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Christmas sets stage for holiday traditions

Christmas sets stage for holiday traditions

In the category of Best Christmas Ever, the Franklin family Tony Award goes to 2015.
Christmas sets stage for holiday traditions
Kathleen Carey remembers playing Peter Pan with Dick Harte as Captain Hook in Schenectady Civic Players' production of 'Peter Pan.' (Tom Killips)

In the category of Best Christmas Ever, the Franklin family Tony Award goes to 2015.

Lisa Franklin and her 15-year-old son George, the youngest of four children, are performing together in “A Christmas Story: The Musical” at Capital Repertory Theatre. The show is a family favorite, and with all four of her kids, two sons and two daughters, happily immersed in the theater world, she can’t imagine a better holiday.

“This is such an important show to our family, and I’m getting my Equity membership through this show so this is a great Christmas,” said Franklin. “But I also remember 2001 when I played Gwen in ‘Camelot’ at SLOC [Schenectady Light Opera Company]. I had George in a baby pack during rehearsals and all the other kids were in the show, too. That was wonderful.”

Any regular theatergoer in the Capital Region has seen a Franklin on stage somewhere. Julia (24), Charles (23), Emily (19) and George can all be classified as veteran thespians, and even the head of the clan, Paul Franklin, CFO at NH Kelman Scrap Recycling in Cohoes, has performed from time to time.

His No. 1 responsibility, however, has been helping his kids follow their dream of a professional career in theater.

“All of our kids have wanted to do this,” says Lisa Franklin. “I told them, ‘this is a difficult profession. Are you sure?’ and they have all wanted to go for it. They love what they’re doing.”

The Franklins aren’t the only Capital Region theater performers with great Christmas memories. Here are just a few responses from other members of the Capital Region theater community when asked to pick their favorite holiday memory relating to the theater.

••

Stacie Mayette Barnes is producing manager at Home Made Theater in Saratoga Springs, where she has worked behind the scenes and occasionally on stage for almost two decades.

“Seeing the kids on the edge of their seats watching the show is such a big payoff moment for us. When we did ‘The Snow Queen,’ there’s a particular villain and at one point, even though it’s not an audience participation moment, the kids are yelling, ‘don’t go that way.’ To see them that engaged, yelling out in the theater, is pretty cool.

“It’s also great to see the interaction between the audience and the cast in the lobby after a Christmas show. The kids often show up dressed as their favorite character and there’s a lot of picture-taking and autographs signed. For the actors it’s great because they’re not Broadway stars. They’re folks with real lives, and to see them asked for their autograph is pretty darn cool.”

••

Kathleen Carey became a fixture at Albany Civic Theater back in the 1990s and now can be seen just about anywhere in the greater Capital Region. Playing Peter Pan at Hubbard Hall in Cambridge and the Schenectady Civic Playhouse are among her best holiday memories.

“In 2000, I auditioned for Peter Pan at the Theatre Company of Hubbard Hall just after Thanksgiving, and Kevin McGuire called me on my birthday — New Year’s Eve — the 6th day of Christmas — to tell me I got the part.

“The second time I played Peter Pan was for Schenectady Civic in December of 2010. No real story, it was just a lovely way to start off December.

“As far as childhood memories, when I was in second grade, I remember being sorely disappointed when I didn’t get cast as Tiny Tim, for a school production at Sacred Heart in Troy. I never acted before, never even thought about it, but everyone told me I would get the part because I was so short. First audition, first rejection.”

••

Bill Hickman is a retired GE worker and long-time area actor. While he has performed with a number of area theater companies, including the New York State Theatre Institute and C-R Productions at the Cohoes Music Hall, he is firmly entrenched with the Schenectady Civic Playhouse, where he handles publicity for the Schenectady Civic Players. He lost his wife, Fulvia, another regular performer at Schenectady Civic, to cancer in 1998.

“Fulvia and I both danced in ‘The Nutcracker’ at Proctors several times, and in 1997 we were asked again. Well, we were in ‘La Bete’ at Schenectady Civic so we thought, ‘we can’t do that.’ But we were in the opening scene of ‘Nutcracker,’ and in the second act of ‘La Bete.’

“So, to show our ridiculous enthusiasm for the theater, we decided we would do both. So we jumped out of our costumes after dancing in ‘The Nutcracker,’ and ran down the street to Schenectady Civic and did ‘La Bete.’ That was fun, and another great time I had was as Marley’s Ghost in ‘A Christmas Carol’ at Cohoes with John Noble as Scrooge.”

••

Carol Max is founder and artistic director at Curtain Call Theatre in Latham.

“One of my great holiday memories is going shopping at Lord & Taylor in West Hartford, Connecticut, for Hanukkah. I used to see all the children sitting on Santa’s lap and one day; it must have been a slow day at the store, my mother tells me, ‘Carol, go sit on Santa’s lap.’ I asked her why and she said, ‘Carol, if you don’t sit on Santa’s lap he won’t have a job. He won’t have the money he needs to feed his family and buy them presents.’

“So me, a young girl growing up in a Jewish Orthodox family in Connecticut, sat on Santa’s lap and told him what she wanted for Christmas. It’s one of my favorite memories, and anything you do this time of year, as long as it’s with family, is memorable and very important.”

••

Jay Kerr worked in New York City for more than two decades before buying Fort Salem Theater in 2006

“In 1968 I was stationed at Fort McClellan and in charge of entertainment on the base. We were asked by the Anniston Star, a fine and fabled paper, to perform a 30-minute show at their annual Christmas party. We agreed; but within a week of the show, some idiot from the paper called to make sure there were ‘no Negroes in the show, because we couldn’t have that.’ Although I was just a lowly enlisted man, I told them that since the show did have a black man in it, and would continue to have him in it, we’d not be performing for them.

“In a matter of minutes, the publisher called and rescinded his lackey’s comment and apologized. We did the show; came off without a hitch. After the show, we were all invited to the palatial home of the publisher, Brandy Ayers.

“Harrison Hall, the black man, chose not to go. He was happy to perform, since that’s what he wanted to do anyway; and since he was specifically invited to come to the home, he chose not to be the cause celebre — that ambivalence about being rejected, then accepted, then the token of the publisher’s liberalism.”

••

John Noble has performed at Curtain Call, Schenectady Civic Playhouse and the Cohoes Music Hall to name just a few venues, and has played Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol” at the Cohoes Music Hall and the Schenectady Civic Playhouse.

“I guess doing ‘Christmas Carol’ is my favorite memory. I remember listening to Lionel Barrymore do it on the radio when I was a young kid. I’ve played Scrooge twice, once at Schenectady Civic and once at Cohoes for Jim Charles and Tony Rivera. It was a musical at Cohoes and that was a lot of fun, and in Schenectady we did it with puppets and that was an awful lot of fun.

“Lloyd Waiwaiole [of Union College] directed and he had these great puppets as the Ghost of Christmas Past, Present the Future. The funny thing about playing Scrooge is that it’s a lot of standing around for that character. He just watches how his life develops, and then in the last 20 minutes there’s this whole transformation. It’s a wonderful transformation and I guess that’s why I like that show so much.”

••

Maria Riccio Bryce wrote “Hearts of Fire,” a musical about the 1690 Schenectady Massacre, and is the music director at St. Luke’s Church in Schenectady.

“Proctors would put on their own version of the Radio City Music Christmas Pageant and in 1985 they asked me to direct it for the first time. Following ‘Hearts of Fire’ in 1990, they asked me to come up with something original, and I remember my father was at death’s door and I was taking care of him.

“I was thinking, ‘am I going to be late for Christmas,’ but then I got this sudden rush of blood to my head and I created this whole show while my father was dying. I wrote a song, ‘Let My Children Remember,’ and Mary Pohl, a stupendous soprano, sang it, playing this wonderful woman who was worried about Christmas because there wasn’t enough money. People seemed to really love it. It was very gratifying.”

••

Patrick White is a long-time favorite of area theater fans, working primarily at Albany Civic, Schenectady Civic and Curtain Call Theatre.

“In my first season in NYC as a drama student, I treated myself to a solo $30, standing-room ticket to ‘The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby.’ The seats were going for $100, an unthinkable sum for this restaurant host who was paying his own way through American Academy of Dramatic Arts. In fact, when you bought a ticket they gave you a promotional button reading, “I’ve been Nicked,” because they were the first $100 tickets on Broadway.

“I showed up for the production and went to my assigned standing room spot only to discover a man in a wheelchair in my spot who asked if he could please trade tickets with me and take his 4th-row orchestra aisle seat and sit with his wife. With pleasure. An experience only to be had in a theater with an audience and a performance! I knew I was in New York. Still gives me a thrill.”

••

Benita Zahn, is a TV-13 news anchor and a regular performer at various Capital Region theater venues.

“As a kid growing up downstate, I went to see ‘The Nutcracker’ with my girl scout troop at the New York State Theater at Lincoln Center in New York. I must have been around 10. To say it was mesmerizing isn’t enough. It just took you away. The performance was so beautiful and the stage design so complete you felt you were there. It was a feast for your imagination. Whenever I see ‘The Nutcracker’ performed anywhere these days, it whisks me back to when I was 10 years old.”

Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or [email protected]

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