By Grace Bennett
“We were so lucky to be able to save this theater,” Town Councilwoman Lisa Katz said, at the start of an animated conversation about the current uses and all the grand possibilities for the Town of New Castle’s Chappaqua Performing Arts Center (ChappPac), the stately white building previously known as the Wallace Auditorium on the old Readers Digest campus.
With its airy interior and 300-plus, plush red velvet seats, and ample outdoor parking, the ChappPac already serves as ‘home’ to the town’s beloved Chappaqua Orchestra, whose productions there have been ongoing. Most recently, the Chappaqua Orchestra performed a second Storybook Concert and a Concerto Winner’s Concert inside its doors. Early on, a simulcast from Hamilton drew 125 attendees.
ChappPac is also now officially an exciting new venue for upcoming theater productions led by John Fanelli, executive director of the Lighthouse Youth Theater that’s based in Armonk. Fanelli was brought in to begin bringing in compelling theater to inside the ChappPac. “He is highly energetic and has a lot of contacts,” said Katz. “We are allowing his organization to use the space for eight weeks.” Fanelli stated at a recent performance that he is open to feedback on the kinds of productions area residents would be most interested in.
The pursuit of a full range of performing arts offerings is just beginning, and support from the community has already proved robust. The excitement was palpable among audience members who packed the house to enjoy Chappaqua’s blues and soul singer Frank Shiner. It was a first ‘charity concert,’ with Shiner donating 100 percent of the revenue from the evening toward a variety of purchases and improvements to the Center. (See a ‘Gotta Have Arts’ profile about Shiner at theinsidepress.com). A Friends of the Chappaqua Performing Arts Center, headed by Michele Gregson and Tracy Stein, aims to raise $50,000 this summer toward programming efforts.
“The building could well have been demolished,” Katz points out, “to make room for town homes at the upcoming Chappaqua Crossing on the old RD campus. Town officials ‘jumped,’ to save it, she explained, and for a pittance, the Town of New Castle became the Center’s official owner. A theater camp for kids with one-week sessions is planned on site for the summer too.
The possibilities are endless, Katz says. She listed possibilities ranging from major art exhibits and comedy nights to an A-List lecture series (such as at the 92nd Street Y) or, “who knows, maybe an a capella concert featuring high schools from around the county. My goal is to transform the Center into a pre-eminent destination for visual performing arts and music and art.”
The success of the Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville inspired the members of a Town Arts and Culture committee, formed two years ago, Katz added. “We want to create here for performing arts what the Burns Center is for film in Pleasantville.”
At press time, a programming schedule was in the works, and a website for the Chappaqua Performing Arts Center is still in development.
Donations are welcome! Write to: The Friends of the Chappapaqua Performing Arts Center, P. O. Box 351, Chappapaqua, NY.
Grace Bennett, Publisher and Editor of The Inside Press, looks forward to watching ChappPac evolve.