When you walk down the street in Saranac Lake, there is a distinct artistic vibe. Truly. It’s not just because there are so many art galleries and shops; though that certainly contributes. It’s reflected in the people who live here, and for a visitor, whether you’re stopping for a coffee on your way to hike a Saranac Lake 6er or in town for Winter Carnival, it’s easy to get caught up in that artsy feel.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned as I’ve matured, it’s that you should cut down on candy and exercise more. If there’s another thing I’ve learned, it’s that I really need to explore what’s in my own backyard.
I have a number of friends from Saranac Lake, and they ARE all artists. Actors, writers, directors, painters, photographers, calligraphers, musicians; and it’s because of some of those friends that I was introduced to one of the region’s gems.
Though I’ve lived within an hour of Saranac Lake for most of my life, it wasn’t until last summer that I attended a performance at the Pendragon Theatre. My friend Beth was starring as Blanche in Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire”, so my husband and I attended the opening night performance. The theatre is intimate - with graduated seating for just over 100 and an open, versatile stage area. The play - a long script that merited two intermissions - was mind-blowingly terrific, performed with a mix of professional and company actors. I returned yet again this summer for one of their mid-week shows, and of course, I’ll be back again.
Recently, I met the theatre’s Executive/Artistic Director Karen Lordi Kirkham for coffee at the Blue Moon Cafe, and had a chance to learn more about Pendragon while watching folks walk by our storefront-window table.
The theatre has been around since 1980, when it presented its first production, which just happened to be “A Streetcar Named Desire”. Karen has long been associated with Pendragon, and has been coming to the theatre since she was a child - her parents have a nearby seasonal home. She has acted in and directed a great number of shows and just completed her first year as the theatre’s executive/artistic director.
Karen told me that although their calendar has always included a series of summer live stage performances, their current emphasis is to expand the year-round use of their Saranac Lake theatre space for the off-season community and visitors through programming and increased use of their gallery to display the work of local artists.
The theatre has always operated year-round, but traditionally, the winter months were when they implemented most of the educational component of the organization’s mission, primarily with programs in area schools. This winter, park-wide high school students are participating in the Pendragon’s Young Playwrights’ Festival, a contest in which the winner’s script will be performed on stage at the Theatre on April 5-6, and the runner up will be presented in a staged reading of their script.
Though the theatre still has a presence in regional schools, Karen explained that they are striving to be a complete community arts center, including a reading series and the introduction of a music series. And it looks like they’re succeeding in this endeavor, as the upcoming calendar is full of on-site performances and other events.
The entire 2013 season was based on the theme “Saints and Sinners”, and it continues! Beginning on November 15, the actor I saw as Stanley in this year’s “Streetcar” at Pendragon is coming back for the production of “Oedipus”. The theatre is then launching a music series, including a “Holiday Cabaret” on December 14-15, featuring “naughty or nice” songs. And December will include a run of “A Peter Pan Christmas”, with a cast of approximately 30 area children.
The 2014 season has been assigned the theme of “Dreams”. The busy lineup for the year includes the family-friendly production of “The Little Prince”, the Tony-award winning “Red”, which is a play about artist Mark Rothko. The season’s big musical will be the “Man of LaMancha”, starring George Cordes. And then they’ll present one of my favorites, “Harvey”. The fall production, which will also tour Adirondack park schools, will be “Death of a Salesman”.
I congratulated Karen for her great work and dedication, and wondered how she could be so CALM about it all. I mean, aside from being fueled by great coffee, my head was spinning from the idea of implementing all of this programming. Then I remembered where I was. It’s Saranac Lake; where the vibe is artsy, and it’s easy to keep your cool.
Keep track of the Pendragon’s upcoming events with a visit to their website at pendragontheatre.org.
--Kim Rielly is the director of communications for the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism, and a professional smartphone photographer artist.