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Palace, Proctors don't expect a turf battle

Palace, Proctors don't expect a turf battle

While Albany venue is preparing for 'transformational year,' it will focus on its own niche
Palace, Proctors don't expect a turf battle
The Palace Theatre in Albany. Inset top: Palace Executive Director Susan Fogarty; inset bottom: Philip Morris, Proctors CEO.
Photographer: Daily Gazette file photos

Susan Fogarty's goal is to make Albany's Palace Theatre bigger and better than ever in 2018, and while that's not at all a problem with Proctors CEO Philip Morris, there are, evidently, certain lines in the sand that shouldn't be crossed.

For instance, if you're looking to see a national touring production of a major Broadway show anytime soon, you'll still have to find a seat at Proctors. The Palace, according to Fogarty, isn't going to disrupt the status quo.

"I think we can coexist nicely, and obviously Philip and Proctors have done a wonderful job putting on the shows they do and serving their audience," said Fogarty, who took over the reigns of the Palace Performing Arts Center just last November. "They do a great job in their space, and we're not looking to compete with them and attract major touring productions. We're focusing on music, and expanding the musical genres we present, and comedy."

Fogarty and Morris have already had what they call a pleasant face-to-face conversation about the future of the two venues, and while Morris was happy with their chat, there were issues that had to be addressed.

"In the Creative Economy study we did, we learned that the Capital Region has more performance seats per capita than almost any other place in the country," said Morris. "So, while we have a great audience, there are plenty of venues in our area, and there's a potential that the audience response could be limited. If the Palace brought in national touring productions, that would be in direct competition with us. But I don't think that's going to happen, and I don't think they'll be a crisis."

The two theaters — Proctors built in 1926 and the Palace in 1931 — have similar histories. Each have had tough times, the Palace closing its doors for a couple of years in 1969 while Proctors was saved from the demolition ball in 1978. In 1999, the two venues even considered joining forces to ensure they would not be in competition with each other. However, with Proctors being a not-for-profit group and the Palace then owned by the city of Albany, the logistics got a bit too complicated and the discussion about merging never seriously moved forward.

Times-Union Center director Bob Belber, the regional manager for SMG and its 14 entertainment venues in the Northeast, had just started at what was then the Knickerbocker Arena in 1999.

"I was aware those discussions were going on, but I wasn't involved," said Belber. "Now, I'm sure those two theaters will be able to operate very well together. Anytime you have two theaters similar in size, there's gotta be a solid commitment to talk between the folks at the top when it comes to their programming. Philip does a great job at Proctors, and Palace has some great plans and renovations I've heard about, and they always have a solid mix of concerts, comedy acts and family shows."

At the 16,000-seat T-U Center, Belber attracts the biggest musical names in the entertainment business, as well as family shows such as Disney on Ice and the Monster Truck Jam. The Palace, meanwhile, (2,800 seats) and Proctors (2,700) can't quite accommodate those huge shows, but they do have plenty of impressive musical and comedy acts. As for national touring productions, the Palace's stage area, particularly behind the curtain, can't accommodate many of the bigger national touring productions the way Proctors can.

"This is going to be a transformational year for the Palace, but that doesn't mean we're going to be bringing in the kind of Broadway show that Proctors does," said Fogarty. "We might have a few more theatrical events, but what we want to do is improve our stage and load-in area to make it easier for events to come here. We're focusing on creating an enhanced experience for our visitors. We want to improve the lobby, offer more accessibility and an elevator, and we want to make an investment in our arts education program. That means more classroom space."

While Fogarty promises a great 2018 schedule of events, some of the renovation work planned will shut down the theater at times.

"We are now the proud owners of this building and we are moving ahead with our project planning, looking at how we're going to execute a $30 million restoration and renovation project," she said. "There will be some dark time, probably during the summer, but we're hoping to minimize it. We're hoping it would be less than six months, maybe four."

While the Palace's best years may still be ahead, it's historic timeline has been punctuated with the some pretty impressive events. In 1984 the world premiere of the film, "The Cotton Club," was held at Palace Theater, and in 1987, "Ironweed," based on William Kennedy's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, also had its world premiere screening at the Palace.

"What's great about all this talk and everything we're doing is I'm finding out how many people just love the Palace," said Fogarty. "They are very passionate about the place and that's great to see. We hope to get even more involved with the community and our neighborhood in the future."

Fogarty said the welcome she's received from other Capital Region venues and their leaders has erased any second thoughts she might have had about taking the Palace job.

"Bob Belber called me and welcomed me right after I got the job, and Philip and I had a great little sit-down a couple of weeks ago," said Fogarty. "I'm going to visit with [Saratoga Performing Arts Center's) Elizabeth Sobol in a few weeks, and there are others I'm looking forward to meeting. The Capital Region is so rich in the arts. If we all continue to work collaboratively, there are enough patrons and enough interest to go around. If you offer good, quality shows, people will come to see them."

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