24-hour theater project gathers top local talent

The WAM Theatre and The Mop & Bucket Improv Company are joining forces again to produce the third an
Kristen van Ginhoven
Kristen van Ginhoven

As a longtime member of the theater community, Kristen van Ginhoven realizes the importance of taking that leap of faith and really throwing yourself into a role. Happily for her, she’s not the only one in the business who feels that way.

The WAM Theatre and The Mop & Bucket Improv Company are joining forces again to produce the third annual 24hr Theatre Project, a series of short plays produced in the span of 24 hours and presented to a live audience at the Black Box Theatre of Schenectady High School’s John Sayles School of Fine Arts at 8 p.m. Saturday. While WAM, founded by van Ginhoven and Leigh Strimbeck in 2009, and MOPCO, an improv group inspired by the minds of Kat Koppett and Michael Burns, are the main producers of the event, more than 50 artists from various venues in upstate New York and the Berkshires are participating.

“We received over 100 submissions from people who were interested in working with us this year,” said van Ginhoven, who will be serving as one of five directors for the event. “This might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but most actors love to work in this kind of environment. There’s a lot of adrenalin, and we’re flying by the seat of our pants, but it’s all about collaboration and creativity. We just have to do it really fast.”

‘WAM Theatre and The Mop & Bucket Company’s 24hr Theatre Project’

WHERE: John Sayles School of Fine Arts, Schenectady High School, 1445 The Plaza, Schenectady

WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday

HOW MUCH: $20-$15

MORE INFO: 346-6204 or www.proctors.org

Actors, directors, stage managers, technicians and various jacks of all trades will meet between 7 and 8 p.m. Friday at the Sayles School of Fine Arts to begin the 24-hour process of putting together five short plays, each production running between 7 and 10 minutes. After breaking into groups with each of the directors and playwrights, the troupes share some information among themselves, with the playwright then given the charge of writing a play and emailing it to his director by 7 a.m. Saturday. Around 8 a.m., everyone reconvenes at Schenectady High to begin creating their piece of work.

“It’s the playwrights that work overnight,” said van Ginhoven. “They’re the ones with the real hard job.”

Spreading the wealth

Along with van Ginhoven and MOPCO’s Burns, serving as directors will be Tony-nominated stage and TV actress Jayne Atkinson (“24” and “Criminal Minds”), Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill of Capital Repertory Theatre and Dina Janis of the Dorset Theatre Festival in Dorset, Vt.

Koppett, also a busy actor at various Capital Region venues, will be one of the playwrights, along with Ellen Kaplan, a Smith College theater professor; Shami McCormick, artistic director at the Depot Theatre in Westport; Jeffrey Sweet, a Chicago-based producer, writer and director; and Randolyn Zinn, a Pace University professor who lives in New York City.

With the exception of Delmar’s Eileen Schuyler and Albany’s Ron Komora, the 20 or so actors involved in this year’s event are new to the project.

“We like to spread the wealth around, so for the most part we try to get different people involved,” said van Ginhoven. “Eileen did it the first year and Ron did it the second year, but everyone else is new. It feels great that so many people have an interest and want to be a part of it.”

Van Ginhoven is a Canadian-born actress whose resume includes three years with Shakespeare by the Sea in Nova Scotia and two seasons with Montreal’s Repercussion Theatre. She’s also taught drama in Belgium and more recently at Emerson College in Boston, and locally has worked with Capital Rep, Theater Voices and C-R Productions at the Cohoes Music Hall. Now a resident of Lee, Mass., van Ginhoven is married to Union College professor Nick Webb.

She got the idea for creating WAM (Women’s Action Movement) after reading “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.” Written by New York Times reporters Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, the book was about human rights violations and the oppression of women and girls in the developing world.

“That book inspired a lot of people to take action, and I was one of them,” said van Ginhoven. “I wanted to find a way to use the theater to benefit women and girls. It sounded crazy, but now we’re in our fourth year and things seem to be working. We’ve gotten a lot of support from the theater community, both in the Berkshires and the Albany area.”

The 24hr Theatre Project, one of a handful of shows WAM puts on each year, was held at the Arts Center of the Capital Region in Troy in 2011 and Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Mass., in 2012. Part of both of those productions and a key component in this weekend’s activities is Adirondack Theatre Festival Artistic Producer Mark Fleischer.

“It’s a great event because it brings together people from all over the Capital Region and the Berkshires, and we’re all working together with one common goal,” said Fleischer, who is serving as a producer and dramaturge this weekend. “It’s a great, energetic environment with everyone collaborating to produce art. It’s a pressure-cooker to create a play in 24 hours, but I know Kristin likes that idea of taking a risk in the theater. Taking that risk and collaborating with your colleagues can be exhilarating.”

Working with the project and getting to know van Ginhoven has been an uplifting experience for Fleischer.

“She’s very generous, and it’s wonderful that she created this nonprofit to help support women’s issues,” he said. “That speaks very much to what Kristin is all about. She loves creating a home environment where everyone can feel like they’re part of the family and just move in. It’s all such a positive thing.”

Challenging but fun

Schuyler, a veteran character actor who has performed at most of the Capital Region’s major theater venues, said she’s looking forward to her second experience with the 24hr Project.

“It was brand new when I did it the first year, and it was a bit chilling and challenging, but it was a lot of fun,” she said. “There was great anticipation that first year and nobody knew what to expect. Now that they’ve had two successful ones, it’s really great to be involved in it again.”

Komora, another veteran character actor who has performed at numerous area theaters, said the event is a great opportunity to get together with his fellow actors.

“Well, it seemed like everyone was trying to do it, and for my own selfish purposes, it’s a good place to network with other people, and a lot of them are my friends,” he said. “The hardest burden is on the playwrights because I’m sure they’re up until 2 or 3 in the morning working on their play. But it’s amazing the amount of work you can get done in 24 hours.”

Along with enjoying the challenge, actors like Schuyler and Komora are happy to help a project like WAM.

“Kristen’s work with WAM fills a niche, and I think it’s very important to give women actors the opportunity to work and to give women’s organizations financial help,” said Schuyler. “She gives money to local groups, to national groups. She really’s determined, and I envy her strength and her energy. She’s a very generous person.”

“I got into this because a lot of people I know thought it was a very worthwhile activity,” said Komora, “so I’m honored that Kristen would have me back. When you see the people involved this year, it seems to be getting more and more prestigious every year.”

Among the other actors participating in the event are Sue Ciccarelli Caputo, Kate Hettesheimer, Richard Lounello, Brittany Glenn and Melissa Wolf.

WAM’s mission is to “raise funds to create and be involved in theatrical events that benefit women and girls worldwide, and to donate a portion of proceeds from those events to charitable organizations that benefit women and girls worldwide.”

Van Ginhoven serves as WAM’s artistic director, while Strimbeck, now a professor at Russell Sage College in Troy, remains involved as a member of the board. Pittsfield, Mass., serves as WAM’s home base, but van Ginhoven decided not to secure a permanent venue for performances.

“We rent different spaces for different shows,” she said. “We’ve been to Barrington Stage Co., the Berkshire Museum and other places in the Berkshires, and we’ve also been to the Albany area. Now we’re very happy to be going to Schenectady.

“We can’t wait for the clock to start ticking down again. It is always amazing to see how much comes together in 24 hours.”

Categories: Entertainment

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