BWW Interviews: A Theatrical Treasure Kept Sparkling on the Hudson
Westchester has a gem of a theater sitting on the 3rd floor of a historic building in Irvington, New York. Built in 1902 and designed after the Ford Theater in Washington, DC, the Irvington Town Hall Theater (ITHT) was highly utilized up until the 1960s and then it fell off the radar for several years and was no longer used. Thankfully, a group of people decided to bring it back to its glory in the late 70s and by 1980 it was up and running once again with music and dialogue bouncing off its walls.
Much of the reclaiming of the space was thanks to Pamela Rapp who has served as the theater manager for the last thirty five years. Working with a group of commissioners appointed by the mayor of Irvington, Rapp has ushered in decade after decade of amazing works by making the space a viable hub for arts and culture on the Hudson River. It takes a village to truly accomplish anything, and the village of Irvington is lucky to have had such a lover of the arts to bring groups to the space in the center of the village. Now as Rapp prepares to retire from her post, Broadway World asked what she feels has been one of her greatest achievements during her time serving not only the current citizens of Irvington and the surrounding communities, but also the memory of this beautiful space.
"From the moment I saw the dilapidated theater with its crumbling walls where Boy Scouts had had their camp outs and the broken skylight and roof leaked and the fire escapes had fallen off, I knew that my mission, should I accomplish it, was to restore this theater," Pamela Rapp said. "It was like finding a Carnegie Hall in ruins. Being trained in anthropology and archeology this project became my challenge and my passion. With money from the Junior League and donations from many individuals, we were able to convince the Village to restore the theater. My ultimate joy comes from the continuing restoration and improvements to the theater over the years and the support we have had from the Village and donations that have allowed us to bring the Theater to its former glory and add an elevator, new period seating and reopen the skylight. The most rewarding part is when I sit in the audience and watch the performances from littlest thespian in Children's Theater to the big stars like Judy Collins perform and I know we have restored a venue that allows our patrons and performers to be transported to the most wonderful magical place of all-live theater!"
The ITHT Commission is comprised of volunteer arts lovers who work tirelessly on behalf of the village. I talked to Michael Cornman, Chair of the Commission about the wonderful program in their village.
"Contemporaneously with the resurrection of the Irvington Town Hall Theater a children' s theater program was established by energetic local young parents including Pam and several of the original Commission members. The embryonic children's program was immediately viable and included the entire community in its annual productions," Cornman said.
As someone who has a huge background in children's theater, I can personally vouch for the importance it brings to any community arts center. Get a child involved in theater and while you may not have an actor later in life, you definitely will have a life-time lover of the arts.
Cornman continued, "Thanks to their efforts and the oversight of Pam for the past thirty five years as theater manager, the children's theater program has thrived for generation after generation of Irvington's child thespians, many of whom have gone on to careers in the performing arts."
Clocktower Players, in residence at the Irvington Town Hall Theater, has produced children's theater for thirty-six years and in 1992 starting producing musical theater for adults as well. I attended the opening weekend of an energetic, pulsating, captivating production of IN THE HEIGHTS. The acting, the voices, the dancing, the pit - everything about this show was top notch. The award-winning musical tells the story of a neighborhood and how family can go beyond relatives to include those closest to us. What a great story to share in Irvington where everywhere I looked walking the streets prior to curtain, I witnessed "family" in this village.
When asked about Pamela Rapp's legacy at ITHT, Cornman concluded with, "Pam Rapp will be sorely missed, but her myriad contributions to our landmark theater are a lasting monument to the community spirit which the ITHT embodies."
There is still much to occur in the next few months before the season ends at the close of May which will include a going away party for Ms. Rapp. From The Broadway Training Center, to Dance, Film presentations, and the above mentioned Clocktower Players - there are a multitude of arts events happening weekly. Check out the website calendar to see how you can enjoy an amazing evening of the arts as well as take a glimpse at some beautiful Westchester history.