AHA! A House for Arts


AHA! | 704

Artist Sue Knoll bathes iconic imagery in colorful layers. Park Playhouse's Owen Smith talks about making theater accessible to all. And enjoy a performance from Buggy Jive.

AIRED: July 28, 2021 | 0:26:46

(gentle music)

(bright music)

- [Lara] Sue Knoll, baits iconic imagery

in colorful new layers.

Park Playhouse director, Owen Smith,

makes quality theater accessible to all.

And catch a performance from Buggy Jive.

It's all ahead on this episode of AHA, A House for Arts.

- [Narrator] Funding for AHA has been provided

by your contribution and by contributions

to the WMHT venture fund.

Contributors include the Leo Cox Beach

Philanthropic Foundation,

Chet and Karen Opalka, Robert and Doris Fisher Malesardi,

the Alexander & Marjorie Hover Foundation,

and the Robison Family Foundation.

- At M&T Bank, we understand that the vitality

of our communities is crucial to our continued success.

That's why we take an active role in our community.

M&T Bank is pleased to support WMHT programming

that highlights the arts, and we invite you to do the same.

(bright music)

- Hi, I'm Laura Ayad and this is AHA, A House for Arts.

A place for all things creative.

Here's Matt Rogowicz with today's Field Segment.

(gentle calming music)

- I'm here at Stevens Pond in Monterrey, Massachusetts,

to look at the studio of painter, Sue Muskat Knoll.

Follow me.

Sue? - Hi there.

- Hi, nice to meet you. - So nice to meet you.

- Wow, look at this.

(gentle soothing music)

- I realized at a very young age that I love making things.

And I studied art in college,

but it wasn't until I moved to Italy that I met this guy

who got a Fulbright to go to Florence

and started an art center.

And there, he gave me a job and he also mentored me,

showed me how to find the best pigments

and how to grind oil paint.

I lived there for a few years and I really studied art.

And I came back to the States as an artist.

I moved here from lower Manhattan with a baby.

So there was a lot of sewing going on

for the first seven years.

And then I started working in gouache on paper,

just small things that I could execute.

(playful music)

Gouache is a highly-pigmented water-based paint.

It can be a little bit tricky because it can crack

and it doesn't have the plasticity of acrylic,

but it's velvety.

So there is that seductive quality to gouache.

Holbein came out with a new product, maybe like,

I don't know how many years ago, where it's acrylic wash,

where they add just enough acrylic into the gouache

to create a paint that's a little bit more durable,

less cracky, a little bit more plastic,

but still retain some of that velvet quality.

And it's highly opaque, which is great.

(bright music)

- I think the very first one I did was a space capsule,

and then the second one was R2D2 and that was really fun.

It's such an iconic image

and an ingrained part of our culture,

and it's something that everyone recognizes.

And it was just nice to play with it

in terms of the colors I would choose and how I presented.

Sometimes it's an homage or a dedication to a great design

or just something that catches my imagination.

(dramatic music)

There's an Assyrian relief that I recently did,

I think it was last year,

of the Chaos Monster being hunted down by the Sun God.

And I really liked that when I was over in New Haven,

I was really looking at some of their earliest Syrian.

They've got a couple of earliest Syrian reliefs,

and they're just incredible.

They're so amazing.

Right now, I'm working on a series that I just started

that's a little bit more organic and nature-based,

but I'm also coupling that with text-based works

where I'm finding phrases that interest me

and repeating them.

(jazz music)

Well, the text work, it started right when the pandemic hit.

And then I was like, oh, beep.


And so I just started writing

house, house, house, house, house, house, house, house,

and I was thinking a little bit of, you know,

James Sienna did a series of work using typewriters

and just, I don't know, it was somewhere

in the back of my mind.

And then from there I was like, hey, you know,

that's kind of cool.

It's like this new structure, a system,

a way that I can just feel free to experiment

with shapes and colors and wordplay.

I make my own grain, yeah.

With very sharp pencil (laughing).

And it takes me pretty much all day to make the grid.

I'll go 1/16 of an inch across and then down.

And I know basically for most pieces,

it's gonna be just a little bit longer than it is wide,

but I'm just basically guessing.

And then I'll figure out the lettering

and how many letters will it be across,

or how many 1/16 of an inch spaces will it require

in order for me to start my phrase

and then end it with the first letter of the phrase

so that I start with the second letter

so that it reads down as well.

I don't find it tedious at all.

I find it very relaxing and meditative.

(gentle soothing music)

I had started with these kind of, you know,

I don't know what they are, bubbly.

They're based on the skin of a chameleon.

There's a certain way that the light hits the cells

and creates this incredible color.

And the patterns are just so astounding.

It started with that,

and then I started thinking more like structurally,

like I was getting into volume for the first time,

which I hadn't been addressing in these earlier paintings.

It's kind of like a tail.

And the whole Fibonacci golden ratio aspect of it

appealed to me and just the challenge of getting through it,

and that's something that's bigger.

It requires a little bit more dedication stick to it.

It's the color, the tone, and the shapes

that create the volume.

You'll see that things bend around,

and the way that they're drawn and then using the tones

from light to dark, that will create another element

to the volume of it, and then the color.

I am so deeply appreciative of the creative process.

It's just so fun.

I love the challenge.

It's so challenging.

It's like pieces of the puzzle,

you just got to keep putting them together

and putting them together until it works.

And I won't stop until I feel

like it's as good as I can make it.

- Owen Smith is the producing artistic director

of the Playhouse Stage Company.

Against a backdrop of rising ticket prices

at theaters across New York,

Park Playhouse helped reopen the Historic Cohoes Musical

and produces summer shows in Albany

that are free for everyone to enjoy.

I sat down with Owen to find out

what challenges theater companies are facing

in the wake of COVID and to learn more

about their upcoming production of "Matilda."

Owen, welcome to A House for Arts.

It's a pleasure to have you.

- It's a pleasure to be here, thanks so much.

- I know you've spent over 15 years

working behind the scenes

at theaters across New York such as Clockwork

and Theater for a New Audience,

and now you're celebrating over 11 years

as producing artistic director of Park Playhouse

in the capital region.

- Yeah. - Congratulations.

- Thank you.

It's exciting to have been at it for this long

and to still feel like we're making progress

and making new and exciting things happen.

But you know for me coming back, it was really a homecoming.

When I returned to the area from my work in New York city

and other places, I grew up in the Park Playhouse program.

It was 24 years ago that I entered the student program

in the summer.

And so to be able to do what I love in a region that I love,

and that really was my hometown is just so gratifying.

- So it's like you have your roots at this place.

- [Owen] Absolutely.

- So besides that, and we can kind of come back to that too,

and what Park Playhouse is doing,

what makes it so remarkable as a theater venue?

- The Park Playhouse venue, we now refer to ourselves

as Playhouse Stage Company because we're in the park,

we're at the Historical Cohoes Musical that we manage,

we're in schools throughout the region.

But that venue, the first thing is that it's outdoors.

Of course it comes with some trouble, what should I say?

(both laughing)

You take the good with the bad.

- Some challenges.

Right, right, right.

- When you're dealing with the weather and then that,

but on a picturesque night,

there's nothing like sitting out under the stars

and seeing a show.

But I think what makes it truly special

is that it is so accessible.

We have our entire lawn seating offered for free.

We've done that for 33 years, of course that-

- And that's at the Washington Park location

in Albany, right?

- That's correct.

The amphitheater lawn seating is free.

We can accommodate up to 1500 people for free.

What that means is that the barrier to access

is completely broken down.

Anyone, regardless of the money they have in their pocket

can come and enjoy a piece

of live performing arts entertainment

on a beautiful summer night.

And it's just such a great thing.

- This is amazing.

I mean, how does that compare

to some other theater venues in the area,

including Broadway and off-Broadway,

I know sometimes there are Broadway shows

that tour around parts of like downstate

and upstate New York.

How does Playhouse compare to that?

- Well, when it was founded the tagline was,

Broadway in Albany's backyard.

And we try to live up to that.

We really try despite the fact that the majority of people

are sitting there for free,

we really try to produce a quality product

that matches or meets that Broadway standard.

And the differences is that if you go down to New York,

at this point, you're looking at an average ticket price

on Broadway hovering like that $130 range.

Even the touring shows that come to Proctors

or The Palace or any of the other touring venues

in the area, you're still looking at paying 75, $100

to go see a show, and that's understandable.

Theater is expensive to produce.

My concern is, do we price out part of the population

with ticket prices going so sky-high?

You look at something like Hamilton

and the theaters having this wonderful Renaissance

of popularity, but are we leaving people behind

because it's become such a high value ticket price?

- And it's one thing for one person to pay $75,

but if you wanna bring a small family,

if you wanna bring your partner or some friends,

it becomes really prohibitive, right?

- Absolutely.

The nice thing at our venue,

you do see a lot of families coming in.

A family of four, a family of six, whatever it might be.

And for those kids, it's very likely the first exposure

that they're gonna have to the live theater,

and for some folks who may not have the disposable income

to even go to other community theaters

and pay 30 bucks or whatever the case may be.

It may be the only piece of live theater

that they see all year round.

So we think it's just tremendously important

to keep that mission going to make sure

that we have that free accessible seating

and we're gonna keep it up.

- That's amazing.

I know Owen that you have a degree in theater

from SUNY New Paltz, right?

How did you know that you wanted to work in theater?

Was there like a particular moment for you

where you just knew?

- Yeah.

To a certain extent, it was kind of deemed by the gods

when I broke one knee playing soccer,

and then after seven months of rehabbing,

broke the same bone on the other knee.

- [Lara] They were trying to tell you something.

- Yeah, athletics was not gonna be for me.

I was lucky enough to get exposed to theater in high school.

I had some really great teachers.

Of course, then I joined

the Park Playhouse youth theater program.

And what I found is just that there's a sense of community,

there's a sense of acceptance,

there's a sense of collaboration that exists in the arts

that it's just not as present in athletics

or at least it wasn't for me.

And so I felt that I had found a home

and I decided to go to school for it and study it.

I'm just so lucky that it's been my life's work.

And in returning to Park Playhouse to run the organization,

that's a big part of the reason why I've tried

to really focus on the educational programming.

It's the biggest piece of our budget.

We do multiple productions for students

throughout the years,

we bring shows to schools in all eight counties

of the capital region, professional touring musicals,

to give kids that exposure in their classrooms.

- So in addition to being free

at the Washington Park location,

you also bring it over to kids when they're at school,

they're in the middle of the school day.

It's like you're just kind of like

really breaking down these barriers to access.

- Yeah, absolutely.

- Which is amazing. - And I 'll meet them

where they live.

These kids are in school.

And again, especially in some of the more rural communities,

there may not be any exposure to the theater arts.

And you never know what kid

is going to be watching your stuff,

if it's in their school auditorium,

whatever the case may be, and get bit by that bug,

and all of a sudden they are finding a passion, a hobby,

and maybe even a career path

that they didn't know about beforehand.

- Yeah.

What do you think are some challenges

that theater venues are facing right now,

especially in the wake of COVID-19?

- The financial piece is very challenging

coming back from COVID-19.

We've all been in the industry going after

whatever funding we can get.

The Small Business Administration

has been slowly but surely getting

the shuttered venue operators grant funding out there.

But being able to reopen

under the circumstances we've all faced

has been really challenging,

but I think more globally and in the longterm,

folks spent a year inside watching Netflix, watching Hulu,

watching Prime, whatever.

- I kinda still do.

- Yeah, me too.

(Lara laughing) Me too.

And there's nothing against it,

but there's also nothing like the dynamism

of the connection between performer and audience

when you're live.

And so it's the challenge of getting people

back out of the house, retraining them to go to the theater,

to feel safe going to the theater.

I think it's gonna be interesting to see

what audience dynamics look like for a while.

And again, I go back to, it's expensive to produce theater,

and so you try to make as much money

on your ticket sales as you can,

but you wanna make sure

you're not pricing out any population.

And so that's why all of us in the arts are always out there

trying to raise money and get support for our work

so that we can have contributed support

to support that earned revenue.

- What do you think are some institutions

or larger corporate bodies that...

Could they play a role in helping

sort of alleviate this tension?

Because that sounds really difficult

when you're trying to make the arts accessible,

but you're also trying to make sure

that you can pay your staff

and feed yourself and your family.

What can individuals and what can companies do

to really help this?

- I think it's natural for people

to be focused on food insecurity,

it's natural for people to be focused on health

and human services causes.

I encourage folks to also remember

that the arts need their support as well.

And that it's part of what makes our community vibrant.

And it also has a significant impact

on economic development.

We are very lucky in this region

that we have a number of corporations that really do step up

and support the arts.

Whether it's Albany Medical Center who's our lead sponsor,

KeyBank, M&T bank.

I could go on and on, National Grid.

And you see these companies' names on artistic ventures

and it goes a long way.

It's really meaningful to have their support.

And I hope that folks remember

when they're supporting the arts,

they're not just supporting community development,

they're supporting economic development.

We see it at the Cohoes Music Hall,

Remsen Street in Cohoes has just seen this-

- 'Cause you're managing the music hall now since 2017?

- We are, we've been doing shows there

since actually the end of 2016,

and now as of this past August,

we became the official management entity.

And we've seen over that period of time

that we've been doing shows there,

this incredible growth and redevelopment of Remsen Street,

because the music hall is really this anchor

that brings people into town.

So there's all these good restaurants-

- People go to see shows, they go out to eat.

It's not this trickle down effect where you fund

and then maybe it'll get to the arts.

It's more that the arts are actually generating money

from the ground up.

- Absolutely, they are a sort of catalyst, they are.

Every dollar spent on tickets at my venue

is going to spur dollars being spent in small businesses,

restaurants all around the venue.

- That's amazing.

I'm kind of wondering what...

I know you have some famous productions and shows

that have just taken place or are coming up such as,

"Sweeney Todd," "Matilda", "Alice in Wonderland."

Tell us a little bit about what we can expect,

any important shows or programs

that are coming up at Playhouse.

- Yeah.

At the music hall,

the thing we really want audiences to know is that

even though we're a theater company at heart,

they can still expect to see concerts, comedy events,

of diverse array of artistic programming at that hall.

And our fall calendar is getting really busy,

but we're very excited at this point

because our next show to open at Park Playhouse,

running August 3rd to the 14th is "Matilda the Musical,"

and it's of course based

on the very famous Roald Dahl children's novel.

I just feel right now after this last year,

it was such a contentious election

and more and more on social media.

Kids have to navigate a really tough world

when it comes to bullying.

- And they're stuck online too because of COVID,

they couldn't even meet together in person.

So they literally could only interact

with each other online, right?

- That's right.

And so this show really tells a story

that's about overcoming bullying, accepting who you are,

building the people around you up

as opposed to breaking them down.

And so I think it's a great message for kids.

And again, at a price that you can't beat, it's free.

Parents can bring their kids to this show

knowing that it's a really wholesome entertaining evening

and you can't beat the price.

- And who's playing in "Matilda?"

Tell me a little bit

about some of these performers and actors.

- We have some professionals that are up there.

There's a wonderful actor named Chris Frazier,

who was in our production of "Sweeney Todd,"

he was in our production of "Damn Yankees,"

and he's gotten great reviews throughout his time with us.

He's playing Miss Trunchbull, the headmistress

or the head of the school.

But what's really special about it is that the cast

is made up mostly of students, students in our program.

Some of these kids are nine and 10 years old

playing the children in "Matilda,"

who are gonna get out there in front of an audience

of 1500, 1600, sometimes even 2000 people.

- [Lara] Incredible.

- What an incredible opportunity for them.

But we feel blessed because they're so gifted.

We have such youth talent in this region.

We see it as our mission and purpose

to steward that talent along.

And we've seen kids go on to great success from our program.

The kids in the audience have the opportunity

to see themselves on our stage by way of our students.

That's just the most exciting thing to me.

- That sounds like it.

It really sounds amazing.

Where can people learn more about the upcoming programs

and buy tickets for shows like "Matilda?"

- Sure, they can visit us online at playhousestage.org.

They can also get us at thecohoesmusichall.org.

- Sounds amazing.

Again, thank you so much, Owen, for being on AHA.

It was such a pleasure to have you.

- My pleasure, thanks so much.

- Please welcome Buggy Jive.

♪ He can do this no more ♪

♪ Broken chords and melodies scattered on the floor ♪

♪ The brother used to be a hit machine ♪

♪ All he got left is one last chorus with a silly metaphor ♪

♪ In a singles market all sales are final ♪

♪ He's been wasting his time trying to download vinyl ♪

♪ He's on the wrong side of 45 ♪

♪ He's on the B-side ♪

♪ Nine times five at the nine to five ♪

♪ He is much less alive ♪

♪ The brother wish he had a time machine ♪

♪ But the truth is he was singing ♪

♪ About exactly the little same thing when he was 29 ♪

♪ In a singles market all sales are final ♪

♪ He's been wasting his time trying to download vinyl ♪

♪ He's on the wrong side of 45 ♪

♪ He's on the B-side ♪

♪ Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock, tick tock ♪

♪ Most days he is out of his element ♪

♪ Most days he is wishing he was still relevant ♪

♪ Most days a brother just wanna scream ♪

♪ What's the use of screaming out melody ♪

♪ If you ain't got means to be selling it ♪

♪ In a singles market all sales are final ♪

♪ He's been wasting his time trying to download vinyl ♪

♪ He's on the wrong side of 45 ♪

♪ He's on the wrong side of 45 ♪

♪ He's on the wrong side of 45 ♪

♪ He's on the B-side ♪

♪ Round and round turntable deejay spin ♪

♪ Hot songs in the key of life and Francis Scott ♪

♪ But if a mic drops in a tight spot ♪

♪ Can I make it online with my hip-hop rock ♪

♪ Can I get a B-side to the top of the pops ♪

♪ Like Bill Haley did with "Rock Around the Clock" ♪

♪ Like the Righteous Brothers with "Unchained Melody" ♪

♪ Like "Green Onions" for Booker T. And the M.G.s ♪

♪ Like, Sly Stone "Wanna Take You Higher" ♪

♪ Or the Rolling Stones with "Play with Fire" ♪

♪ Or the Stones again with "Ruby Tuesday" ♪

♪ Oh God, like Rod with "Maggie May" ♪

♪ Or the Beach Boys with "God Only Knows" ♪

♪ And I know, I know, I know, I know, I know ♪

♪ Like, Bill Withers, "Ain't No Sunshine" ♪

♪ Credence, "Bad Moon on the Rise" ♪

♪ All B-sides, no lie ♪

♪ They was all B-sides, no lie ♪

♪ They was all B-sides ♪

♪ Believe it or not, Mr Lafayette hard rock like Lancelot ♪

♪ See you can swing in the wings at a fixed rate ♪

♪ Or you can blow a Broadway with a mixtape ♪

♪ I could stay at home and sit on it ♪

♪ Or crack Albany's egg and make a omelet ♪

♪ That's what a brother pray for ♪

♪ See that's what a brother pray for ♪

♪ To flip night into day and like Gloria Gaynor survive ♪

♪ On the B-side ♪

♪ So I'm gonna survive, yeah ♪

♪ I'm gonna survive, yeah ♪

♪ I'm gonna survive, yeah ♪

♪ I'm gonna survive ♪

♪ Hey, hey ♪

(bright music)

- Thanks for joining us.

For more arts, visit wmht.org/aha

and be sure to connect with WMHT on social.

I'm Lara Ayad.

Thanks for watching.

(gentle soothing music)

- [Narrator] Funding for AHA has been provided

by your contribution and by contributions

to the WMHT venture fund.

Contributors include The Leo Cox Beach

Philanthropic Foundation, Chet and Karen Opalka,

Robert and Doris Fischer Malisardi,

The Alexander & Marjorie Hover Foundation,

and The Robison Family Foundation.

- At M&T Bank we understand that the vitality

of our community is crucial to our continued success.

That's why we take an active role in our community.

M&T Bank is pleased to support WMHT programming

that highlights the arts, and we invite you to do the same.


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