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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

the loss of the theater department at SUNYA just got personal

When I heard the report that SUNY at Albany was dropping its theater program it bothered me mostly on a professional level. I was disturbed because it was another sign of how most of society and too many educational institutions depreciate the arts. But, in truth I did not feel personally connected to the loss.

Not until last week did I fully realize the loss to this area. On Wednesday I went to a production at SUNY - Albany. It was "The First Time" a show I recently blogged on. I found the material lacking in certain areas but I was impressed with the student talent.

The four leads were Emily Billig (senior, Vocal Performance major), Robert Cervini (senior, communications major), Dana Goodnight (senior, theater major) and Wes Johnson ( junior, English major). They were impressive, as each was excellent, confident and aware.

The loss of a theater department means future theater majors will not attend Albany and those with acting talent probably will not be able to nurture those skills at the Albany campus.

Almost as important is that the local community will lose an opportunity to see unique work that will likely not be performed at local theater companies.

On Friday evening I attended the staged reading of "The Rainmaker" at Steamer No. 10 in Albany. It was an excellent show with a great cast made up of some of the best area actors. One performer I was not familiar with was Cornelius Geaney who played the youngest son Jim.

I was blown away by his performance. He was funny, confident and completely at ease working with some of the best performers in this area. You guessed it. Geaney is a theater major at SUNYA.

Incidentally, "The First Time" was directed by Yvonne Perry and "The Rainmaker" by Eileen Schuyler. Both women are on the faculty of SUNYA and each is a noted and respected local actress. They are talented directors as well as excellent actresses. The loss of SUNYA deprives them of a way of expanding their art just as it deprives future students the gift of their talents.

On Sunday I attended the Albany Civic Theater production of "Proof." It was a remarkable performance of a smart play. It continues through Feb. 27 and I urge everyone to see it.

One reason it was so good was the performance of Shannon Whalen in the lead role of Catherine. It was one of the strongest most nuanced performances I've seen by a young actress. It is a difficult role, but Whalen made her emotional transitions seem natural and - more important - reflective. I was again blown away by the work of a theater major studying at SUNYA.

It was a fluke that I got to see six marvelous performances of SUNYA students in the span of five days, but it made me realize the kind of actors the theater program is turning out. It also makes me realize what the loss of the theater program means to our community.

The loss of the SUNYA theater department just got personal.

3 Comments:

Blogger Phil said...

Good article, Mr. Goepfert. You might also add how many of us, actors and directors, in the capital district spent time working with the Theater Department at SUNY Albany. I worked on several shows there as a graduate student and the classes I took, particularly with the remarkable, inimitable Jarka Burian, helped shape my understanding of theater as literature. It's a great loss.

February 15, 2011 at 1:53 PM 
Blogger Joseph said...

A really terrific article. This is a very sad time for the Capital Region theater community. Between the defunding of NYSTI (with its extraordinary intern program) and the upcoming closure of the SUNYA Theatre Department, we are facing the drying up of so many performing (and theater tech) opportunities for young people in our community. While I understand that the budgetary shortfall is real, it breaks my heart that theater--an art that brings us together as human beings and citizens of the world, to solve problems and work through human issues--is the first on the chopping block.

Thank you for calling it to our attention in such a personal way.

February 15, 2011 at 2:30 PM 
Blogger Shannon said...

Thank you for this post. The cancellation of my department breaks my heart, and to find support in the community helps to glue it back together. I came from a larger theatre department to SUNYA and was thrilled by the amount of experience, and different kinds of work that I was afforded. Yes, it is a small department, but the experience i got was invaluable. While it may not bring huge revenues to the university, it creates amazing theatre professionals. Thank you again for your kind words, and for making a theatre review about more than a performance.

February 17, 2011 at 7:25 PM 

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