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

Thursday, September 9, 2010

NYSTI returns

The New York State Theatre Institute has announced a fall program of two shows. "The Miracle Worker" runs Oct. 1-15 and "A Christmas Carol" plays Dec. 3-19. Both shows will be performed at the Schacht Fine Arts Center on the Russell Sage campus in Troy.

It's good news, but not exciting news. "The Miracle Worker" is a good play and is appropriate for students. But it has been around seemingly forever and has been produced by almost every local theater company. Curtain Call Theatre in Latham offered it last season.

As for "A Christmas Carol" there are at least three other versions of the Dickens tale being produced in the area this year. One is at Cohoes Music Hall a professional theater company that is less than 10-miles away. Does it make sense for struggling not-for-profits to cannibalize each other's audience?

NYSTI has been lying low since its final show in May/June. That was when Patricia Di Benedetto Snyder resigned as producing-artistic director of the organization. That resignation came under a cloud of scandal after the state's inspector general released a report charging her with fiscal irresponsibility and nepotism.

David Bunce who has been acting director of NYSTI has obviously been working diligently. The company that lost millions of dollars in state aid and has emerged as a leaner organization. Staff has been reduced by almost half and the word is the fall plays will be budget-conscious productions.

The question is - of course - will this be enough to save them? The second question is will the new NYSTI be worthy of being saved? The third question is does the state really want NYSTI to be saved.

Without question, a theater company that educates school-age children is worth saving. We can only trust the professional theater artists to produce work that will be worthy of being saved. However, does the new board care about NYSTI or are they political appointees with little interest in the company who are merely going through the motions?

The new board of NYSTI is mostly composed of members of Gov. David Paterson's staff. It is unlikely any of them will have a job in the next administration. How much do they want to go on the line for a theater company that has been soiled by scandal? Because of their positions in government they can't do outside fundraising and it's pretty clear they haven't been able or willing to restore past cuts.

More troubling is the terrible timing of the season announcement. NYSTI has been working with schools for over 30 years and understands most teachers prefer information either before they leave school for the summer break or they want it in August before the new school session starts. This announcement comes when few teachers are paying attention. I have to believe the timing of the release of the fall schedule is board mandated.

It is very late. "The Miracle Worker" opens in three weeks and not a school group has been booked. Indeed, in what might be the most frantic week of the school session they are just learning about the shows. This in a year where teachers have to battle for any field trip.

Call me paranoid, but if you were on a board of an institution that you wanted to fail wouldn't this be a great way to help that outcome? The state chastised the former NYSTI board for not being responsible to the organization. Now it's time for the current board to start behaving responsibly by doing everything in their power to see NYSTI survives.


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