Tuesday, October 21, 2008

What I Did on My Summer, er, Fall Vacation

If I could find the person who decided the weekend could consist only of Saturday and Sunday, I would locate him, resurrect him from the dead and then kill him for it. The saddest part of my weekend out of town in New Paltz is the fact that it's over. I went up Friday morning and spent the beautiful, sunny fall day wandering through the town and campus. I haven't been up in the area in about a year and a half; most of my friends have graduated and moved on to bigger and better things. However, a few faculty members and the rare student remains who began their studies as I was ending mine. Before I could meet those people I knew, I first hit up two of my favorite spots on Main Street - Rhino Records and Jack's Rhythms. These are the two places where I really developed a great core of my cast album collection (mostly LP, but a substantial amount on CD). I always like to frequent them because they are always a good time. Both owners are in the store almost always, and are awesome people. Jack especially always remembers me, and even if say a year and a half has gone by, he will ask me what theatre I've been seeing, as though we're picking up our conversation exactly where we left off. This time around I found the cast album of Milk and Honey in Rhino and then traipsed across the hippie tinged block to Jack's store where I unearthed the LPs of Bravo Giovanni, Hazel Flagg and would you believe it, Flahooley. I've also got him interested in seeing August: Osage County after relaying my usual story about what it was like to be in the Imperial on opening night.

As though passing through a surreal time warp, I walked onto the college campus which was exactly as I remembered it, yet entirely different. There is immense renovations going on across the campus, with the school's Old Main closed for a three year refurbishing project. After wandering aimlessly through the detours, I found the theatre department and Stephen Kitsakos, the professor of musical theatre and musical director on campus. Stephen's American Musical Theatre class is joy to take, and from my perspective, also to sit in. Because the class is listed fulfills core requirements for the four year curriculum, the class has evolved from a mere musical class into one that shows the American musical as a reflection of the history and popular culture. I sat on his class that day, which was focusing on representation of Asian Americans in musical theatre. One of the more interesting things about Stephen is the casual way he has of talking about the subject matter at hand. He starts such classes by asking for stereotypes regarding the particular culture in question. After getting the reluctant class to speak up (every time I've seen it, people sit on their hands - the P.C. police on patrol), he starts critical thinking discussions on what about our culture leads to such labeling. In this particular class, Stephen's focus remained on Rodgers & Hammerstein using South Pacific, The King and I and Flower Drum Song. Looking at examples from those musicals, he discusses the tolerance and anti-prejudice that Hammerstein was trying to display, yet also how the writing was also clouded by inherent ethnocentrism and instrinsic yet unconscious condescension toward the other cultures. The class makes for some fascinating discussion - and is one of the most informative anyone could possibly take to learn about the art form.

After the class, I got to meet up with some of theatre students, whose company I enjoyed immensely. It was a bit strange, I graduated almost three years ago and moved out of the town six months later, so while many of my friends and cohorts have moved on, there are a couple of people remaining from my time there. I had never in my life had people so excited to meet me; I felt like a rockstar. This led itself into the evening's performance of Company, the fall mainstage musical that the theatre department is presenting this month. One of the glories of educational theatre is that it allows students to test the waters with roles that they may either never get to play otherwise, or may not yet be old enough to play. With Company, that is most certainly the case. However, there was much to admire. Especially Paul Rigano and Kristen Alestra, who managed to crack me up (for the first time) on the karate scene - their physical comedy was exquisite. Charlotte Pines brought a seductive sass to Marta while Larissa Golberg was devastating as April. Andrea Green was one of the show's highlights as Amy (and boy does that song and scene work like gangbusters). Freshman Adam La Salle was her Paul, with the voice, looks and naturalism that with the right direction could bring him musical theatre stardom. (Seriously, I'm not usually bowled over, but this kid stunned us all). Michelle Hines had a field day with "The Ladies Who Lunch" while Denise Townsend is doing Donna McKechnie proud as Kathy. If I'm forgetting anyone I apologize - all of them are doing hard work, plus it's fun to see Sondheim on the college level, given the inherent challenges found in each of his shows. (The last Sondheim show they performed on their mainstage was Sunday in the Park With George, the only show I worked on - officially and appeared in during my college years). I also had the immense privilege of communicating with the production dramaturges, Russ Dembin and Chris Lavin, whose enthusiasm and intelligence are unending, throughout the entire course of the production. In that respect it was wonderful to see the show on its feet.

After the show, we went to the diner to discuss the show and get acquainted with Jenny Weinbloom of Alpha Psi Ecdysia fame (the campus' burlesque club) of whom I briefly wrote about back in May. Her parents hated 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue so much, they ate hot dogs in the front row in protest (for what I'm assuming is the second act - they hadn't seen the "Duet" yet). Quote of the weekend is hers. When picking up the check. "You don't have a job, you're a blogger!" Only in New Paltz, kids.

The next day I had some time to kill before the arrival of my second wave of friends - other alumni who were coming up for the Saturday night. And as promised, I went to the Sojourner Truth Library on campus, where I was employed in my college days (very June Allyson in Good News, huh?). After catching up with some old friends still working there, I sat down and did my obligatory research (did you know that Arthur Laurents was the first director Bernstein and Lerner wanted for 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue? I didn't until Saturday). Unfortunately I didn't find much on Prettybelle, but I was able to peruse the periodicals (the databases are for students only) and look up some fun facts.

Changing gears, I spent the evening with some of my closest friends in the entire world. I practically lived with them my freshman year of college and have considered them family ever since. We had drinks at Bacchus, a fantastic Southwestern restaurant just off of Main Street, where they serve over 200 beers, imported and domestic. (The favorite for myself and my Val was the Scottish 'SkullSplitter'). After getting a good buzz on, we went to the motel at which they were staying before bundling up to go to the Headless Horseman Haunted Hayride in Ulster Park, NY. It's apparently been named the number one Halloween attraction in America, and my goodness do they make a killing. I went there once before, with the same very group (a few changes in casting along the way), when I was a freshman in college. It was the event that I feel really cemented my friendship with them all. Anyway, we braved the cold for a raucous, strobe-light, fogged-filled sampling of haunted houses and a hayride (at which I either did nothing but provide running commentary, laugh or help the girls through) and then settled in for an old school night of an ipod shuffle, beer and wine, and some cards.

Sunday's weather improved on Saturday's. We went to the Main Street Bistro, one of our sentimental favorites in town, for breakfast and then spent the rest of the day milling through town. I made my first ever visit to the Water Street Market, an antique store in a barn, where I made the fascinating discovery of an entire Broadway section, complete with cast albums (LP), window cards, playbills and souvenir programs. Exercising unprecedented restraint, I limited myself to the original London cast album of Virtue in Danger with Patricia Routledge and Barrie Ingham and the souvenir programs of Robert Preston in Ben Franklin in Paris and Meredith Willson's Here's Love. There will most certainly be a field trip back to this particular store the next time I'm up there.

We wrapped up our weekend with drive up into the Shawagunk Mountains for a pastoral viewing of Ulster and Orange Counties, then wrapped things up with a trip to a farm market for your usual pumpkins, ciders, etc.

And then I came home.

2 comments:

Esther said...

Wow, what an incredibly wonderful, detailed report. The American Musical Theatre course sounds really fascinating. And I'm so glad you had such a great time with your friends. It sounds like an absolutely idyllic place. I felt like I was there with you! And you definitely made me nostalgic for college, even though I went to a large, urban university nothing like the New Paltz campus. (Funny, I have a friend who works at Cortland and they also have an Old Main! There must be one at every SUNY school.)

Theatre Aficionado at Large said...

New Paltz is a fantastic town. It's quite a beautiful place, especially in the autumn. If you ever get a chance you should check it out. People come from all around the world to mountain climb - and made international headlines back in 2004 when the mayor started marrying gay and lesbian couples. (I had friends and family from around the world telling me they saw my school on CNN or the BBC).