Discreetly tucked in between Kingston’s Midtown and Rondout District is a neighborhood of fancy Victorian homes called the Chestnut Street Historic District, where shipping baron Samuel D. Coykendall once reigned in splendor over the city’s booming waterfront. A circa-1894 building at 12 Augusta Street that once served as the coachhouse for the Coykendall estate became, in 1950, the permanent home of the longest-operating community theater company in Ulster County.
At the time, a community theater group called the Footlighters had splintered into two factions over the question of whether or not to bring in professional directors for their productions. One of the proponents of hiring outside directors, George Betts, got wind of the decommissioned coachhouse coming on the market via Mrs. Carlyn Gross, a theater buff whose husband owned the Governor Clinton Hotel. Mrs. Gross negotiated the building’s $6,000 list price down to $5,500, and another wealthy Kingston doyenne, Mrs. Katherine Hayes, purchased it for resale to a group of 12 Footlighter dissidents who renamed themselves the Coach House Players. Mrs. Hayes died before she was able to bequeath the building to the troupe, as she had intended, but a couple of Players managed to scrape together enough money to pay off the $4,200 balance of the loan.
The troupe transformed the former coachroom into a rehearsal and performance space, the horse stalls into equipment storage, the hayloft into space for props, the sleeping quarters into an enormous wardrobe where costume hats hang from the ceiling. The Coach Players have been mounting three to four productions annually ever since, overcoming the space’s original deficiencies of insulation, heating and air conditioning and repairing damages caused by vandalism and fire in the 1970s. A major building renovation began in 2000, mostly accomplished through volunteer labor with donated materials (including former UPAC theater seats to replace metal folding chairs).
In addition to putting on shows, the Coach House Players teach theater arts classes, donate arts scholarships annually, perform at area nursing homes and participate in parades and other community events. And this weekend they’re wrapping up their 68th stage season with the final performances of A Shayna Maidel, Barbara Lebow’s drama about a family fragmented by the Holocaust and then reunited. Shows begin at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, November 16 and 17, with a 2 p.m. Sunday matinée on November 18. Tickets cost $20 general admission, $18 for seniors and $10 for youth aged 18 and under. To order, visit https://bit.ly/2PoeCvH.
A Shayna Maidel
Friday-Sunday, Nov. 16-18
7:30 p.m./2 p.m.
Coach House Players
12 Augusta St., Kingston