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Clarkstown Summer Theatre Festival Celebrates 38th Season

Parent-organized group lets local teens show off their talent.

For the first time in its 38-year existence, the Clarkstown Summer Theater Festival is going on a trip.

While the group isn't necessarily leaving its home at Clarkstown High School South in West Nyack, it's taking a break from doing a regular show, as it has in every year since 1973, and will instead perform a show comprised of songs from a variety of shows.

"The show is an homage to CSTF," said Joe Egan, the show's director. "The show is a great representation of the program over the years."

The group consists of 18 cast members, six orchestra members, a five-person crew and a nine-person professional staff. There are also three interns, one who works with the cast, another with the orchestra and one with the costume department. The members that make up the cast, orchestra and crew are all teenagers from the tri-state area, although most are from Rockland.

"Everyone gets together and you can't separate us. We all get along," said Rachel Gomberg, who is in her third year with the group. "There is no drama in drama."

Gomberg, who will enter her junior year at Ramapo High School in the fall, said she was pleased with the changes to the group's show this summer.

"If we did a show, there's a limited number of leads," she said. "There's so much talent in this group, so we have to show it off. This way, a bunch of different people get to be leads, or do solos."

But the group isn't just made up of high school students putting on the show. The group is operated by parent volunteers.

"The group relies on the adults to put on the show as much as the kids," said Jessica Lane Weiss, the group's recording secretary.

Weiss, who has had two children participate in the group, said the parent volunteers man the ticket stand, help with costumes and refreshments and much more - like organizing meals, helping with props and selling t-shirts, flowers, teddy bears and other items to support the program.

"The more your child gets involved, the more you get sucked in when you how much fun they're having," Weiss said.

Weiss' husband, Neil, attended South and was a participant in the group for three years. When the family moved back to Rockland from England three years ago, they were looking for programs to put their children in to help them meet other kids from the area.

"The people in the program become very close," Weiss said. "It gives the children an opportunity to do something they might not normally try. The program really nurtures confidence in the children."

Weiss' son, Harry, was in the group for two years, and her daughter Bethany is participating for the second straight summer in the show, which opens Aug. 6. The group then has a show the next night, and continues in another week, with shows on Aug. 12, 13 and 14. All five of those shows are at 8 p.m. at South. The group also has a show Sunday, Aug. 8 at 2 p.m., which is its benefit show, in which all proceeds go to Making Strides Against Breast Cancer and the Food Cupboard at the Church of St. Paul in Congers.

The benefit show is relatively new to the group, as it started sometime within the past 12-15 years, according to Vicki Liner, the group's treasurer, who has been involved with the festival since 1992. The group used to have a dress rehearsal in the downtime between the first weekend of shows and the second.

"Nobody was taking it seriously," Liner said. "The kids would show up and they'd put their costumes half on over their clothes. So we needed to come up with a way for them to take it seriously."

Raising money isn't a foreign concept to CSTF, though. It's a not-for-profit group that puts on its shows through fundraising. While the group starts rehearsing for shows sometime in June and ends it run of shows in August, the group's executive board meets throughout the year.

"The volunteers are needed year-round," said Weiss. "We take the rest of August off, and then start meeting monthly once school starts back up in September. We try to set up events every two-to-three months, just to get the kids back together and maybe do some fundraising."

Weiss said in the past, the group has held bowling and karaoke events, gone into restaurants to sing and this year or next, hopes to try a carwash. This year, Liner said, the group received two grants from Orange & Rockland and the Town of Clarkstown to help fund the show.

But the group doesn't just raise money for itself. It has the benefit show, which in the past has raised money for Nyack and Good Samaritan Hospitals and People to People.

"We try to make it something local," Liner said.

Last week, the group also held a food drive for People to People. Group members stood outside Pathmark in Nanuet and ShopRite in West Nyack collecting food to donate. According to Liner, the group collected almost 900 pounds of food, totaling roughly $2,000 worth.

"This time of the year, they don't get as many donations, so it seemed like a really good time for a food drive," Liner said.

But even with all the volunteering and donating, the core of the group is still about letting the children put on a show. One member of the group who is helping put on the show this year is Joshua Becker, 18, of New City. This is his fifth year with the group, and second as its production stage manager. The other three years, he was working stage crew.

"It's my job to ensure that all aspects of the show are ready for showtime," he said, adding that he "calls cues, and runs the show."

Becker, who graduated from Clarkstown High School North in the spring and will attend SUNY Maritime in the fall, said he first got involved with plays back in the seventh grade, when decided to join the crew because it seemed like something he would enjoy.

"I did, and now I'm here," he said. "I enjoy interacting with the people and getting a chance to run something of this magnitude since I have no professional experience."

Tickets for the shows are currently on sale from 6-8:30 p.m. in the South lobby, and for those looking for a sneak peak of the show, the group will perform a few numbers this Saturday at the Palisades Center in front of H&M at 1 p.m., 1:45 and 2:30.

William Demarest (Editor) July 31, 2010 at 08:49 AM
Joe Egan always puts on a good show. His experience as a director in Rockland and Westchester has made him an expert in bringing together young people with a wide variety of backgrounds and turning them into a cohesive group that can tackle just about any theatrical challenge. I look forward to see what Joe does with this group. From what I've seen in rehearsal, looks like the show should be very entertaining.

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