Name a ten-year-old who doesn’t ask for presents for their birthday but wants to give you a gift instead.
We found one.
ARC Stages, celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, is eager to offer us the gift of theater.
Tony Award winner Ali Stroker, a Briarcliff resident, who acted in the play Downstairs, on the ARC stage in September to kick off the anniversary year for the company, said, “ARC stages is so essential. They’re not just providing theater for the community. They give to these kids. It’s special to have a place where they can grow and develop.”
Stroker’s husband, David Perlow, who directed Downstairs, explained that ARC Stages “is responsible for a whole generation of theater.”
Noah Zachary, also in Downstairs, said, “I’m from Long Island. We didn’t have community theater. I would have lived here (the theater).”
ARC Stages has three programs: The Educational Stage, including a summer program, called Summer Stage; Community Stage, which puts on productions using non-professional actors living in the region; and Next Stage, which presents professional shows, providing “quality theater in your backyard,” said Adam Cohen, executive artistic director for ARC, and a Pleasantville resident.
The Educational Stage offers acting classes for children from kindergarten to 12th grade, as well as adults. It recently expanded the program to provide pre-school children, from as young as ten months old, with music, theater, and storytelling sessions. About 130 children in total are enrolled.
“Last summer was our largest camp yet,” Cohen said. “We care about the art we’re creating with the kids. We stress kindness, fun, and creative expression.”
The Community Stage puts on three shows each year. In November, ARC will be presenting She Loves Me, a romantic comedy musical, and in April 2023, Peter and the Starcatcher which explores Peter Pan’s origins.
“The idea is that anyone who wants to come in can audition. The talent around here is amazing,” Cohen said.
Next Stage, the professional actors’ arm, puts on two shows a year, in October and February, which generally run for three or four weeks. Auditions are conducted in New York City.
“We’re doing shows that aren’t done all the time, stories that are worth telling, to spark conversations about social change and cultural change,” Cohen said.
“A lot of people we’ve had here have Broadway credits,” he explained. “We have actors who’ve done major tours and off-Broadway too.”
Several Broadway actors have taught classes at ARC, including Tony award winner Joanna Gleason, who played the baker’s wife in the original production of Into the Woods. Gleason sits on ARC Stages’ industry advisory board, as does Broadway, film, and TV veteran Vanessa Williams, who once starred in Desperate Housewives and graduated from Horace Greeley High School in Chappaqua.
Downstairs by Theresa Rebeck, a one-night event ARC put on to commemorate its tenth year, focuses on a man living in his sister’s basement, who is unwanted by the sister’s husband. Zachary played the brother, Stroker the sister and Perlow the difficult husband.
The play starts on a comic note, with Zachary’s character, named Teddy, knocking around in his sloppy basement lair, cluttered with tools, old paint cans, and tubs full of clothes, and pouring water and coffee creamer in his cereal. Conflict flares immediately when Stroker’s character, named Irene, asks him when he’s leaving. There’s a lot of tortured family history too.
In the small ARC space (74 seats), theatergoers can observe at close range the way the actors physically transform themselves. Perlow, so friendly in conversation before the show, became on stage a lumbering giant with barely contained anger and massive potential for violence in his shoulders.
“This is such a great way to do theater,” Cohen said. “It doesn’t matter where you sit.”
The first official show of Next Stage’s season was The Great Leap, which ran from September 30th to mid-October. Before one October show, County Legislator Margaret Cunzio proclaimed on stage that October 10th would be “ARC Stages Day in Westchester.”
The Great Leap concerns a fictional Chinese American basketball player named Manford, who is a loudmouth, but with the skills to back it up. He wins a spot on an American team that goes to China to play an exhibition game with the Chinese team in 1989, during the Tiananmen Square protests for democracy.
Manford’s American coach, born in the Bronx, immediately insults the Chinese coach to get under his skin and emphasizes aggressive play, while his Chinese counterpart finds himself fearfully paralyzed in going against the wishes of a powerful, vengeful bureaucracy directed by the country’s leader.
The play is funny and touching, with multiple dramatic entanglements. Political and cultural conflict abound (and rebound too).
ARC Stages carries the theatrical spirit way beyond Broadway. This 10-year-old offers electric inspiration to anyone who walks in the door.