The New Paltz Planning Board will draft a resolution to consider approving the proposal to build a Black Box Theater in the village on Sept. 16.
At a public hearing on Tuesday night, the main room of the New Paltz Village Hall was filled to capacity with planning board members and New Paltz residents. The hearing was held to allow New Paltz residents to voice their concerns regarding the potential Black Box Theater proposed by Harry Lipstein and Ben Williamson.
The two have been working with supporters to deliver the artful element of theater to the doorsteps of New Paltzians. Lipstein is looking to add the 50-70 seat theater as a cultural component of the already rich New Paltz environment.
Richard Gottlieb, owner of Rock and Snow on Main Street, generously donated 12 of the store’s parking spots to the theater on production nights. Gottlieb spoke of the unwritten responsibilities of small business owners in a town that touts itself as progressive and creative.
“I am in favor of positive change because it allows the community to grow and thrive,” said Gottlieb. “As a business owner I want to help facilitate these changes. Community is very, very important to me.”
Still, those who spoke in opposition were mainly concerned with potential parking issues the theater may present.
New Paltz resident Peter Muller expressed that although he would “very much like to have a live-theater in New Paltz,” he feels the Water Street location is not suitable.
“The requirement would be between 30 and 35 additional parking spots within walking distance of the theater,” Muller said. “Assuming two people per car and an audience of 60 to 70 people.”
Despite the concerns Muller and others in opposition had, the majority of those who spoke were in favor of the project. In response to the multitude of parking concerns, resident Rose Marie Navarra said the benefits of a theater make parking worries seem arbitrary.
“Theater is beautiful, glorious and most notably, essential to the culture of an artistic community,” Navarra said. “Parking? That is completely outweighed by the benefits of this project.”
Although some worry over the interruptive nature of a loud theater, Lipstein assures that the point of a Black Box Theater is to have intimate plays that are docile in nature. The work showcased during productions at Lipstein’s Urbanite Theater in Sarasota, Florida have been described as thought provoking, contemporary material by new playwrights. According to Lipstein, this is contingent with the subject matter a New Paltz theater location would deliver. The philosophy of Lipstein, Williamson and those who work with them is theater is best with great writing and great acting in an intimate space.
Williamson, a co-artistic director along with Lipstein, is a working actor who is passionate about theater and the pursuit of projects like this. He emphasized the theater will welcome theater students, local actors and playwrights to educate the community of the importance of theater through their productions. Williamson in response to parking concerns brought up his coined term “new urbanism,” which refers to patrons of local culture parking in one spot, then walking throughout their village.
The theater is proposed to operate under a season of four to five shows per year. Shows are to be Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. The house is to open at 7:30 p.m. for an 8 p.m. show. Each show would run approximately five weeks and would be open for patrons 20 to 25 weeks per year.
Lipstein emphasizes that the nature of a Black Box Theater is the intimate nature, thus virtually eliminating any potential noise disturbances. However, residents who worry about noise refer to the time after a show ends, when the theater crowd empties out onto the street.
Restaurants in close-proximity to the proposed theater location such as The Gilded Otter and Karma Road have fully expressed their support of the project. The SUNY New Paltz Theater Program has also agreed to collaborate with the potential theater by sending students to work and intern there.
“The community, culture and sense of unified creativity is so extremely valuable for a place like New Paltz,” said Jayme Strype, yoga teacher at Vitality Yoga.