Ann Parillo had everyone just where she wanted them.
Guests and visitors to Proctors Underground, located in the basement under the theater’s box office and the Apostrophe Cafe & Lounge, were preparing for Tuesday’s live streaming of “Schenectady Today: In and Around the Capital Region.”
It was a really big show.
“Jam packed!” announced Parillo, dressed in a black shirt, black slacks and a long, red light sweater. “Lots of fun, lots of entertainment.”
Actors and directors from Capital Repertory Theatre’s upcoming “Sex With Strangers” had the first shift, and Parillo began the interview with a complaint against an uninvited guest.
“There’s a fly in the room,” she said, waving her arms. “So if I do anything like this, it’s because of that. It has nothing to do with you guys.”
The Cap Rep crew was followed by singers from Schenectady Light Opera Company’s upcoming “Cabaret.”
Storyteller Kate Dudding of Story Circle at Proctors and Madelyn Thorne from Habitat for Humanity took over the middle of the show. Kat Wolfram of Electric City Food Co-Op teamed up with Michael Diana of the Schenectady County Historical Society to talk food as “Schenectady Today” rolled toward the finish.
Laura Marx, director of the Capital Region chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, talked with Parillo during the final segment.
There’s another big show coming up Tuesday, with a big number attached. Parillo will celebrate her 1,000th “Schenectady Today: In and Around the Capital Region” program and enter her 20th year as program host.
The next show, at the GE Theater at Proctors, also will be jammed from start to finish. Actor and comedian Greg Aidala will co-host. Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy, Proctors CEO Philip Morris and state Senator James Tedisco are on the roster. Entertainers will include Derrick Horton and the Jay Street Band; Edd Clifford, band Flame, Byron Nilsson, Sharon Bellucci and Donald “Soul Man” Hyman.
The free party begins at 9 a.m. On set, Parillo will have words with everyone.
“I am blessed,” she said last Tuesday, at the end of that day’s big show. “I am blessed with being able to meet such fantastic people in our community. They’re doing good things, they’re positive, they’re energetic, oh my gosh, I love it.”
Parillo is positive and high energy herself. She worked as a registered pharmacist and pharmacy teacher before beginning her television career during the mid-1990s. The first gig was “Singles Talk” on public access. “Schenectady Today,” originally with several hosts, was first seen on SACC TV 16 on Sept. 14, 1998.
Parillo took over as sole host a few years into the series’ run.
“When I first started, I didn’t even know how to get a guest,” Parillo said. “I had to start figuring out, ‘Who can I get?’ I read The Gazette and tried to find out things I could get.”
Three guests appeared on Parillo’s first shows. Sometimes, a guest wouldn’t show up, and Parillo kept two willing volunteers for longer on-air stretches.
“I was working a lot harder in the sense that I was struggling to figure out, ‘How am I going to fill this one hour every week?’ ” Parillo added. “It’s live, we don’t edit it, we’ve never edited the show. So that was a struggle in the beginning, it’s very easy now for me.”
Maybe not that easy. Parillo said every show needs plenty of time for planning, execution and promotion. She does all three jobs, and like camera and other off-stage personnel, it’s all volunteer. Nobody on the “Schenectady Today” staff is picking up a paycheck.
“People see the show, they don’t realize it takes me a good 40 hours a week to put the show together,” Parillo said. “I’m not saying this specific show because I’m working on shows way out. Right now, I have bookings until mid-2018, that’s how far I book out.”
Parillo believes “Schenectady Today” is worth the effort. She believes the Capital Region needs this show. Her segments feature people and places throughout the area.
“Mainstream media has a tendency to do sound bites,” Parillo said, adding that a 20-minute TV interview may often be reduced to a minute-long clip. She gives her guests nine or 10 minutes to make their points. And none of the “Schenectady Today” news is negative.
“What I try and do is the positive,” Parillo said.
Parillo also tries to watch the clock during the hour-long shows. If some guests chat a little longer, Parillo knows guests on a following segment will have to chat a little shorter. If some speakers are not on time, Parillo must always look off stage to see if the latecomers have arrived.
People move quickly onto and out of the set, as segments begin and end. “Schenectady Today” is a smooth-running production, and the perfect place for Parillo to use her conversational interview style.
“I’m an active listener,” Parillo said. “I may have an idea how I want to do the interview, but if the guest is giving me some good, meaty stuff, I’m going to go with that. I’m going to abandon anything else I have on my mind.”
Like other people who make electronic visits to residential living rooms and computer dens, Parillo is recognized in public. She might be greeted by former guests. Other times, people who watch may stop her in the supermarket just to say hello.
“I don’t think of myself as a celebrity, I think of what I do as being a conduit,” Parillo said. “I think, in a way, I always kind of downplay. It’s my guests who are important.
“If somebody recognizes me,” she added, “I would more likely say, ‘Oh, do you have an organization you’d like to promote?’ I’m more apt to go in that direction as opposed to making it about me, it’s not about me.
Ann Parillo smiles during her first “Schenectady Today” show in 1998. (Provided)
“The whole show is about the guests. We have six segments and I want those guests to get their due and get their faces out there, get their messages out there and tell people what good they’re doing in the community. That’s really what this is about.”
The show can be seen in a variety of ways. There’s live streaming on the web when aired on channel 16, www.OpenStageMedia.com. It can also be seen any time on the web at video on demand on the Open Stage Media address.
In Schenectady County, the show can be seen on public access Channels 16 and 19.3 starting Tuesdays at 6 p.m. and then on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Mondays at 10 a.m.
The show can also be seen in other Capital Region locations. A complete list is available at www.dailygazette.com.
Parillo, the former chair of the City of Schenectady Cable Commission, has won her share of awards. She has been named the Schenectady Business & Professional Women’s Club “Woman of the Year.” She has received the YWCA’s “Women of Achievement” award.
Not bad for an introvert.
“I’m a pretty shy person,” Parillo said. “It’s only when I get in front of the camera.”
She’s been in front of the camera with Fulton County’s music superstar and NBC “Voice” winner Sawyer Frederick, a video that has racked up 183,000 views on YouTube. Favorite segments have included interviews with Schenectady native and big time film director John Sayles and David Kaczynski, brother of Unabomber Ted Kaczynski.
She also remembers subjects who were not all that famous — like the pest control expert from years ago.
“He would not speak,” Parillo said. “I could not get him to say anything. It was like ‘Yes,’ or ‘No.’ So I said to the guy, ‘Tell me, suppose I get a raccoon in my garage, how would you handle that?'”
The answer was simple: “Catch ’em. Kill ’em.”
Parillo has enjoyed the ride. And she’s ready for the next 20 years.