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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, July 24, 2008

Going Out for the Helderberg Theater Festival
Free at the farm: A harvest of plays for every taste, from Shakespeare to Oz

By Jo E. Prout

NEW SCOTLAND — Shakespearean times and travels to Oz are here in our own backyard. The Classic Theater Guild has doubled its efforts for the Second Annual Helderberg Theater Festival this weekend and next at Indian Ladder Farms in New Scotland.

Theater-goers can see Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and a staged version of The Wizard of Oz. They can watch new directors Richard Morrell and Joe Russo’s interpretation of David Ives’s All in the Timing, or see the new play Authors written and directed by Julie Demers.

“I’m excited to have a live, new play,” said guild co-founder Ed Bablin. “Every year, we want to have a children’s play and a Shakespearean play. We’re the only outdoor Shakespeare in Albany County in the summertime.

“Last year, we had over 2,000 people come to see the show,” he said. About 100 people each night watched last year’s Othello, he said. “We’ll probably double that,” Bablin said.

The new play will be performed in the apple orchard, Bablin said, and Twelfth Night will be in the herb garden. A stage has been built in a field, Bablin said.

“It’s easier to come see something free on the farm, than to spend $100 on gas to go to Williamstown and buy an $80 ticket,” he said.

The Wizard of Oz will be the biggest draw this year, according to Peter Belenchia, co-executive producer with Chas Treadwell.

“It’s funny. It’s not a musical,” he said about Oz.

Agnes E. Kapusta Skiff, another co-founder of the guild, is directing Oz.

The Wizard of Oz is one of my favorite shows,” Kapusta Skiff said. “When the opportunity came up, I was excited to be part of it.”

The cast is composed of adults and children from ages 5 to mid-40s, including Emma Sprotbery, 10, in the part of Dorothy. Kapusta Skiff praised Sprotbery for her huge effort; Dorothy has lines on every page of the script except for two, she said.

Scott Van Der Wende, 14, plays the scarecrow, the next largest part in the show. Bablin said that all the children cast were local.

The cast also includes Sprotbery’s real dog as Toto.

“Our cast has put in a lot, a lot of work,” Kapusta Skiff said. The cast and crew have put together costumes and background music.

“It’s the classic show, but it’s got a little bit of a twist in it. The script has extra characters in it,” she said. “It’s a family show.”

Kapusta Skiff has a lot of theatrical experience to share.

“I’ve done a ton of stuff. I started out when I was 7 years old, like the kids in the show. I’ve done directing. I’ve done costumes. I’ve done make up. I’ve done all of it,” she said.

“The shows are all professionally done,” Bablin said. “We have very high standards.”

Bablin is directing Twelfth Night, and playing two small parts in the show. Many of the actors are University at Albany students, he said.

“They’re very hard-working and dedicated actors,” he said.

Director Richard Morell is the president of the Classic Theater Guild, and also an experienced actor and writer. He submitted his full-length play Adrenaline to the guild for part of its staged-reading series two years ago. He chose David Ives’s All in the Timing for the directors’ showcase because of his familiarity with Ives’s work. Ives was Morell’s screenwriting professor at New York University’s School of the Arts, where Morell earned his master of fine arts degree.

“I have a sense of who he was as a professor. Now directing, I sort of have an understanding of how his mind works,” Morell said.

All in the Timing is a collection of four short plays by Ives. Morell directs two of them, and Joe Russo directs the other two.

“They’re sparkling, facile comedies,” Morell said. “They have mild adult language, suitable for pre-teens through adults.”

Morell said that the Classic Theater Guild also began offering small plays with minor props in February this year in Albany.

“I put together the new-play festival,” he said. “They’re a lot of fun.”

The new-play festival, like the Helderberg Festival, offers several plays at different stops to which audience members can take shuttles. The play festival coincides with the gallery hop in Albany on the first Friday of the month.

“It started a trend,” Morell said, and he cited gallery hops in Troy and Schenectady.

At the Helderberg Festival, Morell will be busy with the Ives pieces and his part in the new author showcase Authors, in which he plays a 21st -Century playwright.

Authors, by new writer Julie Demers, is a one-act play that features three writers in three time periods who are able to talk to one another. Morell’s character communicates with a 19th-Century playwright and an 18th-Century poet, he said. The guild previously did a staged reading of Authors in Albany, he said.

The Helderberg plays will have staggered performances on Friday and Saturday evenings, and Sunday afternoon and evening.

“We’re planning on making it a permanent thing [at Indian Ladder Farms],” Bablin said. “There’s a lot of theater in one afternoon. Bring a picnic lunch, spend a day at the farm, and watch a lot of good theater.”

Belenchia was a member of the New Scotland recreation committee, and he looked for ways to bring theater to the “tri-towns” of New Scotland, Guilderland, and Bethlehem.

“Indian Ladder just welcomed us with open arms. Last year we did two shows. This year, we’re doing four,” he said. “This is going to boost their traffic. The setting is gorgeous. The plays are terrific. It’s probably the most beautiful setting in the Capital District.”

The Classic Theater Guild received grants from both the Voorheesville Community School Foundation, and the Capital District Council of the Arts.

“We had tremendous business support this year,” Belenchia said. “We’re going to put on the best show we can.” He said that Indian Ladder Farms has been in business for 90 years.

“Let’s go to 120 years,” he said. “This is great for people to rediscover what a gem it is.”

“Come and see the show,” Bablin said. “It’s a lot of fun.”

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