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Theater in the County’s Nooks and Crannies

Schoolhouse Theater (photo courtesy of Schoolhouse Theater)
Schoolhouse Theater (photo courtesy of Schoolhouse Theater)

In the unassuming recesses of Westchester County, where one might not expect to encounter a theater production, the artistic spirit lives and breathes.  Throughout the County, theater companies have staked their claim on unexpected locations, and the result is a unique experience for their audiences.

On a quiet hill in Croton Falls sits an old schoolhouse building, now the home to the Schoolhouse Theater. Artistic Director Bram Lewis recalls when he invited friend Laurel Massé, a founding member of music group The Manhattan Transfer, to visit. “She looked at the building, nodded her head and said, “Yep, I thought so. This is where I went to Kindergarten.” Buildings such as these are engrained in their communities and tied to its history. Now this schoolhouse serves the community through artistic performances. The upcoming production of The Amish Project, running from Oct. 3-20, tackles the topic of school shootings through a fictional account of a real-life event. The production’s unique location provides an unusually personal setting for a topic of such magnitude.

Meanwhile in White Plains, a local theater sits in plain sight. White Plains Performing Arts Center (WPPAC) is located in the City Center, which also houses stores like Target and ShopRite. Guests can take in a live show and get their shopping done in one fell swoop. “There’s a movie theater with several screens, but right next door, we do is live on stage,” explains General Manager Kathleen Davisson. She continues: “People don’t expect to see Broadway-quality theater at the mall. But parking isn’t expensive, restaurants are nearby, and they can do their shopping before or after the show. I’ve heard ‘while we’re here, let’s pick up some milk at Target.’” WPPAC’s next production, Aida, is based on the Tony and Grammy Award-winning Disney musical with score from Elton John and Tim Rice. The musical, complete with full costumes and set, as well as a live orchestra, runs from Oct. 11-27.

In Tarrytown, the historic estate of Lyndhurst Mansion, a 19th century Gothic manor, provides the immersive setting for site-specific works by its resident theater company, M&M Performing Arts Company.  According to Co-Founder Melinda O’Brien, “the actors tailor their performance to an unusually intimate environment that allows for greater nuance, and the audience sees something that cannot be seen anywhere else.” For a spooky time, M&M’s family-friendly seasonal production, Jay Ghoul’s House of Curiosities brings the mansion to life with Halloween decorations and eerie lighting during nighttime performances through Oct. 17-31.

Co-Artistic Director at Axial Theater, Stephen Palgon, speaks about another historic location – Axial’s home at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Pleasantville: “There is unique character that already exists in the space. The amazing stained glass windows and even the texture of the walls. We are going to continue pushing ourselves to use the church in creative new ways.” In November, Axial presents Back to the Garden, a farcical retelling of the Genesis story of Adam and Eve.

North Castle Public Library houses the Whippoorwill Hall Theatre

The fact that Hudson Stage Company (HSC) is housed in the North Castle Public Library may surprise some people; nevertheless, nestled in this community library is a state-of-the-art facility, the Whippoorwill Hall Theatre. “Our audiences are always pleasantly surprised when they walk into the lobby, and then into our theatre,” explains Denise Bessette, one of the theater’s co-founders and artistic producers.  She continues: “The space is an intimate proscenium theatre with 184 seats and excellent acoustics. It’s got handicap access, is audience-friendly and has sufficient bathroom stalls for the public, all in a welcoming environment.” From Oct. 18-Nov.2, HSC presents A Doll’s House, Part 2, a comedic play inspired by Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, which imagines Ibsen’s character Nora Helmer fifteen years later.

Last, an underutilized location in Pleasantville has had its own clever revival. Though in the midst of renovating a new larger space for its productions, Arc Stages’ temporary placement in an old warehouse has done the trick for more than 25 years. Through Oct. 13, the award-winning rock musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch tells the story of a singer who navigates a journey of love, revenge and self-acceptance after a botched sex change surgery. “Producing theatrical pieces in what was a beat up old warehouse just feels good,” says Artistic Director Adam Cohen. He explains: “It’s like we are breathing new life and energy into a forgotten building.  I have always believed that theater can be created anywhere. I suppose our efforts prove that.”

Perhaps theater is best enjoyed in the nooks and crannies of the County that need the most love and have the most heart.

A version of this article first appeared in the October issue of ArtsNews, ArtsWestchester’s monthly publication. ArtsNews is distributed throughout Westchester County. A digital copy is also available at artsw.org/artsnews.

Schoolhouse Theater (photo courtesy of Schoolhouse Theater)

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