Saturday, October 21, 2017

Looking Behind the Palace Curtain

The Historic Palace Theatre in Lockport kicked off its 2017-2018 season last weekend with four performances of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Each season at the Palace consists of six performances. One of those is a play in January. There also is the annual performance of Scrooge, and the unveiling of the upcoming season at An Evening With the Stars. This season, after Spelling Bee, will be Scrooge, The Comedy of Errors, The Little Mermaid, An Evening With the Stars, and Singin' in the Rain.

Most of us don’t give a second thought as to how the shows for the season are chosen. We sat down with Christopher Parada, executive director of the Palace, to explain the process he goes through to choose the shows each year, and maybe shed a little light on what goes on behind the scenes at the historic theater.

One of the first things Parada needs to consider is what shows are available. Not everything is available, but there are plenty of shows to choose from. If a show is still performing in New York City, there is no way that show will be available for a house elsewhere to get the rights to perform it. Likewise, if a larger theater in the area, like Shea’s gets a show, the Palace will not be able to get the rights. In fact, that happened last year with The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast.

Little Mermaid was on the schedule for last year, but then Shea’s went with a run of it in August. The company called and told me they had to pull it from me,” Parada explained. “If there’s a union tour coming through in the area, they get the priority. I can’t do it. They said they’d give me Beauty and the Beast. I’ve been trying to do that for years and years. I was like, ‘Fine, I’ll take it.’ Instantly.”

Another thing Parada takes into consideration when choosing the shows is who he has available to help out with production. While he directs almost everything at the Palace, there are times he needs assistance. He doesn’t direct the play in January. For him, rehearsals fall in the middle of Christmas season. Between directing Scrooge early in the season and his time as Santa Claus throughout the rest of the month of December, he simply doesn’t have the time to take on the work involved with directing the play.

“I have to see who’s around and interested in directing. And who can I trust with the job? Luckily, I have some really good connections. It’s all about building those relationships.”

Cost is always a concern in a community theater such as the Palace. The rights to the shows can cost between $4000 and $10,000 each. That’s just getting the permission and the scripts to do the show. Costumes, in Beast for example, can cost as much as $11,000. If there’s flying in the program, it costs another $8,000 just for that. Add in set building and a show can cost the theater $30,000 before a single ticket is even sold.

“I base a lot of these decisions on my parents. ‘Have you ever heard of this?’ I see what their reaction is,” Parada said. I see them as normal theater goers. I don’t necessarily tell them what I’m doing, but I will see what they think.”

The executive director takes into consideration who his audience is. In Western New York, there is a fairly eclectic group of people to draw from. There are kids and senior citizens. There are old Lockportians. There are younger couples from Amherst and Williamsville. The people here also tend to have very distinct religious views. “I have to pick a season that is going to entice 90% of them. I have to balance it.”

There is also a balance between the old classics and the new shows. “Fiddler on the Roof is one of my all-time favorites, but can’t do it. It’s such a downer. Who wants to leave like that at the end? You need to leave on a high.” Some of the classics, like Guys and Dolls, can be updated by lighting and changing the tempo of the songs. “At the end, you have a really enjoyable night where people can say they re-fell in love with the classics.”

Then there are the new shows which are all about spectacle. Adding lights, and layers for design, with some haze and the shows can really evoke emotions as the audience watches. Parada likes to use lots of textures and the box seats for added effect. Flying curtains in and creative lighting create a lot of depth for those spectacle shows. The audience loves it,too.

So, will they be able to make it rain on stage for Singin' in the Rain? “Yes,” says Parada. “The trough we’re considering now will be maybe 16 by 16. That will come out there with a drainage system. It’s the final song of Act One, so we’ll have intermission to clean. There will be awnings, and the water will come down the awnings into downspouts, and coming down on him. It will definitely rain.”

“You’ve got to have a team of people to do these shows. I’m very lucky in having a great team, and great relationships with people who are willing to help out. We couldn’t do it without that team”

The Historic Palace Theatre in Lockport is almost a century old. Opened in 1925, the theater has been a shining jewel of downtown Lockport, but with a building that age, it takes a great deal of work and funds to keep that gem polished. There have been a lot of minor facelifts at the Palace, but most of those small jobs are done. The focus is turning to major projects that will cost a great deal of money.

“We have really, really big stuff to do around here. What do I need to do? Rip all these seats out. The floor needs to get sandblasted, releveled, resurfaced, and then the new seats put in. Painting and plastering need to be done. The scaffolding alone for that job is $250,000. So the $5,000 projects are done. We’re moving onto the things that will costs hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Over the next few years, there will be some changes taking place at the Palace that will bring it back to its former glory as well as capturing the thespian spirit moving forward. The Palace will continue to be able to showcase the skills of our local actors and actresses year after year.

Does Christopher Parada have a dream show that he would love to see grace the stage of the Palace?

“Someday, the rights aren’t out now so I can’t do it, but someday Phantom of the Opera will be done here. That’s my show. I’m obsessed with it. That’s the show that bit me when I was little, when it was in Toronto. Someday, I’ll have it here.”

Craig Bacon loves the fact that we have this theater in downtown Lockport.