All the World's a Stage in New York State

By Zogbi, Marina | American Heritage, May 2000 | Go to article overview

All the World's a Stage in New York State


Zogbi, Marina, American Heritage


RECENTLY, THE RESTORATION OF SEVERAL OLD BROADWAY THEATERS in New York City's Times Square garnered considerable media attention. While the renewal of these noble institutions has definitely been a worthwhile venture, there are many theaters in New York State (outside of the Big Apple) that have experienced similar rejuvenation, without nearly as much hoopla. Although historic theaters are certainly an important part of New York City's character, they're often crucial to the well-being of smaller towns. In many instances, one theater will have been the center of the community for more than 100 years, often serving numerous local functions and hosting a complete variety of attractions. Most of these institutions, which exist all over the Empire State, barely escaped the wrecking ball during the 1970s and '80s, but were rescued by local citizens groups. It's a tribute to the people of Syracuse, Poughkeepsie, Buffalo, Schenectady and other cities that these theaters are still standing and, even more importantly, still functioning--often with as much success as when they first opened.

One of the theaters that best embodies this phenomenon is the Bardavon in Poughkeepsie. Built in 1869 as the Collingwood Opera House, it is the oldest continuously operating theater in the state. In addition to housing visiting theater troupes and opera companies, the Collingwood became a center for the area's cultural, social and political activity (both Presidents Roosevelt -- Theodore and Franklin D. -- appeared here). Early films of the 1900s were shown at the Collingwood, and as that form of entertainment grew more popular, the theater -- which changed its name to the Bardavon (after Shakespeare) during its 1923 renovation -- became a movie house, also showing "tasteful vaudeville." The theater fell into disuse in the 1970s but was saved from demolition by a citizens group and later restored. Today the Bardavon hosts a variety of music and dance concerts. Its impressive list of performers over the years includes everyone from the Barrymores to "Buffalo Bill" Cody, Lillie Langtry to Joan Armatrading.

Built shortly after the Collingwood, the 1875 Troy Savings Bank Music Hall in Troy is considered one of the finest music venues in the world. Its circumstances are quite unique. The Music Hall was included in the Troy Savings Bank's 1870 plans for a new building, as a gesture of appreciation to local citizens for their patronage. Noted architect George B. Post designed the Beaux Arts-influenced structure, with the 60-foot-tall music hall built atop the first-floor banking level. The auditorium's excellent acoustics have drawn such renowned classical and contemporary musicians as Sergei Rachmaninoff, Benny Goodman, Isaac Stem and Sonny Rollins, among others.

Since the Smith Opera House located in Geneva opened in 1894 (with a production of "The Count of Monte Cristo," starring James O'Neill, father of playwright Eugene), a huge roster of entertainers has graced its stage, from Isadora Duncan to Bruce Springsteen. Originally built as an opera and playhouse, The Smith was renovated into an "atmospheric" movie house in the late 1920s. A fanciful interior of Baroque, Art Deco and Victorian elements still includes twinkling stars in its "evening sky" ceiling. The Smith, which currently hosts music, dance, theater and community events, has undergone extensive restoration in the last decade. …

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