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Offering a fresh way of helping you keep up with art and entertainment happenings around the Capital District.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

NYSTI's only way out

The shoes keep dropping at New York State Theatre Institute. Last week, the state's Inspector General issued a report charging producing artistic director Patricia Snyder with misappropriating over a $1 million in funds. On Monday, Governor David Paterson wrote to the NYSTI board urging them to fire Snyder.

NYSTI's board president David Morris has said the board would not take immediate action on firing their leader. That is understandable. Without Patricia Snyder there would be no NYSTI and she deserves a fair hearing. Right now she is being tried in the court of public opinion. Charges are not proof of guilt.

Unfortunately this entire affair isn't about a fair hearing and the board better soon understand that with Patricia Snyder doing public battle with the governor, the institution will be soon out of business. Hundreds of jobs will be lost and the youth of this area will lose an important source of theater education.

Reading between the lines of Paterson's letter there is the implication the governor is willing to save NYSTI - but not with Snyder as its leader. Reading the entire IG report it is clear this entire issue is about her. While there are damning charges, there are a lot of picky things that imply a case is being built to make Snyder look criminal. She is not that person.

But it sure looks bad. A lot of the situation has to do with lack of controls. (Board where were you?) Small excesses look major when grouped together and that's what the IG report does.

This is not to deny some serious charges. I want to hear her defense of moving the rights to "Miracle on 34th Street" to profit herself, her son and a third party. On the surface it looks dastardly, but maybe there is an explanation. And she should have a forum in which to offer that explanation.

As for the charges of nepotism, they can't be denied. However, if you look at the money paid the family members on the payroll this isn't about getting rich. It's about poor judgement and favoritism. I do believe Snyder sincerely thinks her family is talented enough to deserve the jobs they were given. Many of my reviews of NYSTI disagree with her opinions.

There are also nonsense charges - like cast dinners, a receipt for a small charge for a retirement party for a company member who gave devoted service for over 20 years. The report claims she took money to direct shows. She didn't. But she did manipulate reporting the income so as to increase her pension benefits.

The point is simple. The report makes Patricia Snyder toxic. There is no legislator (except maybe locals) who can vote to restore cut funds to NYSTI in the proposed state budget. For months NYSTI has been urging supporters to write their representatives as they claimed the organization would fold if the cuts were implemented. If Snyder doesn't leave, the cuts will stand and NSYTI will go down the tubes.

In the past, during her battles with the legislature and governor, Snyder aways waved her constituents as a battle flag. The children. It was all about the children. Now it seems it is really about Patricia Snyder. Is she fighting for the children or for herself? If she resigns NYSTI might be saved and the children will likely continue to be educated through theater.

Does Patricia Snyder deserve this fate? She is, after all, the person who built an institution that gained national attention for their educational programs. And even if everything on their stage isn't perfect - work like the recent "Orphan Train" speaks to the value of the Institute.

It doesn't matter. It's not about who deserves what. It's about violating state law. Does Gov. Paterson deserve to be hassled over accepting World Series tickets to Yankee Stadium? Yes - if he violated the law. The same goes for Patricia Snyder.

For her the choice is simple - resign or take the Institute down with you. The board has to recognize this. If she doesn't resign they must stop acting like a rubber stamp and release her from her contract,

Resignation would be better. As the saying goes "No greater love hath no man ....." It's time for Patricia Snyder to sacrifice herself for the good of her company of actors, her staff and her audience.

Patricia remember your own mantra - The children. The children.

Monday, April 26, 2010

we all need a mentor

Yesterday I attended the memorial for Dan DiNicola, who recently passed away. Dan is probably best known locally for his human interest pieces on WRGB Channel 6. Dan was also film critic for the Schenectady Gazette. Once upon a time he also did theater reviews for the Gazette. That was in the late-1970s and into the 80s. It was when I first started writing theater reviews for the now-defunct Knickerbocker News.

Dan was was a veteran reviewer who was always encouraging to the new kid on the beat and he acted as a mentor to me. Within a short time we became friends. Eventually we became close friends and our families became equally close. In the 90s our careers altered. I became an arts administrator who reviewed theater. He was no longer a school teacher and part-time reviewer. He became a tv personality who only reviewed films.

We each drifted in other different directions and the friendship became less intense. We remained friends, just not close friends. Whenever we met we asked about the family and always checked our calenders hoping to find a date we were both free to have dinner. Those dinners happened all too infrequently.

The memorial reminded me of how sad it was that we couldn't maintain that friendship. One theme that ran through the tributes was Dan as a mentor and teacher. You never get too old or have too much experience not to have a mentor in your life.

Dan was without question, one of the two brightest men I ever knew (Doug de Lisle, of the Troy Record, another mentor and friend was the other) his strength was not only his intelligence, it was his insatiable curiosity and the ability to see the obvious in a different way. He had a drive to make everyone in his life to see their own lives as he saw his - an opportunity to experience new and exciting moments. He had a passion for life and wanted to share it.

He called me once to tell me a story about his resentment over the tv station assigning him to cover the children's auditions for the NYC Ballet at SPAC. Anyone who has ever done interviews HATES interviewing kids. He told me when he arrived at SPAC he dreaded doing the same old kids story and wanted to find a fresh approach.

Looking around he noticed all the fathers in the audience. Instead of interviewing the kids, he interviewed the fathers and captured their nervousness for their kids. Their pride in the kid's talents was obvious. This wasn't fathers watching their sons play baseball. These were fathers who wanted their little girls to excel in an art form few of them would attend without a family connection. It was a brilliant, insightful piece and turned out to be the first of Dan's pieces to be shown nationwide by the network. That was Dan at his best. Looking at a subject with fresh eyes and forcing we viewers to see the story that existed behind the obvious.

But Dan was more than a bright journalist and a unique personality. Above all else, he loved his family. Before leaving the memorial, I told one of his son's that if I were to play that word association game where you have to respond to a name with the first thing that pops in you head - my response to Dan DiNicola would be "kitchen table." Roy smiled and added, "With a big bottle of red wine in the middle of it."

That's my memory of Dan DiNicola. Sitting around the kitchen table throughout the night discussing deep and controversial subjects with our kids participating. He was always a teacher.

And yesterday I realized the world lost a great mentor.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

welcome back

It's been over a year since my last post and the personal issues that have kept me away from the Arts Whisperer blog have past - rather sadly. On March 5, 2010 my wife of 45 years died of ALS (better known as Lou Gehrig's Disease). She was diagnosed in January 2009 and the 14 months she fought her brave fight was one of the most important and meaningful periods of my life. Her courage was the stuff of great plays and if I ever find the energy and will to fight that blank page her strength might be the inspiration for my own play.

During a time like this you come to realize the importance of the things you shared as a couple. Beyond family, friends and work, the dominant interest in our life was theater. When we met, we both lived in NYC and Broadway was our love. It became a benchmark for our life. Our first date was "Stop the World I Want to Get Off" starring Anthony Newley. The day we bought her engagement ring at the diamond center in New York City, we attended a matinee of "Oliver." We announced our engagement to my family having drinks at the Edison Hotel after seeing "Here's Love" (a musical version of "Miracle on 34th Street). In our married life we attended at least50 plays a year together. Over 45 years that's well over 2,000 plays we shared.

Reviewing theater while Carole was ill kept me functioning. It helped bring the outside world to her as I shared my experience with her when I came home from a show. Somehow those personal reviews kept us connected to our shared obsession. I think the experience made me a better observer as I wanted her to see the show through my eyes without feeling she missed anything.

It is my hope that these insights have found their way into my writing for The Record. I further hope they will be find release as I return to the Arts Whisperer blog.