A Different Kind of ART

The spotilight shines on a regional acting group

Story by Nicole Weber
Photos courtesy of Tom Lavin

Some people think of art as a painting, and a sculpture, or a gem the size of a fist underneath a glass case; some even consider an upside down chair hanging from the ceiling to be a piece of artwork. But artwork, by its most fundamental definition, is a creation that is put on display for others to see. All creative works can be considered an art form and ART, Adirondack Regional Theatre, displays one of them: the art of acting.

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A scene from ART's 2009 production of Little Shop of Horrors

“I have a true love for local theater, and when my son, Ross, was interested in attempting theater, ART's summer performance seemed appropriate,” says Michael Coughlin, adding that since Ross began his young stage career, his entire family has become involved with ART.

Such experiences are evidently not unusual with the Plattsburgh-based troupe of players. Husband-and-wife team Pamela and Tom Lavin, the group's founders and co-directors for many of ART's shows, both attest to the fact that ART produces more than just theatrical productions. Bonds form among the local thespians who take part in the shows, leading to lasting friendships that endure long after the final curtain calls have been taken.

"ART is like a big family"

“My joy has been watching the young people involved in ART grow up to develop character, confidence, social skills, and long-term friendships," Pamela Lavin says. “ART is like a big family. I am proud to be a part of such a caring and nurturing group.”

Tom Lavin says he considers ART to be a family as well, and says he always gives a speech to each cast about being one big family. “If you can help any family member develop, that’s a great thing,” he says.

Sometimes, that sense of family extends to the most challenging of circumstances. Brenda Smith understands that first-hand. “I had heart surgery and had gotten out of the hospital,” she remembers. “I wanted to see the very last performance that my daughter Kayla would be in, as she was going to grad school in New York City. (At the end of the last show), the group brought me on stage and dedicated the show to me. That was so very touching.”

“[The North Country] isn’t a very big area, but there is an awful lot of talent that people don’t know about.”

The family was born when Pamela and Tom Lavin created ART after the two participated in the play Godspell produced by the Plattsburgh Community Players, a previously existing group. “From there, the group kept growing, and we decided to change the name (to Adirondack Regional Theatre) to encompass the North Country,” Pamela Lavin says.

“I thought there was a need (for a local acting group),” says Tom Lavin. “(The North Country) isn’t a very big area, but there is an awful lot of talent that people don’t know about.” 

ART debuted its first play, You're a Good Man Charlie Brown, in 2001. Since then, ART has put on 17 plays.

Before long, ART became a partner of Peru Music Theater group.  PMT is a group based out of Peru Central School where Pamela Lavin teaches. ART merged with PMT after a change in school policy, which prevents PMT from being able to fund shows. ART now funds and works alongside PMT.

Currently, ART has about 70 to 80 members and, according to the Lavins, is continuing to grow. ART's youngest members have been four years old; their oldest actors have been in their late-70s.

"It’s not just about being on stage, it’s about building sets, being a part of the orchestra"

Yet the Lavins stress that being on stage is only a small part of the work required to put on a show. “It’s not just about being on stage, it’s about building sets, being a part of the orchestra,” Tom Lavin says, adding that new volunteers are always welcomed in the group. “It's never a bad time to drop a line, see what's happening.”

Just four summers ago ART's primary performance venue in front of the Macdonough monument of downtown Plattsburgh, and on Margaret Street, across the street from Plattsburgh’s North Country Cultural Center. Now, rehearsals and shows are being held on Clinton Community College's stage, where ART has become the educational institution's official theatre-in-residence.

One of the unique qualities of ART as a group is that it is self-sufficient. Group members are asked to donate a membership fee of only $10 once a year. So where does ART get the money to buy the rights of the musicals? “Basically we have been very fortunate. We have applied for decentralized grants, and the North Country Cultural Center for the Arts has given us a grant for the last few years, “says Tom Lavin. Lavin adds that the average play costs around $10,000 to produce.

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Members of ART performing in The Fantasticks in Plattsburgh

In the past, when ART played outside, they couldn’t charge admission, but did “pass the hat,” as Tom Lavin put it. This summer, ART is performing Into the Woods at Clinton Community College in mid-July. Tickets will be about $8 per person. The group will also be performing Disney’s Aladdin, Jr. at different venues throughout the North Country, including a likely show in Rouses Point on July 1st.

ART performs mainly with people for the communities in and around Clinton and Essex counties. They have brought their theatrical productions to communities throughout the Plattsburgh area as well as in Ticonderoga, where they performed Willy Wonka Jr.

“It’s fun and exciting, but it has its pitfalls,” comments Tom Lavin about performing outside. He adds that the convenience of a stage is nice to have, but that ART will still perform outside for some shows.

Yet inside or outdoors, Tom Lavin says ART's overall job remains the same. With many actors experiencing their first stage experience as a member of ART, Lavin says he considers teaching acting as an educational process. “(You’re) always learning," he states. “Never stop learning, no matter what you’re doing in life.”

Have you ever performed on stage before?

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