The SebSi Studio in the village of Saugerties has only been open since June, but conceptually it’s been in the works for years. “This is something I’ve always had an aspiration to do,” says Domenic Silipo, the force behind the community theater-workshop space. “My background is in writing, acting, directing and producing, but my intention was always to open my own space where I could present original works in addition to workshops, and then make the space accessible to other people or theatrical groups that are looking for a place to perform in.”
Located in a storefront on Main St., The SebSi Studio is an open space with a platform stage that can be broken down and set up in different configurations. Seating is on movable church pews. “This place needed a lot of work,” says Silipo. “It was a karate place before this, and when they tore the big pads off the wall, they took off a lot of the plaster. My initial feeling was that I’d just patch it up, but then as I started, I found a really nice brick wall underneath.” He painted the plaster and surrounding walls a deep ocean blue, and now the patchwork of plaster and brick draws a lot of attention from people walking by. “It kind of looks like an obscure map of the world or some alternate universe.”
Lighting is minimal, on stands, although the next few weeks will see a lighting grid hung and more lights put up. “My idea has always been about presenting stuff raw,” says Silipo, “without bells and whistles. Most of the stuff I write would be fine with just a ‘lights up, lights down’ type of thing. There are local places that are larger and more conducive to doing bigger productions, but this is more feasible from a budgetary standpoint, and for me it’s really about the storytelling.”
Silipo favors character-driven dramas that express the inherent humor of life through dialogue. “I initially started writing as an actor, solely with the purpose of creating for myself the types of roles I was interested in playing,” he says. “Whether I’m writing for a male in his 40s like myself or the character of a 90-year-old woman, I try to approach it from the point of view, ‘Would I be interested as an actor to play this character?’ I make sure I give every character enough substance so that when actors read the material, they want to do it. I think if you approach it that way, it’s easier to create interesting characters as opposed to people just saying words to further the story. We’re all interesting people in our own way if given the time; take that element and put it into an urgent situation and you’ve got yourself some drama and humor before you know it.”
Silipo will perform his original one-man show, “Miles From Somewhere,” billed as “a lone actor on a bare stage delivering a heartfelt and revealing journey of the human spirit,” on Saturday, Sept. 27 at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $10.
He says he intends to keep the performances at the studio short — “Miles From Somewhere” is 45 minutes — so that “the show becomes part of someone’s evening; they can still go out to dinner or have drinks afterward or beforehand without committing to a full evening of it.”
Silipo lives in Saugerties with his wife, Alysia, and their two children, daughter Sienna, 6, and son Sebastian, 9 (“SebSi” is an amalgam of their names). Before starting a family, the couple lived in New York City for many years before moving to South Carolina (where Alysia’s family is) in 2004. “But our intention was always to move back to New York,” he says, and in 2007 they moved to Saugerties. “We were still in South Carolina when we started looking at places north of the city that we would be happy to spend some time in and raise a family. We came upon Saugerties and looked around and really liked the place. We’re very happy here, and there’s a lot going on for the kids.”
Sienna and Sebastian are involved in his workshops, says Silipo, and when he did a family-friendly one-man show called “It’s Good to Be Me,” they were able to sit in the audience and see him on stage for the first time in their lives. “That’s been one of my highlights so far here.” And Alysia, he adds, “is extremely supportive. I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this over the years without having her next to me. It takes a certain character to put up with this lifestyle.”
Silipo’s next show will be a two-character play based on a short film he did in 2004, “Mimmo & Paulie,” about two lifelong friends who discover that they really don’t know each other as well as they thought they did. The film earned a few filmmaker awards and there were offers from the Sundance Channel and The Independent Film Channel for TV rights, but he decided against showing the short on television because he was in talks at the time to turn it into a feature film. “In hindsight, it may not have been the best decision to turn that down, but you live and learn. And at the same time that was going on, we were starting a family and leaving the city. Now I’m very excited that it will finally be produced as it was written, as a one-act play.”
Juggling family and work demands along with starting a community theater is challenging, but Silipo still finds time to write, completing a screenplay recently in his off hours, to be shot on a low budget with minimal actors and plans to use Saugerties as the location. “Three for the Money” is a dark comedy mystery about three strangers called to a farmhouse with the promise of money. “They’re all suspicious of each other, and it lends itself to a lot of interesting dialogue and character work and humor,” he says. “We have a few actors interested, but it’s a matter of putting the money together.”
Workshops and open mics
The fall session of acting workshops for kids and teens begins the week of Monday, Sept. 22. “I initially wanted to do workshops for adults, but parents kept popping in and asking if we offered anything for kids,” says Silipo. He developed workshops for kids ages six to 12 that build on role-playing and using theater games to develop characters of their own choosing, and workshops for teens that encourage self-expression through creating a character and writing a monologue for them that expresses something of the experience of being a teenager.
Workshops for grades 1-3 are on Saturdays at 10 a.m. Grades 4-6 have the choice of Saturdays at 11:30 a.m. or Mondays at 6:30 p.m. Workshops for junior high students are on Thursdays at 6:30 p.m. and high school students have Fridays at 6:30 p.m. In all cases, it’s an eight-week session held once a week and culminates with a public performance. The cost is $100-$125.
For adults or teens age 15 and up, The SebSi Studio will offer an improv workshop with Tony Award-nominated actress (and Saturday Night Live alumnae) Denny Dillon on Saturday, Sept. 20 from 1-3 p.m. “It’s a good way for people with or without acting experience to come out and have some fun, and learn what it takes to jump on stage without a script,” says Silipo. “It basically just takes the willingness to play.” If there’s enough interest in the community, he adds, it may become a monthly event. The cost is $25.
An open mic for songwriters and poets will be held on Friday, Sept. 19 at 8 p.m. ($10) and a reprise of last month’s “Stand-Up Stand-Off” open mic for stand-up comedy will be held on Friday, Sept. 26 at 8 p.m. ($10). “I think it’s going to be an ongoing thing. Everybody that got up there, including three or four people who have never done anything like this before, were absolutely hysterical and the audience loved it.”