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Longtime Summer Theater Program Takes Hiatus to Reorganize

Oraganizers: Slow economy and low enrollment to blame for absence of Clarkstown Summer Theatre Festival this year.

For the first time in its 38-year history, the Clarkstown Summer Theatre Festival  program will not put on a theatrical production this summer because of slow enrollment, the lagging economy and lack of grant money.

"It's a sad situation," said Donna Jessie, first vice president of the CSTF Board of Directors. "We did not want to not have a show this year."

Jessie said the board, whose members are parent volunteers, made the decision at its May meeting. Board members were given different assignments and at the June meeting they will brainstorm ideas to keep the program going and also reorganize.

"We had to a take a look at a number of factors. One was economics, the monies available to run the program, enrollment and size of the student body to run the program," said Jessie, who has been involved with CSTF for seven years.

The organization did not expect to receive any grant money this year. Student tuition alone did not cover the program's expenses. In 2010, the group received grants from Orange and Rockland Utilities and the Town of Clarkstown.

Enrollment was lagging compared to prior years. This year, between nine and 12 students had signed up by May while in the past 20 to 30 students would have already enrolled. The group had planned to perform "Bye Bye Birdie" this summer.

The organization posted  a brief announcement on its web site.

Dear Friends of CSTF,

We are saddened to report that CSTF will not have a show this year, due to these economic times that we are all living through. However the good news is that we will be reorganizing during the year and planning for our future!Thanks for all your support.

CSTF Board of Directors

Jessie is confident the theater program will return in 2012.

"Our plan and goal is to hopefully go forward and have the program next year," said Jessie. "It' not just the students that are missing out, it's the community."  

In addition to regular performances, the theater troupe held a benefit show to raise money for an nonprofit organization, visited assisted living facilities, previewed the show at a local mall and participated in the New City Memorial Day Parade. The festival performed a musical revue last summer which was a departure from previous years when regular musicals were produced.

The Clarkstown Summer Theatre Festival was started in 1973 to get Clarkstown and other area youths involved in the arts. Each of the following summers a group of teenagers put on a theatrical production at Clarkstown South High School in West Nyack. 

The not-for-profit organization taught high school students about the different roles in theater production. They learned about being in the cast, orchestra and crew. A professional staff had run the show and the teenaged participants built the sets, operated the lights and electronics as well as acted, sang and performed the music.

Rehearsals and performances were held at Clarkstown South. In past years the students came from throughout the tri-state area. Enrollment was open to students going into the eighth grade through high school.

College freshman were eligible to participate in the crew and orchestra only. The program was held in the evening so participants could attend camp or work during the day.

Many alumni continue in the field such as Jessie's daughter who was in the program for four years and is now studying musical theater at college. Several alumni have gone on to become professional musicians and actors.

RUTH HESS May 22, 2011 at 04:07 AM
How very sad this is! I was involved with the Summer Theater when it first began because our two daughters were part of it. It was an outstanding program and gave students a wonderful opportunity to spend the summer productively. Several graduates of this program have gone on to the acting profession. Eugene Gurlitz, a former Clarkstown School Board member and a talented set designer at the Summer Theater program for many years would be heartbroken to know that the program will not take place this summer. I know that times are very difficult. We all know that, but this program has been so worthwhile. Perhaps more advertising should have taken place early in the school year. I hope it does return next year. It will be a very big loss if it does not.

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