At the time, the two founders and directors of the New York Conservatory for the Arts, based in West Hurley since 1986, were poring over architectural plans, and the savings accounts they’d been building up for years, towards the dream of building their own mid-sized theater on their property off Morgan Hill Road.
“We quickly realized that they were in more dire need than we’d anticipated,” Conti recalled this week. “So then our board sat down with their board and discussed whether there could be a next step…and then we just continued along those lines.”
Last summer, Farrell adds, the folks at NYCA, the performing arts school known as much for its annual UPAC performances as its steady stream of fare at its own Cabaret Theater, felt confident enough about its fast-reviving future plans to paint the deteriorating Playhouse structure.
“It had to be done anyway,” Farrell said. “And it made sense to leave it more beautiful than we found it, whether we were taking it on or not.”
Then, in early November, the Catskills Watershed Corporation announced that it had approved a $700,000 low-interest loan available to NYCA’s parent, the not-for-profit Pan American Dance Foundation, to buy and refurbish the Playhouse. Which was followed, more recently, by a formal closing on the property after the state Attorney General’s office and Supreme Court signed off on its purchase out of foreclosure.
“We just looked at what was necessary to make it viable again,” Conti said this week, seated at the dessert bar in NYCA’s main building in what used to be Oehler’s Mountain Lodge, and later the home to Karl Berger’s legendary Creative Music Studio. “It needed to be enclosed… “
The idea to bring in help from the CWC, which will reimbuse expenses and loans from area banks over the coming months, came from Ulster County Executive Michael Hein.
Now, NYCA has a picture of its spiffed up outdoor theater on its refurbished Woodstock Playhouse website. And a long, eloquent statement of its plans.
“Ultimately, we came up with a solution: The Pan American Dance Foundation would purchase the Woodstock Playhouse from the Woodstock Arts Board and renovate it — so that it would not be lost forever and it could become a year-round facility where the Arts can thrive once more,” it reads. “Renovations will begin in a few weeks, and we hope to open our doors this summer with a Summer Stock Season, and continue to remain open providing a venue for our community where local production companies can rent, touring companies can perform, and film and theatre festivals can take place year-round.”
With a passion
According to Conti and Farrell, their new activities in Woodstock will in no way supplant their existing schedule of classes and productions at NYCA, including their annual UPAC splash each June. What they plan is to supplement all they’re already doing with a whole new production company. And start construction at the Playhouse within the coming weeks.
“We’re building within an existing footprint with plans that the Woodstock Arts Board developed already,” Conti said. “We’ve been working with the Town on all this from the very beginning.”
Did it feel like a lot of work coming down all at once?
Conti and Farrell, who started working in musical theater and dance long before coming Upstate, the former in Astoria, Queens, and the latter in the Hartford, Connecticut area, smiled.
“This is what we do,” Conti said. “When you have a passion for something you can’t get enough of it.”
He spoke of having taken on big projects before, successfully, from taking a musical to Edinburgh’s Fringe festival in Scotland and on to an Off-Broadway run, to the time a few years back when they produced back-to-back musicals — one a premiere — at UPAC with one company in one weekend.
“Our Woodstock Playhouse productions will be Woodstock Playhouse productions,” Farrell added. “It’s what that theater deserves.”
The two added how they’ve been talking with Elderhostel and other tours that would fill the revived Playhouse’s 250 to 300 seats, which depend now on what happens when its current bleachers get replaced. And they noted how, for all intents and purposes, their nearest Summer Stock competition is in Sharon, at Tri-Arts, or perhaps Vassar’s Powerhouse phenomenon workshopping in Poughkeepsie each summer.
David Ochs, who has a Woodstock-based audio company, is on the NYCA board…and is helping ensure the revived Playhouse has good sound inside, and little escaping noise out. As for actors and directors…both Farrell and Conti note that their connections will work.
As for how they see themselves fitting into the existing Woodstock cultural scene, with its existing theater and other performance groups, both men noted their preference for musical theater and dance.
“We’re here to enhance everything,” Farrell said. “It’s about the Playhouse staying the Woodstock Playhouse.”
And a first production, come next summer?
The two smiled wanly, yet again.
“We’ve got the prefect show,” Conti said. “I won’t tell you what it is because the rights have yet to be granted. There’s a process to all this…but it is perfect.”
“We have to concentrate on what we’re doing already and this construction phase first,” added Farrell.
At which the two had to say adieus. After all, it was afternoon already… and they had numerous students coming in soon. Productions to get into shape. And a history of professionalism to maintain…++
For further information on all things now Woodstock Playhouse visit www.woodstockplayhouse.org. For information about the New York Conservatory of the Arts, call 339-4340 or visit www.nyca.org.