Since the beginning the theater has focused on presenting and producing shows for children and families.  They work to involve children as audience, students, volunteers, as long as they get involved in the arts.

“We want them to see plays as little kids, be in plays as older kids, help out with plays as adults,” Rice said.

They consider themselves more like an arts center that has a diverse selection of programs that work to involve the entire community rather than just a theater. The range of programs they have and their enthusiasm for involvement shows this.

“We’re trying really hard to create a space where kids feel safe,” said Dunn. “To give them a chance to try stuff, create, imagine, and make it come true.”



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