There’s no place like home for Play Group Theatre
By Debra Banerjee
The Scarsdale Inquirer
Jan. 15, 2010
It took much more than three clicks of the ruby slippers for Play Group Theatre to find home. Despite the detours along the yellow brick road to find “NoBro,” 1 North Broadway in White Plains, it was worth the wait. The not-for-profit theater training company for children and teens founded in 1995 by Steven and Jill Abusch celebrated its 15th anniversary Jan. 2 with a gala performance at the White Plains Performing Arts Center and a ribbon-cutting ceremony and party down the block at its permanent new home with the artsy moniker, “NoBro.”
Play Group Theatre alumni, parents, friends and supporters, including state Sen. Suzi Oppenheimer and new landlord Larry Heyman and his wife Kim, filled the White Plains Performing Arts Center for a production that showcased the young thespians’ talents and passion for the dramatic arts. The show opened with the casts from 1997, 2006 and 2009 and all PGT students past and present singing songs from “The Wiz” and “The Wizard of Oz.” The staging of selections from shows from years past presented a powerful visual, showing how the organization has developed and grown over the years.
“Magic” was the buzzword during the evening, from tributes to the Abusches and remarks by board of directors chairman Barbara Whitman who said the Abusches “take dreams and turn them into reality.”
During the show, associate artistic director Jeff Downing and students paid touching tribute to Jonah Dreskin, a PGT alumnus, and son of Rabbi Billy Dreskin of Woodlands Community Temple and Ellen Dreskin, who died March 5 of injuries from a fall on the campus of the University of Buffalo.
The ferocious arctic winds on the short walk over to the new theater after the performance did not cool the excitement of the crowd which gathered for the ribbon-cutting, tour, silent auction and a sumptuous spread of refreshments in the spacious lobby area.
The new space, a former New York Sports Club, was converted into a theater with the funds of an ongoing capital campaign, and volunteers did the painting. The new 20,000-square-foot space with a lovely view of the park is quite a departure from PGT’s last temporary home in the White Plains Mall.
The journey to find a permanent space began eight years ago, when a committee formed to develop a waterfront property in New Rochelle, the former home of Fleetwood Stage. That project never got off the ground, but the committee was able to “spin straw into gold,” as Jill Abusch said, and the path led to NoBro.
“We are thrilled to have the opportunity to move into such a fabulous facility, and we are so grateful for the support of the community in raising the funds to build it out,” said Steven Abusch.
The space includes a Main-Stage theater, where PGT will continue to produce two full seasons each year of musicals and plays with anywhere from two to four productions per season, and the Studio Theatre, where PGT will present the work of its StudioStage program, a less intensive performance track than its MainStage program.
Both of these theaters will come in handy for the summer program, which produces about eight shows in six weeks. The space also includes two rehearsal studios, as well as costume storage and a costume shop, a scene shop directly behind the stage, dressing rooms and a green room backstage, and offices and storage on the main floor.
The day after the gala, PGT went right into rehearsal for “Seussical,” its first show in the new theater which will run in repertory with “13” in January.
Many Scarsdale and Edgemont children have come up through the PGT program. PGT is a family affair for the Kleins of Edgemont. Chase Klein, a senior at Edgemont High School, has been involved with Play Group Theatre since he was 9. His sister Chiara, who is now a senior at Dartmouth College, majoring in theater modified with psychology, “graduated” from PGT in 2006 and was part of the 15th anniversary gala committee and performance.
Chase, who has the lead role in Edgemont High School’s upcoming production of “Pajama Game,” and is playing the Cat in the Hat in PGT’s “Seussical,” showed off his skills in a hilarious number “Take a Glass” from the musical “Grand Hotel.”
PGT is “definitely a community,” Chase said. “It’s very welcoming. Everyone accepts each other. It has to do with aspects of the theater. You have to take risks, make choices. We’re encouraged to do that, accepted for that. No one will put you down.”
Chase described his sister as “one of their biggest fans. She’s an avid contributor.”
“The gala was one of my favorite shows,” Chase said. “I had so much more fun than I expected with all alumni coming back. It was magical. I don’t want to wait another five years.”
Frederique Zacharia of Scarsdale, whose two children Ben, 18, and Josephine, a six-grader at Scarsdale Middle School, have been part of PGT, said, “PGT is a magical place where kids can find lifelong friendships and a sense of belonging and support.” Ben, now a freshman at Connecticut College, joined Play Group Theatre the summer after ninth grade. He has since been in many shows and last summer worked at PGT as a camp counselor. During the gala, he and Maddie Hendricks performed a very engaging balcony scene from “Romeo and Juliet” as well as in songs from “Secret Garden.”
“Play Group Theatre has become a big and wonderful part of his life,” Frederique said. Josephine is currently in the cast of “Seussical.”
Frederique, who joined the board of PGT a year and a half ago, said, “Jill and Steven and Jeff have created an amazing, creative community, where friendship, hard work and teamwork are the main ingredients to a successful production and competitiveness is not part of the picture.”
Moving into NoBro has been a dream come true for members of PGT, but all along, they had a home, whether they knew it or not — in community with each other.