One of New Paltz’s most well-known theater groups, 90 Miles Off Broadway, entered its 50th anniversary year in 2014. And they’re ready to celebrate, according to Kim Lupinacci, the group’s president.
If 90 Miles is hoping for anything, it’s to exist for another 50 years and to finally have a theater to call its own, Lupinacci said.
Ideally, the future could see a merger between 90 Miles and The Arts Community — two long-serving, local non-profit arts groups — and the building of a center to house both.
“I’m hoping that the community sees what value it would be to have these two long-existing organizations with a home,” Lupinacci said. “If this town had a place like that — where everybody knows they could get high-quality classes for a low price and see performances at a reasonable rate — what a ‘New Paltzy’ place that would be. It’s amazing to think that New Paltz doesn’t have a place like that.”
So 2014 and beyond will be a time when 90 Miles starts trying to win over hearts and minds toward the goal of building a theater. Keep an eye out for a fundraising push soon.
A brief history of 90 Miles
Fifty years ago, in February, the founding members of 90 Miles Off Broadway were getting ready to put on their first play ever — “George Washington Slept Here.”
Auditions for the community theater group were held at Duzine Elementary School back then — as was the play itself.
Even when they started, 90 Miles held a certain fascination for the local press. The New Paltz Independent and New Paltz News wrote excitedly about each new production.
They devoted precious column inches to head shots of 90 Miles’ leading actors. They posted briefs about each new play, listing information about tryouts.
Old articles on 90 Miles use the acronym “N.M.O.B.” for “Ninety Miles Off Broadway.” The group performed American standards like “Guys and Dolls,” “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Hello, Dolly!”
In 1975, the Poughkeepsie Journal profiled 90 Miles — which was even then in transition and still headquartered at Duzine. Original members from the 1960s were leaving, and the organization wanted to bring in new blood.
Pat Yaeger, a founding 90 Miles Off Broadway member, told the Journal that funding the productions had become a challenge in ’75 — that was the first time they’d had to pay the New Paltz Central School District a fee to use the buildings for plays.
“We used to have budgets as low as $200 or $300,” Yaeger told the paper then. “Now musicals are costing us as much as $3,000 and our non-musicals are being budgeted at around $1,000 and $1,500.”
From the 1970s into at least the 1990s, local dailies reviewed 90 Miles plays often. Jeffery Borak, then the Poughkeepsie Journal’s theater critic, consistently reviewed the plays — at times praising and at times savaging productions staged by 90 Miles.
John Giralico, who served as president of 90 Miles in the mid-1980s, remembers that the group brought people together. He’s remained life-long friends with people he met through 90 Miles — a phenomenon common for people involved in 90 Miles. He started with the group in the 1970s, after he graduated college.
“It was one of the nicest groups — and popular and successful. It had an incredibly wonderful relationship with the theater department at SUNY New Paltz,” Giralico said.
During the 1970s, 90 Miles was getting away with something that’d be almost unthinkable today. They had the keys to New Paltz Central High School. On the nights they held plays there, they sometimes stayed until almost 4 a.m.
Giralico remembers being more interested in set design and tech work. But he acted too.
“Even if you were in the chorus, and you’re on the side of the stage waiting to go on — I remember just standing there watching those lead performers sing. You were just mesmerized,” he said. “By being involved in the cast, you see the other side of things.”
Because 90 Miles is a community group, members often fulfill multiple roles — something that’d be unheard of in professional Broadway theater.
“You saw how it came together — what worked, what didn’t work, what people said — to the final product. And you took pride in that, even if you were a lowly cast member who didn’t even have a line. You were happy to just be in a dance member or be part of the group waiting in the back. You knew some day you’d do more,” he said.