New partnership between Skidmore, Saratoga Shakespeare
The Saratoga Shakespeare Company (SSC), which since 2000 has staged classic theater productions each summer at Congress Park in Saratoga Springs, has introduced a new act to accompany this year’s presentation of The Merry Wives of Windsor.
SSC is formally partnering with Skidmore to provide credit-bearing classes for qualified theater students who will also gain valuable experience working with the company. The Merry Wives of Windsor runs through July 28 in Congress Park. Performances are at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and at 3 p.m. Sunday.
In a nod to the communitywide celebration of the 150th anniversary of racing and Saratoga Springs’ tradition of fostering the arts, this production is set in circa 1930s Saratoga Springs, with Lary Opitz starring as Falstaff. Preshow entertainment begins a half hour before each performance. Audience members are encouraged to bring the family; to bring chairs, blankets, food, and wine; and to feed the actors.
SSC has earned acclaim for its summer productions, which appeal to theater lovers of all ages. There has always been a strong connection between the company and Skidmore. Lary Opitz, professor and chair of theater at the College, is artistic director of SSC and has earned praise for his portrayals of a number of Shakespearean characters. Barbara Opitz, a member of the theater department faculty, is executive director of the company and Jay Rogoff of the English Department faculty is the SSC’s dramaturge and board president.
Rogoff said the Opitzes worked with Dean of Special Programs Paul Calhoun and Auden Thomas, director of summer academic programs, to formalize the new alliance. Said Rogoff, “It’s a wonderful educational opportunity for students from Skidmore and other colleges to earn credit during the summer while working with Saratoga Shakespeare’s professional Equity actors, stage managers, and production team to experience all the demands of putting on a high-quality professional production of classic theater.”
Two three-credit courses, one in acting and the other in design and technical theater, were open to qualified students this year. Other aspects of the partnership included rehearsal space at Skidmore’s Janet Kinghorn Bernhard Theater and campus housing for SSC actors and staff. Previously the company rehearsed in the un-air-conditioned Saratoga Music Hall, on the third floor of City Hall downtown. Changes this year made a “tremendous difference,” said Lary Opitz.
Since SSC is an Equity company, students engaged with the production also have the chance to earn points toward full membership in Actors Equity, the professional actors’ union. Opportunities for networking abound, added Opitz.
Although best known for its full-scale summer productions of Shakespeare plays, the SSC also offers training, educational outreach projects, and community events. Optiz believes that the partnership with Skidmore could allow for more such opportunities. “We hope to grow in a number of ways and are looking to expand performances at Congress Park and at Skidmore,” he said. There may also be opportunities with other local theater organizations, such as the Lake George Dinner Theater and the Adirondack Theater Festival.
“We are determined to have roles for young actors,” he said, listing classes such as Shakespearean verse and movement and the business of acting as possibilities for the future. Barbara and Lary Opitz praised David Yergan and other Theater Department colleagues, along with the Special Programs Office, for their assistance this year and expressed the hope that the excitement surrounding the new partnership will spark creative opportunities for the future.
(Cover image: Yvonne Perry (left), Lary Opitz, Brenny Rabine)