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50 Years In Show Business

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OGDENSBURG – In 1963, a group of eight Ogdensburg residents formed the Ogdensburg Community Players with one goal in mind: to bring culture to Ogdensburg and the north country.

Led by president Frank Schwartz, the all-volunteer group scouted for travelling theatre, dance and music shows and perfomed community productions.

The Players’ first scheduled performance was Syracuse University’s production of Samuel Beckett’s one-act play “End Game.” The play was performed in the Ogdensburg City Hall auditorium, now the city council meeting room.

“The show was done on top of a garbage can,” Mr. Schwartz said Wednesday. “Anyone who knows or studied Beckett, know he’s tough. But we had a full audience, and they stayed for the full two hours. After that, we knew we had to keep it going.”

Shows were eventually moved to the Ogdensburg Free Academy’s George Hall auditorium to accommodate the larger audiences. “Before long, any Broadway show you can name, it came to Ogdensburg,” Mr. Schwartz said. “People would stand in line all night for season tickets; some even parked their motor homes. We became the guiding light in the north country, there wasn’t anything like us around at the time. We had everyone coming to our shows including the janitor and the mailman.”

What the organization lacked in funds, it made up for in local volunteers. Ogdensburg Free Academy students served as supernumeraries; they carried spears in operas, performed alongside the Crane orchestra, and served as backstage hands.

“It was a great opportunity for our children, and a big part of why we formed the organization in first place,” said Mr. Schwartz. “We would receive letters of gratitude from the students and some would even go on to work on Broadway.”

The group became known for its quality performances such as Winnipeg Ballet, New York City Opera, American Ballet and productions such as “South Pacific” and “Oklahoma.”

Mr. Schwartz said the group never strayed from controversy.

“We lost a performance because we invited Imogene Coca,” said Mr. Schwartz. But the biggest controversy came during mid-season, 25 years ago when the Players booked Ballet Africans, Mr. Schwartz said.

“The group was set to perform, but they were to perform topless,” he said. “I was walking down the street a day before the performance when then Board of Education President Bob Simpson, stopped me and asked me to take a ride with him.”

Mr. Schwartz said Mr. Simpson told him the players could not perform topless. The next day, Mr. Schwartz purchased 40 bras at Hackett’s.

“I didn’t know what sizes to get, so the clerk just gave me an assortment,” said Mr. Schwartz. “The next day, we told the performers they had to wear the bras or they could not perform.”

When the curtain opened, Mr. Schwartz said he and the whole auditorium sat amazed.

“The women had put on the bras sideways and backwards and all over—everywhere except where they should be,” Mr. Schwartz said.

Mr. Schwartz said the bras proved to be an embarrassing and glaring distraction, and at intermission he asked the performers to take them off.

“After that, the performance was wonderful and, most surprisingly, one the most beautiful performances we had ever had,” he said.

As the shows became more and more popular, the organization became difficult to manage financially. By 1989, the company ended its community productions and many of the board members had quit.

“By the late 80s the show had built up a debt,” said Cynthia I. Wilson, who was a board member at the time. “The show sought an executive director and I thought of Sally Palao, who had headed a couple of other arts organizations at the time.”

Sally F. Palao, Ogdensburg Command Performances Administrator, initially served as a volunteer consultant.

“We wanted so much to salvage it and make it work, so we came up with a plan,” said Mrs. Palao. “No one submitted expenses for two years. Everything was donated, so all we would have to do is pay the actors.”

By 1992, the debt had been paid off and the group had changed their name from Ogdensburg Community Players to Ogdensburg Command Performances (OCP).

Mrs. Palao began scouting for new talent. While in New York City she discovered TheatreworksUSA, a touring company whose performances target younger audiences. Mrs. Palao decided they would be the start of YouTheatre: Class Acts, for students in grades K-12.

“The board thought I was crazy,” said Mrs. Palao. “We decided to start with one show, “Hansel and Gretel.’”

This year, YouTheatre will celebrate its 20th anniversary.

“I cannot tell you how much the children have enjoyed it over the years,” said Mrs. Palao. “After each show, I always ask the children if they enjoyed the performance. One little boy said it was the best three bucks he ever spent. Another boy asked me, ‘Did you know Winnie the Pooh is alive?’”

OCP’s board of directors headquartered its administrative office in Ogdensburg Free Academy in 1997. Mrs. Palao said the board is now working on spreading the YouTheatre performances to other districts. In its 2011-2012 season, YouTheatre performances were held in Massena and Gouverneur school districts.

In 2011, OCP held 12 YouTheatre productions and eight command performances. Audience members from 77 towns visited the theatre.

OCP celebrates its 50th anniversary with nine command performances in its 2012-2013 season beginning Oct. 3.

“Ogdensburg Command Performances has many years of providing really exciting theatre, music, and dance performances for people of all ages,” said Hilary M. Oak, Executive Director for the St. Lawrence Arts Council. “They bring in really high quality productions that people may not have an opportunity to see otherwise. We’re very fortunate to have such a dedicated group of people bringing this caliber of talent to the north country.”

Over the years, OCP has received numerous accolades including the Ogdensburg City School District’s Civic Award for its commitment towards students, teachers and curriculum, the St. Lawrence County of Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business Excellence Award, and it has been ranked by the Central New York Business Journal as one of the top cultural and performing-arts organizations in the state.

Mrs. Palao said one of the biggest challenges OCP faces today is raising money for the organization.

Last year productions totaled $150,000. The New York Arts Council typically donates $4,000 to 5,000 dollars per year, but much of the organization’s funds comes from grants and fundraisers. Ticket sales cover only one third of the additional production costs, which include hotel accommodations for performers, rent, set assembly and marketing.

Mrs. Palao said the non-profit remains committed to offering quality performances at an affordable price despite increase in costs and decreases in state funding.

“Where most of the population typically earns close to $15,000 per year, our mission has now about making the performing arts accessible for everyone,” said Mrs. Palao. “We want to encourage those who have never been to the theatre before to come out and buy a ticket.”

“It’s a bargain and twice that,” said Mr. Schwartz. “Tickets cost about $20 to $30 and they’re three times that towards Syracuse and New York City. It’s a wonderful opportunity for the north country. I’d hate to ever see it end.”

Ogdensburg Command Performances 2012-2013 Season

Season ticket prices range from $232 to $100 for all eight shows and $158 to $68 for five shows.

Season tickets can be purchased by calling the office, 393-2625, or going online at www.ILoveTheatre.org.

■ Sanctioned by Dan Aykroyd and the Belushi Estate, “The Blues Brothers Revue” combines comedy and hits like “Soul man,” “Rubber Biscuit,” “Sweet Home Chicago” and “Rawhide from the original movie and pays homage to Chicago’s rich history of blues, gospel and soul music. See it Oct. 3.

■ LA Theatre Works in celebrating the 200th Anniversary of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” Oct. 16. Published in 1813, this classic romantic comedy is still one of the most acclaimed and strikingly modern works of world literature. Austen is famous for her biting wit and colorful characters, exploration of manners/morals, relationships/disappointments, parents/children. Although many have tried, few works have matched the gentle satire of “Pride and Prejudice.” This brilliant stage adaptation stars a first-rate cast and connects with the audience in a way rarely felt in a traditional theatre setting.

■ Dan Goggin’s Little Sisters of Hoboken head to Hollywood in a hilarious new production: “Nunset Boulevard: The Nunsense Hollywood Bowl Show” on Nov. 5.

■ Four women at a lingerie sale with nothing in common but a black lace bra and memory loss, hot flashes, night sweats, not enough sex and too much sex create “Menopause: The Musical”. This hilarious musical parody is set to classic tunes from the 60s, 70s and 80s such as “Puff, My God I’m Draggin” and “Stayin’ Awake, Stayin’ Awake” will have audience members cheering and dancing in the aisles. This play comes to Ogdensburg Dec. 9.

■ Winner of nine Tony Awards including Best Musical and the Pulitzer Prize for drama “A Chorus Line” is the musical for everyone who ever had a dream and put it all on the line. The chance to see Michael Bennet’s masterpiece again or for the first time shouldn’t be missed on Jan. 10, 2013.

■ Embark on a nostalgic 50-year journey with 14 singers/dancers, a six piece band and 300 costume changes in “Hooray for Hollywood.” Enjoy film clips from your favorite movies like “Singing in the Rain,” “The Glen Miller Story,” “Grease,” “Dirty Dancing,” “Titanic” and many more on March 19, 2013.

■ “A Musical Tribute to the Highwaymen” pays homage to the original 1985 group consisting of Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson. This fully scripted recreation of that amazing band continues the legacy of perhaps the greatest super group in country music history. See it Thursday, April 11, 2013.

■ “Angel of Music: A Salute to Andrew Lloyd Webber” features the voice of Franc D’Ambrosio and Glory Crampton’s silvery soprano with a stellar ensemble cast performing favorites from “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Evita,” “Sunset Boulevard,” “Starlight Express,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” “The Woman in White” and “The Aspects of Love” for an evening you’ll long remember. D’Ambrosio is famous for being the longest running “Phantom” and Crampton played Christine in “Phantom” on Broadway. They will both be in Ogdensburg on Saturday, May 18, 2013.

■ Coming back to town for a special holiday performance is Steve Lippia, who will bring “A Simply Sinatra Christmas” on Nov. 26. His terrific new holiday show presents long-time Christmas favorites with some of the most popular numbers proved to be an embarrassing and glaring distraction, and at intermission he asked the performers to take them off.

“After that, the performance was wonderful and, most surprisingly, one the most beautiful performances we had ever had,” he said.

As the shows became more and more popular, the organization became difficult to manage financially. By 1989, the company ended its community productions and many of the board members had quit.

“By the late 80s the show had built up a debt,” said Cynthia I. Wilson, who was a board member at the time. “The show sought an executive director and I thought of Sally Palao, who had headed a couple of other arts organizations at the time.”

Sally F. Palao, Ogdensburg Command Performances Administrator, initially served as a volunteer consultant.

“We wanted so much to salvage it and make it work, so we came up with a plan,” said Mrs. Palao. “No one submitted expenses for two years. Everything was donated, so all we would have to do is pay the actors.”

By 1992, the debt had been paid off and the group had changed their name from Ogdensburg Community Players to Ogdensburg Command Performances (OCP).

Mrs. Palao began scouting for new talent. While in New York City she discovered TheatreworksUSA, a touring company whose performances target younger audiences. Mrs. Palao decided they would be the start of YouTheatre: Class Acts, for students in grades K-12.

“The board thought I was crazy,” said Mrs. Palao. “We s proved to be an embarrassing and glaring distraction, and at intermission he asked the performers to take them off.

“After that, the performance was wonderful and, most surprisingly, one the most beautiful performances we had ever had,” he said.

As the shows became more and more popular, the organization became difficult to manage financially. By 1989, the company ended its community productions and many of the board members had quit.

“By the late 80s the show had built up a debt,” said Cynthia I. Wilson, who was a board member at the time. “The show sought an executive director and I thought of Sally Palao, who had headed a couple of other arts organizations at the time.”

Sally F. Palao, Ogdensburg Command Performances Administrator, initially served as a volunteer consultant.

“We wanted so much to salvage it and make it work, so we came up with a plan,” said Mrs. Palao. “No one submitted expenses for two years. Everything was donated, so all we would have to do is pay the actors.”

By 1992, the debt had been paid off and the group had changed their name from Ogdensburg Community Players to Ogdensburg Command Performances (OCP).

Mrs. Palao began scouting for new talent. While in New York City she discovered TheatreworksUSA, a touring company whose performances target younger audiences. Mrs. Palao decided they would be the start of YouTheatre: Class Acts, for students in grades K-12.

“The board thought I was crazy,” said Mrs. Palao. “We decided to start with one show, “Hansel and Gretel.’”

This year, YouTheatre will celebrate its 20th anniversary.

“I cannot tell you how much the children have enjoyed it over the years,” said Mrs. Palao. “After each show, I always ask the children if they enjoyed the performance. One little boy said it was the best three bucks he ever spent. Another boy asked me, ‘Did you know Winnie the Pooh is alive?’”

OCP’s board of directors headquartered its administrative office in Ogdensburg Free Academy in 1997. Mrs. Palao said the board is now working on spreading the YouTheatre performances to other districts. In its 2011-2012 season, YouTheatre performances were held in Massena and Gouverneur school districts.

In 2011, OCP held 12 YouTheatre productions and eight command performances. Audience members from 77 towns visited the theatre.

OCP celebrates its 50th anniversary with nine command performances in its 2012-2013 season beginning Oct. 3.

“Ogdensburg Command Performances has many years of providing really exciting theatre, music, and dance performances for people of all ages,” said Hilary M. Oak, Executive Director for the St. Lawrence Arts Council. “They bring in really high quality productions that people may not have an opportunity to see otherwise. We’re very fortunate to have such a dedicated group of people bringing this caliber of talent to the north country.”

Over the years, OCP has received numerous accolades including the Ogdensburg City School District’s Civic Award for its commitment towards students, teachers and curriculum, the St. Lawrence County of Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business Excellence Award, and it has been ranked by the Central New York Business Journal as one of the top cultural and performing-arts organizations in the state.

Mrs. Palao said one of the biggest challenges OCP faces today is raising money for the organization.

Last year productions totaled $150,000. The New York Arts Council typically donates $4,000 to 5,000 dollars per year, but much of the organization’s funds comes from grants and fundraisers. Ticket sales cover only one third of the additional production costs, which include hotel accommodations for performers, rent, set assembly and marketing.

Mrs. Palao said the non-profit remains committed to offering quality performances at an affordable price despite increase in costs and decreases in state funding.

“Where most of the population typically earns close to $15,000 per year, our mission has now about making the performing arts accessible for everyone,” said Mrs. Palao. “We want to encourage those who have never been to the theatre before to come out and buy a ticket.”

“It’s a bargain and twice that,” said Mr. Schwartz. “Tickets cost about $20 to $30 and they’re three times that towards Syracuse and New York City. It’s a wonderful opportunity for the north country. I’d hate to ever see it end.”

Ogdensburg Command Performances 2012-2013 Season

Season ticket prices range from $232 to $100 for all eight shows and $158 to $68 for five shows.

Season tickets can be purchased by calling the office, 393-2625, or going online at www.ILoveTheatre.org.

■ Sanctioned by Dan Aykroyd and the Belushi Estate, “The Blues Brothers Revue” combines comedy and hits like “Soul man,” “Rubber Biscuit,” “Sweet Home Chicago” and “Rawhide from the original movie and pays homage to Chicago’s rich history of blues, gospel and soul music. See it Oct. 3.

■ LA Theatre Works in celebrating the 200th Anniversary of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” Oct. 16. Published in 1813, this classic romantic comedy is still one of the most acclaimed and strikingly modern works of world literature. Austen is famous for her biting wit and colorful characters, exploration of manners/morals, relationships/disappointments, parents/children. Although many have tried, few works have matched the gentle satire of “Pride and Prejudice.” This brilliant stage adaptation stars a first-rate cast and connects with the audience in a way rarely felt in a traditional theatre setting.

■ Dan Goggin’s Little Sisters of Hoboken head to Hollywood in a hilarious new production: “Nunset Boulevard: The Nunsense Hollywood Bowl Show” on Nov. 5.

■ Four women at a lingerie sale with nothing in common but a black lace bra and memory loss, hot flashes, night sweats, not enough sex and too much sex create “Menopause: The Musical”. This hilarious musical parody is set to classic tunes from the 60s, 70s and 80s such as “Puff, My God I’m Draggin” and “Stayin’ Awake, Stayin’ Awake” will have audience members cheering and dancing in the aisles. This play comes to Ogdensburg Dec. 9.

■ Winner of nine Tony Awards including Best Musical and the Pulitzer Prize for drama “A Chorus Line” is the musical for everyone who ever had a dream and put it all on the line. The chance to see Michael Bennet’s masterpiece again or for the first time shouldn’t be missed on Jan. 10, 2013.

■ Embark on a nostalgic 50-year journey with 14 singers/dancers, a six piece band and 300 costume changes in “Hooray for Hollywood.” Enjoy film clips from your favorite movies like “Singing in the Rain,” “The Glen Miller Story,” “Grease,” “Dirty Dancing,” “Titanic” and many more on March 19, 2013.

■ “A Musical Tribute to the Highwaymen” pays homage to the original 1985 group consisting of Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson. This fully scripted recreation of that amazing band continues the legacy of perhaps the greatest super group in country music history. See it Thursday, April 11, 2013.

■ “Angel of Music: A Salute to Andrew Lloyd Webber” features the voice of Franc D’Ambrosio and Glory Crampton’s silvery soprano with a stellar ensemble cast performing favorites from “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Evita,” “Sunset Boulevard,” “Starlight Express,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” “The Woman in White” and “The Aspects of Love” for an evening you’ll long remember. D’Ambrosio is famous for being the longest running “Phantom” and Crampton played Christine in “Phantom” on Broadway. They will both be in Ogdensburg on Saturday, May 18, 2013.

■ Coming back to town for a special holiday performance is Steve Lippia, who will bring “A Simply Sinatra Christmas” on Nov. 26. His terrific new holiday show presents long-time Christmas favorites with some of the most popular numbers performed by Frank Sinatra.

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