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Hale Oprah: Local Artist Hopes Kids’ Book Inspires Audience with Winfrey
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Susan Hale strolled the streets of her ancestors, one recent weekday afternoon.
“My family originally came from Boston, and it goes pretty far back,” she said, tracing a lineage from 20th century Union College Professor Edward Everett Hale Jr. to 19th century artists Susan Hale and Philip Leslie Hale; 18th century American patriot Nathan Hale – who famously said "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country," just prior to being executed for spying on British troops - to Massachusetts minister John Hale, whom the history books remember for his involvement during the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. More than 250 years later, his fictional portrayal appear in Arthur Miller's play “The Crucible.”
It was at some of Saratoga Springs’ most prominent venues – most gone, some still in existence – where her great-great grandfather, Rev. Edward Everett Hale, delivered popular sermons in the late 19th century during biennialUnitarian Conferences that drew attendees from across the northeast.
It is Hale’s own talents, which stretch across a broad spectrum of the arts, that brings her to Saratoga Springs on this day. One project in particular – a children’s book she wrote and illustrated titled “Follow Your Dreams!” – Hale hopes will inspire an audience with Oprah Winfrey. The media giant is slated to speak at Skidmore College’s commencement at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center on May 20.
“I want to give a box of books to Oprah’s school in Africa. How do you do that? When I heard that she was coming to Saratoga…I don’t know, it would be a dream to get my books to Oprah, because the story is about positivity, and persisting in spite of bullies,” Hale said.
In 2007, Oprah opened the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls, a competitive boarding school in Johannesburg, South Africa, that offers education to disadvantaged students from across the country, Skidmore College will recognize Winfrey's commitment to education through her academy. One of the graduates of Winfrey’s school will also be receiving a Skidmore degree.
The protagonist of Hales’ illustrated book is “Pickles,” a real-life pot-bellied pig who the author took in, in 1997.
“I always wanted a pig - since I was a little kid, like Arnold on ‘Green Acres.’ She was a perfect house pet. She rode in the car with me across the country, from here to L.A., and after the book got done Pickles would come with me to school assemblies and book store signings,” said Hale, who received a bachelor of music degree in classical organ performance from Wheaton College in Illinois.
“Pickles is the neglected one who no one ever hears and who struggles to be heard. She sees a Fairy Pig Mother, who says to her: don’t let them get you down, just follow your dreams,” explained Hale, whose own markers of a lifetime of achievement spill out from the confines of her oversized briefcase. They include flyers promoting “The Pickles Power TV Show” that broadcast on Schenectady’s cable access, clippings from Los Angeles newspapers about her potbellied pig trying to make it big in Hollywood, images from Pickles’ media photoshoots, and prototype T-shirts emblazoned with the words: Dare To Dream - Pickle Power!
“I dream big,” offered Hale, whose oil paintings have been exhibited and classical concerts performed from the South American country of Ecuador to the northern climes of Saratoga Springs. (A clip of her performance at The Grove last summer of Rachmaninoff’s “Prelude in G Minor” may be viewed at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=36LEhH7-NKg). In October, she is slated to perform at Carnegie Hall. “That’s been a longtime dream,” Hale enthused.
After Pickles passed away, the book project went on the back-burner, but Hale said she has a renewed interest in updating the illustrations and re-issuing the book.
Pickles’ dream is to be a singer and the book illustrated the challenges she faces and overcomes to reach her goal. Hale also sings a narration in an accompanying CD. “Follow your dreams,” Hale asserted.” I’m living proof.”
For more information about the book “Follow Your Dreams,” go to: http://www.picklepower.us/, and for Susan Hale, go to: http://www.susanbhale.com/home.html.
Neighbors: Snippets of Life From Your Community
Who: Joe Cutshall-King.
Where: Saratoga Springs Public Library.
What are you doing today?
I’m giving a talk on the story behind the story of “The Burning of The Piping Rock,” which is a novel I wrote about the Piping Rock Casino here in Saratoga in 1954. The book is fiction, but it’s based upon real characters.
When did the book come out?
What prompted you to write the story?
My family. I learned things about my own family in light of what happened when I was writing the book. It turned out to be a horrifying story, actually.
What was your family’s connection to the story?
My dad was a pharmacist. He worked as a manager for MacFinn’s Drugstore, which was at 396 Broadway in those days, and his boss was James Leary – who was, shall we say, extremely close friends with the Mafia – who ran all the casinos. When I was older, my dad told me that he sold the arsonist the materials to burn the Piping Rock, so that started my interest in it.
How much did you know about the story when you were a kid?
I was born in 1947 and at first, it was very secret. Gradually, as my family got further and further away, decades after the incident, they told the younger kids. But I never heard all of it, it was in bits and pieces.
You were born in Saratoga, but abruptly moved to Washington County?
We fled. One day I was playing on Lincoln Avenue and the next day I was being shoved in a car with everything we owned and we left. We went to Fort Edward just to get away from it.
What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in Saratoga Springs during your lifetime?
The improvements on Broadway. The vibrancy. I hear people lament that it’s gotten so expensive, but I’ll tell you: this is heaven. Beautiful and live-able.
You’ve written a screenplay of the novel. If a film were made, who would you like to see in it?
Jon Hamm to play my father. My dad was extremely good looking.
Future City Art Plans Revealed: "A Park for The Arts," Music Partnership w/ Nashville in the works
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Every morning, Elizabeth Sobol begins her day driving down the Avenue of the Pines. Since taking over the reins in October at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Sobol has been forming a vision in her mind’s eye of a park for the arts.
“When I saw the reflecting pool, the Victoria Pool, the beautiful porticos and the baths, the Jazz Bar downstairs, the Hall of Springs and all sorts of these other nooks and crannies, I was like: wow. I started thinking about all sorts of site-specific work,” SPAC’s president and CEO said.
She asked about the jazz bar, and was surprised to learn no live music is played there; When she saw the reflecting pool, she was reminded of John Luther Adams’ 2014 piece “Become Ocean,” which was performed at Lincoln Center around that venue’s reflecting pool.
“I see the park filled with art-making. Music. Maybe some outdoor sculpture and interactive experiences. I think of the park as this magnificent convergence of man-made beauty and natural beauty.”
Sobol said she wants to eliminate any preconceived barriers that may exist separating the SPAC amphitheater – where the arts are staged – and the surrounding grounds of the Saratoga Spa State Park.
“I’m all about no boundaries. Let people experience art in unexpected places where it catches them off-guard,” Sobol said. “I feel like this is a park for the arts, with so many spectacular places we can do performances.”
The other thing she wants to dispel is the bipolar notion that SPAC is either pop music, or classical music. “I think SPAC is one organism. It’s a world-class venue, and as long as everything that appears on the stage is world-class, it belongs without respect to genre.”
Teaming-up with other organizations is key, and already collaborations have been struck with Caffè Lena for a six-concert series, Skidmore College – for a performance that will be staged in June - and with UPH and Proctors for a yet-to-be announced event that will take place in the fall. There are also ongoing conversations with the nearby National Museum of Dance, and Saratoga Auto Museum regarding a potential Cuban festival that would feature live music, dance classes and a curated show of classic cars that would involve all three venues in their respective area of expertise.
“You’d walk in here and have this immersive experience, pulling it all together for you rather than a kind of silo experience,” Sobol said. “I think the more you feel art connects with basic human experiences, then it touches you in different ways.” The idea is to host year-round events that would fan out beyond SPAC’s geographical borders and into the Saratoga Spa State Park, “giving people these sublime experiences out in nature.”
“Some of it would be formal collaboration, some of it would be ‘pop-up,’ but I’m also imagining a poet’s corner here, where people can come and read their work,” Sobol said. “I want people to learn they can just come here in the same way they can go to a fair and entertain themselves, there’s food and rides and animals there’s all sorts of stuff – but with a proliferation of artistic experiences they can have here.”
“I’m also imagining having this whole day based on science and music that would end with Holst – ‘The Planets’ - performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra with massive screens of NASA space footage and hundreds of telescopes placed down in the football field, so kids could go from not just being taught these connections between astronomy and music, but seeing and hearing and feeling it,” Sobol said.
Saratoga’s Arts Ranking
On April 24, SMU’s National Center for Arts Research released its third annual Arts Vibrancy Index, which ranks communities across the country, examining the level of supply, demand, and government support for the arts in each city.
The “arts vibrancy” is measured by nonprofit cultural institutions, organizations and venues particularly attractive to artists or tourists, levels of government support, and being robust in a variety of arts sectors.
The cities of Bennington, Vermont, and Hudson, and Oneonta, N.Y. placed high on the list. As a county, Saratoga placed in the 92nd percentile, meaning of the 3,144 counties across the country, Saratoga County ranks higher than 92 percent of the rest of the country, according to the report, which may be viewed at: https://sites.smu.edu/meadows/heatmap/index.html
Saratoga Springs Arts Commission Involvement
City Mayor Joanne Yepsen, who in 2015 appointed members to the city’s first Arts Commission, is in the process of attempting to strike a collaborative partnership with the city of Nashville, Tennessee.
“We’re identifying what that exchange and partnership will look like,” Yepsen said. “The first step will be sending an invitation to their arts commission to invite some performers, musicians to Saratoga Springs to begin the partnership and we’re hoping to do this in August or September. It might even turn into a mini-festival of national performers, so we’re going to move forward as an Arts Commission.” The creative pipeline could also result in the Spa City hosting music workshops featuring performers from “Music City.”
How It’s Done in Music City
Nashville with a population about 678,000, is more than 20 times the size of Saratoga Springs.
Overseeing things in the “Music City” is the 15-member Metropolitan Nashville Arts Commission, which was formed in 1978. The arts commission has an approximate $3 million annual operating budget, promotes and supports that city’s visual, performing and literary arts. The commission has autonomy from the council, meaning the granting process – while going through a transparent public process, don’t have to return to the City Council for approval, said Jennifer Cole, director of Nashville’s arts commission. Of the $3 million budget, $2.3 million is awarded to civic and nonprofit civic and charitable organizations that assist the commission in its goals, with the balance of monies used to fund special projects and administrative costs.
The arts commission in Nashville also receives separate funding for public art, through the city’s Capital Budget. In 2000, the council adopted a measure that ensures 1 percent of all city-issued bonds for public city buildings is targeted for public art projects. Potential public art projects are subsequently scored by “citizen panelists” - members of a seven-member Public Art Committee - and taxpayers are also permitted to weigh in regarding the art projects that will be placed in public areas, Cole said.
A separate group, the all-volunteer Music City Music Council was started in 2009, which doesn’t have governing powers but works as an advisory group to the mayor . They are an association of business leaders charged with developing strategies toward heightening the awareness and development of Nashville’s world-wide reputation as Music City. Music is to Nashville as horses is to Saratoga, with core employment in the music industry in Nashville per 1,000 population exceeding all other U.S. cities by large margins and New York and Los Angeles by 2.5 to 4 times.
Recently, the Saratoga Springs Arts Commission has held discussions recently regarding the impending loss of the 300-seat Saratoga Music Hall when converted to a court room. Yepsen said to compensate, there are plans underway to potentially enlarge and enhance the Dee Sarno Theater at the Saratoga Arts building on Broadway. Joel Reed, executive director of Saratoga Arts, said with some interior re-configuration, the theater could double its capacity from 100 to 200 people.
New Incubator Opens in Saratoga Springs
“There’s an opportunity for the city of Saratoga Springs with an incubator right here, through SEDC’s (Saratoga Economic Development Corporation) good work,” said Yepsen, referencing other existing regional incubators at the Center For the Gravity in Troy and The Albany Barn. “It could be a space for people to create inventions, or art, or a combination.”
By its own definition, the Tech Valley Center of Gravity in Troy cultivates a community of makers, innovators and entrepreneurs to initiate creative collisions resulting in economic and personal growth. In Albany, that City, its Housing Authority, and the Barn partnered to redevelop the St. Joseph’s Academy building into 22 low-cost live/work residences for artists, and a multi-tenant creative arts incubator, enterprise and program space that includes work and rehearsal suites, a dance studio, and digital media lab.
Ryan Van Amburgh, Economic Development Specialist with SEDC, met with the city Arts Commission during its monthly meeting in April, shortly after launching SPARK Saratoga to empower locally based entrepreneurs. On Wednesday, the non-profit consulting firm announced a collaborative agreement with Saratoga CoWorks to site a new business incubator on Regent Street. Van Amburgh said discussions with the city’s Arts Commission are ongoing regarding a potential arts component, and that SEDC is engaged in a willingness to play a role in the city’s creative economy.
GOP Launches City Election Campaign with Six Candidates
SARATOGA SPRINGS – The city Republican Committee hosted a campaign kick-off this week at the Pavilion Grand Hotel to introduce six candidates vying for seats in the November election.
The GOP slate includes: mayoral candidate Mark Baker; political newcomers Andrew Blumenberg – vying for a seat as City Court Judge, and Don Braim – who will be running for the position of Public Safety Commissioner; Saratoga County Supervisor candidate John Safford, and incumbent Public Works Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco and Saratoga County Supervisor Matt Veitch.
“This is the first step and a big step,” said Baker, who was born in Wisconsin and relocated to Saratoga Springs 34 years ago to become the first president of the Saratoga Springs City Center. During his tenure he worked with nine different city mayors.
Baker spoke about “regain(ing) a civil majority on the Saratoga Springs City Council” alongside his fellow Republican candidates, and spoke in general terms regarding city issues. Asked about the November referendum related to the city’s commission form of government, Baker said he will read the Charter Commission’s report when it is finalized.
“We’re dealing with the successes and the challenges of our successes,” Baker said, in response to a query of the city’s growth in recent years. “You’re going to have growth because people want to live here, and you’re going to have growth that allows people to have lower taxes,” he said. “We have a vibrant community that is alive and we have people that want to visit us, and that helps us grow our sales tax base.”
“Mark Baker – I can’t wait to work with you when you become mayor of Saratoga Springs; We’re going to get a lot of things done,” said longtime Supervisor Matt Veitch.
John Safford, who as a political newcomer in 2015 was defeated in his bid for mayor by Democrat Joanne Yepsen, said he brings a business and public service resume to his candidacy for supervisor, “to represent all of the citizens of Saratoga Springs (and to bring) the highest level of care to the under-served.”
Blumenberg, who since his hiring in 2007 as public defender, has handled more than 5,000 cases at City Court, is running for court judge; Braim, who worked in the city police department for 22 years, is running for Commissioner of Public Safety, and incumbent public Safety Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco is seeking his sixth two-year term in the position. He recalled rising above the “political games played and political enemies punished” when first elected a decade ago, and talked about putting the “public” back in public works.
Four incumbent City Democrats have announced their candidacy: Accounts Commissioner John Franck, Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan, Saratoga Springs City Court Judge Francine R. Vero, and current Saratoga County Supervisor Peter Martin – who will vie for the seat of Commissioner of Public Safety. Current Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen, a Democrat, said he will not seek re-election. Saratoga Springs Democrats are expected to endorse their candidates later this month. Current city mayor Joanne Yepsen has yet to announce whether she will seek re-election.
The Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee – which can be viewed on the committee’s website at: http://www.saratogadems.org/platform/ offers statements in support of affordable housing and homeless services; a focus on public health and gun safety; and the importance of a safe, adequate supply of drinking water.
In November, voters will elect all five City Council positions – the mayor and four commissioners, one City Court Judge, and two Supervisors who will represent the city at the county level. The elected positions are for two-year terms.
A referendum will also be held regarding the city’s current “commission” form of governing. Should voters choose to change the city’s way of governing, that change will not be implemented until at least 2019.
SPAC-Caffè Lena Initiate Partnership to Stage Concert Series in Saratoga
SARATOGA SPRINGS – This weekend’s concert by The Orchestra of St. Luke’s will mark the second of six concerts brought to Saratoga Springs this year born of a newly forged partnership between Caffè Lena and the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.
The collaboration between the two venues, each which has staged more than a half-century of performances, will encompass jointly curated and presented programs at both venues, with the location varying by season.
The Orchestra of St. Lukes, one of Americas foremost chamber orchestras, will make a first-ever appearance in the Capital Region on April 25 in an exclusive performance at Lena’s café.
“I was in New York in January talking with some friends over coffee when they mentioned they had this program of baroque chamber music they were doing,” recalled SPAC President and CEO Elizabeth Sobol. “It was written by Bach to be performed at Café Zimmerman - a coffeehouse in Leipzig where all the artists and intellectuals would gather at the time Bach was living there. When I heard it was at a coffeehouse, I thought: Oh my God, that has got to come to Caffè Lena. It’s a perfect collaboration between SPAC and Caffè Lena.”
And while this weekend’s show is sold out, tickets are still available for the third spring program, which will be staged at Caffè Lena May 4 and features Louisville, Kentucky-based folk band Harpeth Rising. Tickets are available at: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2910973.
In June, the series shifts to SPAC, where three free Sunday afternoon concerts, one each in June, July, and August will be staged at the new gazebo.
“Very soon we’ll be announcing the summer component to the partnership which will include a monthly Caffè Lena Day at SPAC,” Sobol explained. “It’ll be the whole afternoon, from 12 to 5, and families will be able to come and hang and make music a real part of the afternoon in the park.” The three summer concerts are being curated by the café’s executive director, Sarah Craig.
“When we sat down and started talking about artists, every band Sarah mentioned to me I flipped over. Everything she mentioned I love,” Sobol said.
“I looked for artists that have a huge energy and a rich intensity that can hold up well in an outdoor environment,” said Craig, adding that the schedule of musicians, when solidified, could number as many as three performers on each of the three days. And while the teaming-up of the two Saratoga Springs powerhouses marks the first official collaboration between the venues, there is a long list of artists – from Bob Dylan to Melanie to Don McLean – who have performed at both, as well as a synergy historically fostered by Lena Spencer, who invited musicians appearing on the SPAC stage to come and perform after-hour concerts at her Phila Street café.
With six months under her belt as the new leader at SPAC, Sobol said one goal is creating new ventures while maintaining the venue’s time-honored traditions.
“I was being very conservative until I got the lay of the land. I haven’t touched the big resident companies because they’re so important to the DNA of SPAC, but we’ve been making some enhancements – like this Caffè Lena partnership, and within the next couple of weeks we’re going to be announcing all sorts of partnerships with some of our other cultural family members,” Sobol said. “There are so many organizations here, my feeling is the more we all work together the more we raise Saratoga up.“
Neighbors: Snippets of Life From Your Community
Who: Matt McCabe.
Where: Saratoga Guitar, 480 Broadway.
Q. When did you first come to Saratoga Springs.
April of ’94, and I opened the store in June.
Q. What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the city in that time?
A. In the last 23 years there have been quite a few changes in the landscape with the high-rises, the condominiums and more storefronts. It’s a city on the move. It’s growing. I don’t think it’s as rampant as some might think. It’s a small city, so the changes are more amplified but the image is there because of the success of downtown.
Q. What are you doing today?
A. Re-stringing guitars, trying to pay bills.
Q. Do you still play guitar and sing on stage?
A. I still do with whoever will have me. I play at the Olde Bryan Inn during racing season with some guitar compadres, and throughout the year I do a host of other concerts, benefits and gigs as they arise.
Q. What brush have you had with fame?
A. Being the business this is and with the bands touring through the years, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and attend a lot of concerts, go backstage and meet many of the artists. You get the occasional celebrity coming to town on their own R&R who stumble in. I remember Sam Shepard the actor coming in. He was very nice.
Q. What did you want to be when you were a kid?
A. A veterinarian. That was all I ever thought of being. That and a baseball player. Everything else happened by accident.
Q. You were city Commissioner of Finance for Four Years. Do you miss it?
A. I love being able to serve the public, but the vacuum gets filled immediately. When you’re in, you’re in. When you’re out, you’re out. And life fills up, so I have that time to miss it. I certainly look back on it fondly. It was a challenge, but it I did my best and I thoroughly enjoyed working for the people of Saratoga Springs.
Notes From City Hall
Workshop Set for Affordable Housing Ordinance
A City Council workshop on the much-debated SPA Housing Ordinance will take place at 1 p.m. on Thursday, May 4 at City Hall, Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen announced this week. The ordinance, if approved, would have a citywide effect on future development.
A New Home for Retired Police Horse Jupiter
The council authorized an agreement - at no cost to the city - to allow the transfer of retired police horse Jupiter to police officer Aaron Moore, who will care for “my fellow officer and partner as he transitions into retirement after serving our community.” Jupiter, who is 24, will be transferred to Ballston Lake, “where he will be well taken care of by my wife and myself,” Moore wrote, in a letter read to the council by Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen.
Council Gives Thumbs-Up to Pitney Meadows Community Farm PUD
The council unanimously accepted a SEQRA Determination and approved the proposed Pitney Meadows Community Farm PUD - reporting that the project will not have a significant adverse impact on the environment. The PUD, or Planned Unit Development, was sought for the development of a 35,000+ square foot agricultural center at the Pitney Meadows Farm, on West Avenue. The center will sit on a small non-farming portion of the land.
Projects slated to begin later this year include the development of the community gardens, the children’s greenhouse, gardens, and some trails and the renovation and repurposing of 11 historic buildings currently on the farm.
Last November, the council approved the $1.165 million city purchase of the development rights of the 166-acre Pitney Farm, to ensure the farm land remains a farm in perpetuity.
City Approves Purchase of Lands Adjacent to Loughberry Lake
The City Council unanimously approved the city’s purchase of two parcels of land, amounting to just over two acres, adjacent to Loughberry Lake. The parcels are just north of state Route 50 and will be purchased from Krista and Jason Tommell for $135,000 in Open Space Bond Funds. As well, $5,000 was approved for expenses associated with the purchase.
Should Loughberry Lake no longer be used as a reservoir in the future, the parcel could potentially serve as a pocket park with access to the waterfront for active or passive recreation.
Learn How to Grieve Your Assessment
A Grievance Class will be held 5:30 p.m. on May 9 at City Hall, Accounts Commissioner John Franck announced this week.
Grievance Day in Saratoga Springs is Tuesday, May 23, 2017. Grievance board members will be hearing grievances from 9 a.m. – noon; 1 p.m. - 4:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. - 9 p.m. Residents can choose morning, afternoon or evening sessions and must submit completed application and documentation to the Assessment Office in order to be scheduled for a time. Applications will be available after May 1.
The Planning Board will hold a workshop at 5 p.m. on Monday, April 24 and a full meeting at 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 27 at City Hall.
The Zoning Board of Appeals will hold a meeting at 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 27 at City Hall.
Skidmore Theater Presentation Revisits a Volatile Time in 1970’s New York
SARATOGA SPRINGS – By the time the early 1970s rolled around, any promise perceived of a train bound for glory on a fast track to the Aquarian Age had instead become supplanted by a cranky subway car departing a graffiti-stained station with a congregation of misfits aboard.
It is these characters of humanity – Rake the hustler, Fick the junkie, Al the alcoholic, and Franny the transvestite prostitute – put on display, in all their grit and glory in the staging of Skidmore Theater’s presentation of “Balm In Gilead.” The play, scripted by Lanford Wilson, premiered Off Off Broadway at La MaMa in 1965 and a generation later re-set to take place in the early 1970s.
The geography is uptown Manhattan, the setting an all-night diner where characters drift in and out against a backdrop of booths and swiveling stools that lean on a cheesy, diamond-motif counter topped by metal napkin holders, red and yellow plastic-spout squeeze bottles, and a big, clunky cash register.
Under the direction of Phil Soltanoff - a veteran of recent projects staged in Austin, Vancouver, Los Angeles and New York City - the two dozen or so Skidmore College players convincingly convey a scenario with a talented realism that certainly pre-dates the time before their own existence on earth if not their parents, in providing a voyeuristic experience of a collection of characters whose lives are simultaneously humorous and tragic.
Sydney Tennant portrays the doe-eyed Darlene - a naïve, newly transplanted New Yorker - with credible splendor, marathon monologuing deep into the night, expressing every single thought that pours from her mind with a blend of child-like innocence and annoying animation. She engages even the most hardened characters seated in the 24-hour diner in a shared humanity, if only for a fleeting moment. When she concludes her soliloquy by saying “Anyway, to make a long story short…” it cracks everyone up, characters and audience alike.
In John - the grungy, apron-draped cafe manager portrayed by Jacob Hudson who alternates his time between cooking in the kitchen and showing non-paying customers the door - and Kay, the yellow- garbed waitress played by Anabel Milton who runs around taking coffee orders and wiping down tables – the play depicts a solid foundation of the drab, bleak realities of the working class. It stands in high contrast to the commotion of platinum blonde wigs and wounded blue jeans, hot pants, leather thigh-high boots and fishnet stockings, silver sequined miniskirts and post-hippie fringe in a sleaze-and-glam cacophony that lives somewhere between a New York Dolls concert and a Starsky & Hutch TV show.
Lulu Fairclough-Stewart especially shines as the oh-so-bored, scarlet-haired Ann, providing a perfect foil to Darlene’s ramblings, nursing a cigarette and firmly encased in her hard shell of emotional body armor, before heading back into the street, past a shuttered bodega and an alleyway framed by trash, to make her living. Chris Naughton is convincing as well in a lead role as the mustached drug dealer Joe, for whom the naïve Darlene falls.
The ensemble as a whole weaves its work like a large orchestra, a series of direct and non-direct actions conveying the mayhem with an authenticity; These student actors bring the scenes to life.
An appropriate soundtrack blares out the diner jukebox throughout: Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life,” Bruce Springsteen’s “Meeting Across the River,” “Thunder Road,” and “Jungleland,” and “Waltzing Matilda” sung by Tom Waits, that fittingly sprinkles the optimistic hope of escape onto on-the-nod moments of despair.
After the final curtain call, the characters return for one more go-around the diner, reminiscent of the dusky cycling at the conclusion of the Rolling Stones documentary “Gimme Shelter,” and which leaves the open question: are we moving on to a grander time in this life, or being forced to return to our destiny, time and again?
Skidmore Theater Presents “Balm In Gilead,” by Lanford Wilson. Director: Phil Soltanoff.
Performances at 8 p.m. Friday, April 21 and Saturday, April 22, and at 2 p.m. on Sunday, April 23. Skidmore College: Janet Kinghorn Bernhard Mainstage. Tickets are $12 adult, $8 students and faculty. After the April 22 performance of Balm in Gilead, the Skidmore Theater Department will host its annual house party. “That 70’s House Party,” is a celebratory event to recognize the department’s achievements this year.
Local Mother Initiates Upstate Alliance for Parents of a Child with Autism
SARATOGA SPRINGS – The twins are 13 now, the effort to fulfill their special needs a continuing work-in-progress.
“I have to say my boys have some difficult challenges, but they’re hard workers and every day they make progress, every day they learn,” explains the boys’ mother, Kristin Howarth. “It’s not a sprint, but a marathon. You just keep pushing and keep teaching and keep helping them make those milestones.”
A little over a decade ago, Howarth and her husband relocated to upstate New York. The twins were about 18 months old when The Howarths noticed the boys seemed delayed in meeting some of their developmental milestones.
“We started a music program with the boys when they were just over a year. We looked around at the group and saw what the other kids were doing and what my kids weren’t,” Howarth recalled. “At around a year old there’s a certain number of words that a typically-developing child will say, that our guys were not saying. It made me ask some questions. It was a significant factor that made us speak out and have discussions with our pediatrician,” Howarth says.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children be screened for general development using standardized, validated tools at 9, 18, and 24 or 30 months and for autism at 18 and 24 months, or whenever a parent or provider has a concern.
By their first birthday, a child will typically say “mama” and “dada” and voice exclamations like “uh-oh!” as well as trying to repeat words they hear from their parents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC’s milestones checklist may downloaded here: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/pdf/checklists/all_checklists.pdf.
An early intervention therapist was sent to work with the family, visiting the home four days a week over the next six months, after which Gavin and Noah were diagnosed with autism, also called autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
“When you do hear it, it’s a blow and all of these things you picture as a parent come crashing down: Will my children ever play sports? Will they have friends and go to the prom? Will they drive? will they get married?” she wondered. “There’s no welcoming committee when your child is diagnosed with autism. No one comes and knocks on your door to say: Here are some things that you can do; Here’s a go-to guide. You basically leave the doctor’s office after that diagnosis and you think: What do I do now?”
The CDC estimates that 1 in 68 children, in multiple communities in the United States, has been identified with autism spectrum disorder, or ASD - roughly 30 percent higher than estimates previously reported in 2012. The data also show that ASD is almost five times more common among boys than girls.
Howarth searched the Internet, but answers were hard to come by a decade ago. “They were diagnosed at just over two years of age and it quickly became pretty obvious to us that there weren’t a lot of resources in our area, short of traveling down to Albany,” she says. “It was a challenge because we live up in Queensbury. We figured, why can’t we create it? So, we did.”
Gavin and Noah were the driving force behind the creation of Upstate NY Autism Alliance (UNYAA). The organization provides resources, education, recreation and advocacy services. Howarth provides advocacy, program development, consulting and education through the group.
“It was a very emotional time and that was also one of the factors in starting the group. We wanted to give children as many opportunities as we could, just like their typically developing peers, because they’re kids first. Autism is secondary.”
Howarth’s group is comprised of volunteers who help connect parents with children diagnosed with autism, with resources. “We also provide activities every month so parents can get together with their children and talk to other families and meet other people in their school district - families involved in the group, somebody they can feel comfortable talking with,” says Howarth, who adds that she has also accessed valuable services from Saratoga Bridges. “They have some wonderful things that provide services for families such as ours.”
UNYAA and Saratoga Bridges are teaming up to co-host this weekend’s Autism Expo at the Saratoga Springs City Center. The family event will feature more than 85 vendors and exhibitors, a variety of activities and games, arts and crafts, and sensory toys for kids. More than 1,000 people are expected to attend Sunday’s expo.
“It’s an amazing event under one roof. We have all these resources for families who can talk to different vendors, providers, and people who offer different services for kids in the spectrum,” Howarth says.
ASD is a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. There is often nothing about how people with ASD look that sets them apart from other people, but people with ASD may communicate, interact, behave, and learn in ways that are different from most other people. The learning, thinking, and problem-solving abilities of people with ASD can range from gifted to severely challenged. Some people with ASD need a lot of help in their daily lives; others need less.
“They have to be taught in a different way and broken down into simple steps. People don’t really understand what autism is, but really, it’s just that their brains are wired differently. They don’t learn the way we do, or they may not interpret things the way we do,” Howarth says.
All of the causes of ASD are not known. There may be many different factors that make a child more likely to have an ASD, including environmental and genetic factors.
“They look typical, but they don’t process information – both incoming and outgoing – so it can be a challenge for them to just pick up those social cues like another child might.”
The sixth annual Autism Expo will be held noon to 3 p.m. Sunday, April 23 at the Saratoga Springs City Center. The event is free and features exhibitors from camps, school programs pre-k through college, technological apps for autism, recreation and therapeutic programs, a bounce house and arts and crafts.
Upstate NY Autism Alliance (UNYAA) is a not-for-profit alliance formed by dedicated parents of children experiencing the affects of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). For more information, go to: http://www.upstatenyautism.org/. Saratoga Bridges has provided programs to people with disabilities and their families for more than 60 years. For more information, go to: http://www.saratogabridges.org/.
Saratoga’s Quest for Affordable Housing
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Several plans are currently being considered to address the city’s push to help local workers retain city residences. Workforce housing specifically is a gap Mayor Joanne Yepsen has identified as a primary need to be filled.
Site plans are anticipated to be in place by early-to-mid May for the development of more than 100 workforce housing units on a near five-acre parcel of land on South Broadway, according to a report by the city’s Affordable Housing Task Force, which held its monthly meeting at City Hall this week.
The proposal calls for the development of 120 one and two-bedroom units with a rent structure of 60 to 100 percent AMI - a $50,400 to $84,000 range - while 14 units would be offered at a “fair-market rent” to military veterans. AMI, or the Area Median Income for a family of four in Saratoga County is about $84,000, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The Saratoga Diner, which closed in 2012 and occupies the land, will be razed. The owner of the property – who plans to lease the land – has indicated that the horse atop the diner will be salvaged and likely remain with his family.
An Orlando, Florida based developer involved in the project has created local partnerships to help facilitate the project. “I think it’s going to be a stunning design,” Mayor Yepsen said. The South Broadway scheme will include a retail business component.
Housing Units Slated for Stonequist, Jefferson Terrace
A Request for Proposal, or RFP, is expected to be issued shortly regarding two other projects that could site 110 additional “affordable” units. Eighty of those units are expected to be developed adjacent to the Stonequist apartments, projected at 40 to 100 percent of AMI, with another 30 units at the former site of the William H. Ford Community Center, at Jefferson Terrace. Both are under the ownership of the Saratoga Springs Housing Authority. The latter site will feature eight housing units reserved for military veterans, eight units for victims of domestic violence, and are based on 30 percent of income, in which vouchers may be used.
West Side Plan Calls for 10 New Buildings
Two potential west side projects seek to collectively site 10 new buildings, a five-story hotel, more than 400 residential units and nearly 30,000 square feet of retail space adjacent to the Saratoga Springs train station. Residences would include 114 units dedicated for senior housing, 66 units for senior assisted care, and 160 apartment units which seemingly would fall under the “workforce” or “affordable” housing category. Seventy-two residential for-sale condominiums, a retail business component, and a new five-story hotel and spa would also be part of the project.
City-Wide Affordable Housing Ordinance Vote Slated for May
Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen remains hopeful the City Council will vote in May on an Inclusionary Zoning ordinance that would have all new housing developments and apartment complexes across the city include as much as 20 percent of those units deemed affordable to people with lower to moderate incomes.
The city Affordable Housing Task Force has advocated for the SPA Housing Zoning plan, and would integrate persons of all income levels across the city ,said Task Force Chairwoman Cheryl Hage-Perez.The proposal has met disapproval, however, from some local groups who indicate they would rather see “site-specific” programs – such as the South Broadway plan. Such a plan sites those seeking affordable housing in one place. Some builders have also expressed concern that while the ordinance would allow them a 20 percent density bonus in construction to make the project financially viable, city zoning restrictions would hamper any such extended development, and are requesting zoning regulations also be increased by 20 percent to aid structural development. A City Hall workshop will be scheduled regarding the ordinance, although a date has yet to be set.
Code Blue Permanent Shelter Moves Closer to Nov. 1 Opening
Plans for a permanent Code Blue emergency homeless shelter, which would operate during cold-extreme weather months, cleared its first hurdle at the city Land Use boards this week when the Zoning Board of Appeals approved that the project move forward.
Plans call for the 6,400 square-foot site to be built as an addition to existing Shelters of Saratoga properties on Walworth Street. Officials said this week they are targeting a Nov. 1 opening for the 61-bed facility. Should that timeline not be met, the possibility exists Code Blue may continue to operate at the Soul Saving Station on Henry Street where it is currently located. Last February, local business owner Ed Mitzen and his wife Lisa announced they will pay for the costs for the new shelter to be built. The plan was slated to go in front of the city Planning Board on Thursday, April 13.
The City Council will hold a pre-agenda meeting 9:30 a.m. Monday April 17, and a full council meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 18 at City Hall.
The Design Review Commission will hold a meeting 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 19 at City Hall.