Cited by many Rosendalers as the “anchor” for the economic revitalization of the town’s Main Street in recent years, the Rosendale Theatre last week hit another major milestone in its ongoing renovation — and one that should significantly increase the space’s versatility as a community resource: the inauguration of a sturdy new stage. “This is an all-purpose theatre, and now we have a stage that will accommodate that,” said Rosendale Theatre Collective (RTC) executive director Ann Citron at the June 23 unveiling event.
Although “This will always be a film presentation house first and foremost,” Citron went on to say, “I intend to have a season of live theatre here very soon.” She added that the enhanced facility will be made available to more community groups — even free on occasion, as it has done in the past for some fundraising events.
As the Theatre’s brand-new drop-down screen was automatically lowered into place at the push of a button, Citron pointed out how there was room behind it to set up music stands and chairs for a band or sets for a theatrical performance, so that a movie could be screened early in the evening and a live concert or play follow seamlessly on the same night. According to RTC Operations Committee chair Fre Atlast, the new screen is “designed for digital projection. The images are clearer and sharper. You will not believe how improved your viewing experience is going to be.” The old screen at the rear of the stage will be retained for projected backdrops for theatrical performances.
Facilities Committee chair Sam Pierce also emphasized improvement of the theatre experience for both the audience and live performers as he thanked all the volunteers who had pitched in to tear out the old, uneven-surfaced stage and help construct a new one. “This man built this stage,” said Citron, introducing Pierce to a standing ovation. “I’m very proud of this,” said Pierce of the handsome new wooden structure on which he stood, its curved apron faced with vertical wainscoting panels and with staircases providing access to the seating area inset at both ends. “We finished at seven o’clock last night — just in time for the film!” Clearly the hero of the day, Pierce was also honored with the wielding of the giant scissors at the official ribbon-cutting at the beginning of the event, with most of the RTC board and some local dignitaries assembled onstage.
Ulster County executive Mike Hein showed up too late for the photo op, disappointedly calling out, “Where are the big scissors? I want to run with them!” Hein started out his speech in a joking mood, saying, “Let’s be honest: Theatre and elected office are not that far apart.” But he quickly shifted to a more nostalgic tone, recalling his childhood on a farm and how his mother made sure that he was exposed to culture by taking him to small local theatres like the Rosendale. “This is a one of those magical places where we’re transported somewhere else far, far away,” Hein continued. “This is a special place, and we thought we were going to lose it. We owe an enormous debt to the people who simply said, ‘No.’”
One of those early boosters of the theatre’s rescue and renovation was Brian Mathews, who now serves as president of the RTC’s Board of Directors. He got a bit choked up as he recalled the tenuous situation five years earlier, when the prospects of raising enough money to acquire the building seemed remote indeed: “I said, ‘We’re not going to be able to do this,’ and Nicole [Quinn] said, ‘Yes we will!’” Dabbing at his eyes, Mathews joked, “I’m tearing up because I know what our bank balance looks like.”
After all the speechifying, thanking of old donors and volunteers and recruiting of new ones were done and happy attendees had adjourned to the lobby for wine and cake, Mathews and the Theatre’s technical director, Justin Peone, demonstrated the sturdiness of the new stage by stomping on its surface and thumping its front face, eliciting almost no echo. “This thing is rock-solid,” said Mathews proudly.
Next steps for the Theatre’s renovation include installation of a new air conditioning system and removal of the massive, antiquated machinery that takes up an unconscionable amount of space, according to Pierce and Peone, which will enable performers to enter the stage from both sides instead of just one. Clearing out a space behind the stage that has been used for decades for dead storage will add “another ten feet of depth,” Pierce said.
Citron and Fundraising Committee chair Carrie Wykoff ticked off a long list of children’s programming planned for the Theatre this summer — five weeks’ worth, according to Citron. Amy Trompetter of the Redwing Blackbird Theater will conduct a weeklong “puppetry immersion program” for 9-to-14-year-olds in August; a “non-musical adaptation of The Wizard of Oz” will be performed during the Rosendale Street Festival; the Sojourner Truth Youth Theater and Spark Media will also present programming by and for young people.
For more information about upcoming events at the Rosendale Theatre (including the annual live reading of the Declaration of Independence on the morning of July 4), or how to donate, volunteer or rent the space, call (845) 658-8989 or visit the website at www.rosendaletheatre.org.