Theater Brought to Your Own Living Room

The Cavalcade New York Theater Group is performing at unusual locations, while bringing a new style of theater productions

Ever heard of seeing a play in an old Victorian Mansion? Or an Old Mill located in Elizabeth town? Sure, kids are always putting on plays in front of their families at Christmas parties or large get-togethers. What the Cavalcade New York theater company is doing is somewhat revolutionary. The theater company does not have a set residence where they perform their productions but at different site specific locations that are relevant to the story. The company is a non-profit organization that is run by sponsors such as the Keene Valley Lodge, Stewart's shops located throughout the North Country, and the Old Mill Bed and Breakfast in Elizabethtown, where they will be performing "Barrymore" in May.

The mind behind all of this, Phill Greenland, has been involved with big theatre productions his entire career. With this project, he is able to be completely out of his element. "I find it really cool and exciting," Greenland says of the performances. "I love old buildings and architecture, I love history, and after doing all of these big musicals, I'm doing plays I've always wanted to do." The sites that were chosen by Greenland and his colleague Kathy Recchia hold a much smaller audience than a large theater would. When performing in the basement of a bed and breakfast, 500 people certainly won't fit into the room. "They are small shows," he says, "I tend to prefer between fifty to seventy people. With the Mansion though, we could only fit forty-five people a night."

Their first performance was an Edgar Allen Poe piece back in October in the Victorian Mansion in Elizabethtown; since then, the attention the group has gathered has been somewhat staggering to Greenland.

Press Photo
Press Photo provided by Tyler Nye

"I don't know if it's that we're a little unusual. I think the fact that we perform in unusual places is different." The only other place that Greenland could think of that do these site specific shows that Cavalcade is doing are located in New York City. This innovative style of theater production might seem unheard of to people unfamiliar with theater. When discussing trying to find locations for the Barrymore, Greenland was thinking of doing it in a normal theater, but putting the audience on stage with the performers and not even use the audience seating.

"I think it's a fabulous idea; it will bring a lot of people."

Finding locations for Greenland has come easy for him, though. He said he has been able to think of a play, and within two months, he is able to find a place that fits the story. "We haven't had to look for spaces and then think of a play," Greenland says. "Performing a play where it would take place would make you feel inside the play." When they put on the Poe production in the big mansion, the audience was on the same level as the actors.

Kim Andresen, a representative of Lake Placid Center for the Arts, is a fan of these types of shows. "I think it's a fabulous idea; it will bring a lot of people."

The Belle of Amherst, which will take place in July, will be directed by Tyler Nye, a current theater student at Plattsburgh. When it comes to doing Belle, he feels the setup of the show is what he enjoys. "The idea of putting chairs around the stage space is cool," he says. Also with Belle, the character will use the crowd to her advantage more than usual. "Emily [the character] talks directly to her audience," he says, describing the style of the play, "like she invited them over to her house." This doesn't mean, though, that the audience is supposed to respond to Emily, Nye explains. "It relies on silent audience feedback. The characters establish a relationship with the audience; there's kind of an understanding between them."

"We haven't had to look for spaces and then think of a play. Performing a play where it would take place would make you feel inside the play."

"It's scary," Recchia, says of her role as Emily in Belle. "There's only one actor in it. I've never done a single character play. I've been slowly memorizing because I feel like I'm becoming her."

Recchia has previously been a part of the living history exhibits in Elizabethtown, so the settings for the plays are not all that unusual to her. She found the setting for Poe after Greenland instructed her to, "Find a place that would be like Poe was inviting you to his Parlor."

"I've meditated there [the mansion] before," she says.

Kathy Recchia
Kathy Recchia in The Belle of Amherst
Photo provided by Tyler Nye

Nye is a member of the board of directors along with Greenland and Recchia. He agrees that this is something that is certainly different. "It's a really cool concept to do site specific shows; there is still a lot of theatricality. Doing Belle at the Bed and Breakfast, it's neat, with the architecture, and it solidifies the show."

Nye is used to doing shows for the theater group at Plattsburgh State, performing in front of large crowds on an actual stage and doing site-specific shows though is something different. "They're kind of incomparable [theater shows and site-specific]," Nye says. "Doing a show like Poe at the house in Elizabethtown with only the performer and the pianist, it's kind of daunting."

"As an actor, I don't have a preference," Recchia says about working with a real stage compared to site-specific settings. "As a producer, site-specific. It has everything you wanted for the show. You don't need a backdrop, and if you're lucky, some of the pieces you need will be there. With Poe, we had everything we needed on the premises."

This isn't a new idea in theater, but it is a little something different. "It's a fresh idea to have theater in suitable places," Nye says as he laughs before slyly mentioning, "it might pick up and be famous."

What do you think the idea of site-specific theater shows?