Delmar man gives Park Playhouse new direction

A call from the Park Playhouse brought him back to the Capital District, though, to help the program.

"I love New York and I was having a good time, but this is my home," he said. "I've seen the good these educational programs do, and it would be an awful loss to this area."

While the Playhouse is best known for putting on free theater shows in Washington Park during the summer months, it actually has a year-round presence in the Capital District. There's Park Playhouse Kidz, for example, which got its start at the Delmar Reformed Church and which Smith wants to see expanded to other communities around the area.

"As schools are cutting back, we're trying to fill that void," he said.

But Smith plans to improve upon the Washington Park season, too, starting with improving the audience experience in the Lakehouse amphitheater with decoration and ambiance that fits the performance.

"Outdoor theater is a really hard thing to maintain...you want it to be a safe, secure, comfortable place to get lost in the experience," Smith said.

But while a faltering economy presents opportunities for free theater, it presents trials as well. The Playhouse is partially funded by a grant from the city, but it also relies on corporate sponsorship, which has been drying up.

One of Smith's first initiatives was to begin a membership program. The company relied too heavily in the past on businesses, he said, and needs to expand its fundraising base, not unlike venues like Saratoga Performing Arts Center practices.

"These days, corporations just don't have the money to throw around that they used to," Smith said.

Additionally, a "Producer's Circle" level for high-end contributors will grant perks like admission to dress rehearsals.

"Annie Get Your Gun" will run July 6 to Aug. 15, in Washington Park in Albany, in the 2,500-seat Lakehouse amphitheater. Admission is free, but there are preferred reserved seats available for$10 to $12.

Additionally, Park Playhouse II will be presenting "The Whiz" and Park Playhouse Kidz will show "Alice in Wonderland, Jr." this summer.

See www.parkplayhouse.com for more information.""

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