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Looking ahead to future generations of theatrical talent

April 16, 2015
Editorial , Lake Placid News

When people talk about the importance of "the arts," they make it sound like one can have them all at once - and to a degree, one can. Even in our small Adirondack towns, we can be awed, entertained and inspired by visual art (from painting to photography to sculpture), music, literature, theater, etc., mostly produced by local people, and at a level of quality that's remarkable for such a rural area.

But still, our area is stronger in some fields than in others. By that we mean the talent pool is deeper and the youth development more robust, ensuring new generations become artists.

Each of you probably can name some of our area's fantastic individual painters, photographers, solo musicians and writers. Most probably know some local bands or ensembles that blend individuals' musical efforts into something greater. But today we're writing about an art form that requires even more teamwork, and which Adirondackers have proven themselves particularly good at - theater.

We were reminded of that this weekend by the Young Playwrights Festival at Pendragon Theatre in Saranac Lake, and some weeks before by the brilliant musical plays staged at local high schools.

Over the years, local theater people here have built up a farm-team network that continues to nurture some pretty incredible talent. For more than 25 years, local children have gotten their feet in the stage door through Rising Star Productions, in which elementary and middle schoolers work up a surprisingly high-caliber musical every fall. In the summer, they can do short programs like the touring Missoula Children's Theatre company in Lake Placid or Pendragon's day camps for younger and older kids. Community Theatre Players' musicals sometimes include roles for kids as well, exposing them to grown-up drama (on stage and backstage). Meanwhile, teenagers who have outgrown the little-kid plays help out with them backstage, learning those aspects of the theater as well.

Therefore, when the high school plays roll around, many of those young actors have a decade of serious experience. And they raise the bar for peers who didn't go through this feeder system.

The end result is fabulous entertainment for the rest of us.

A new-ish trend is that kids are writing their own plays in earnest. One of the early hotspots was the O'Leary family's basement on Greenwood Street, Lake Placid, where a group of girls took to writing, directing and performing their own plays for the neighborhood. In 2009, then-eighth-grader Joan O'Leary was able to get a play she had written put on at nearby St. Agnes School. From 2011 to 2013 her plays were being staged with dozens of young actors at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts.

It can be as simple, and as hard, as that. Not every talented playwright has that kind of chutzpah, however, so Pendragon came up with a way to draw them out.

This is the second year Pendragon teamed up with Lake Placid and Saranac Lake schools for the Young Playwrights Festival, which this year was split into high school and middle school categories. Students wrote plays for English classes, they were judged, and the two winners had their works performed Saturday night by Pendragon's cast, complete with sets and costumes. The runner-up plays were cast and read aloud. (Full disclosure: One of the winners is a child of the writer of this editorial.)

All four were fantastic. The high school winner is especially noteworthy, partly because of the teamwork - it was written by Sophie Morelli of Lake Placid and brothers Silas and Witter Swanson of Saranac Lake - and partly because it was a satire of theater people, proving these kids had been backstage at countless productions.

We also thought about all the plays that didn't win; that's a whole bunch of new dramatic stories brought into being.

Our towns have a long, rich theatrical history. It's great to feel such assurance that we'll be entertained for many years to come.

Meanwhile, we strongly encourage our readers to check out the upcoming seasons of companies like Pendragon, Upper Jay Arts Center and Adirondack Shakespeare Company, and we encourage you to support Pendragon in its ongoing quest to establish a new home. Where it is now holds a lot of memories, but it's no longer up to the task. We like to think it could move to downtown Saranac Lake, but we're not sure about the details of that. A feasibility study is underway. Meanwhile, whatever happens will require money, and we encourage you to donate (check for how) and thus keep the excellent work of this institution alive and thriving.



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