Ask Westchester, July 2012: The White Plains Performing Arts Center Defends Its Cultural Season

Q: Why does the White Plains Performing Arts Center seem to be such an underused venue? It’s a great space that seems to attract only B- and C-level entertainment. Connecticut’s tiny Ridgefield Playhouse gets much bigger names all year round. Is it my imagination or does White Plains seem to be culturally challenged for such a booming city?
—Paul Bissonette, via e-mail

A: Well, Paul, you certainly know how to make a magazine feel awkward. We mean, do you want us to start our inquiry with, “Dear White Plains Performing Arts Center, why are all of your shows so lame?” or go with the more tactful method you suggest of, “Dear White Plains Performing Arts Center, it’s really great that you take up so much space in downtown White Plains, but, why are you so ‘culturally challenged’ that you are overshadowed by a theater described as ‘little’ by critics? Anyway, see you at tonight’s concerto.”
We pride ourselves on asking all the tough questions, so we got in touch with Kathleen Davisson, the general manager of the Center, and, boy, was she not a fan of your question. Here’s the gist of our conversation (though, admittedly, we took a small amount of creative license in reproducing our side of the conversation):
Kathleen, Westchester Magazine here. Don’t shoot the messenger and all, but our friend Paul has some questions about your, um, brass…and we ain’t talking about tubas. How do you respond? “The PAC not only puts on many professional productions each year, including The Secret Garden and Songs for a New World, which features a thirty-piece orchestra, but also is the only Westchester theater with a resident conservatory theater-training program where youth study all aspects of theater arts and present well-known contemporary works to much acclaim.”
Okay, good point. But come on—we’re hanging our city pride on The Secret Garden? We’re sure the youth of Bumbletown, Alabama, get stuck, er, enjoy watching that, too. When are you doing something more widely recognized? “I would really like everyone to be very clear as to our mission and focus. I don’t understand the ‘more widely recognized shows’ comment as our holiday show this past December was Cats, probably the most well-known musical on the planet.”
We prefer The Book of Mormon, but go on. “My thinking is that this question came from someone who was aware that, last season, we tried to do all new works. They were not known at all, and not supported by the community, and definitely caused us to not do well financially and definitely caused us to rethink our programming and return to well-known, award-winning shows. Our main stage’s focus is professional musicals and plays.”
Yes, we get it, but why no A-list stars? Where’s the Gaga, the Seinfeld, the Nathan Lane…the Whoopi, even? “What is considered a star anyway? Someone who is a star to you is not necessarily a star to me. They don’t necessarily audition for our short runs and usually seek a much higher salary than our regional theater budget allows.”
Fine. Kelsey Grammer’s not doing How to Succeed on Mamaroneck Avenue any time soon, but Stamford had Liza Minnelli in March, and, God help us, we won’t be outdone by any ’burb that looks up to, ugh, New Haven. What say you? “In our business there are venues that are road houses and there are venues that are producing houses. A road house gets touring shows, concerts, et cetera. They are booked through agents and booking agencies. The Palace in Stamford is a road house; the Westchester County Center in White Plains is a road house; The Performing Arts Center at Purchase College is a road house. We are a producing house—we create our own theater. The Westchester Broadway Dinner Theatre is a producing house—they create their own theater. Road houses are buying someone else’s art and have no control over the quality of the work. We are creating our own art, and in the end, it’s up to us to create the best show possible for the public.”
But Liza!? “Liza Minnelli is the entertainment for The Palace gala to raise money for The Palace in Stamford. That’s when you want a star—when you can charge three hundred fifty dollars and make some money for your venue.”
So Paul, there you have it. You just clearly don’t know anything about theater, or theatre, or whatever it is you are no longer invited to watch in White Plains.

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Q: There is a small, dilapidated building with a caved-in roof that sits at the south end of the Grassy Sprain Reservoir in Yonkers. It can best be seen as you drive north of Tuckahoe Road on the Sprain Brook Parkway. At that point, the beautiful scenery of the parkway and all the surrounding plantings with the reservoir to your left are  spoiled by the building in question. It has been this way for many years, and I keep thinking that someone will tear it down or repair it soon as it has spoiled the otherwise attractive appearance of the area. I assume it had some function with the reservoir system at some point, but it presently looks like a derelict eyesore and is getting worse. It is really ugly.
—Nick DiCostanzo, Bronxville

A: This question was trickier than we thought, simply because no one really wanted to admit they were in charge of the building—which we finally identified as the Grassy Sprain Reservoir gatehouse that sits atop differently elevated valves that used to feed water to the surrounding area. (The valves are no longer active.) You see, when you have a small body of water in between two big roads, it could belong to the state, the county, the highway department, some random doomsday prepper, etc. In this case, it belonged to the City of Yonkers. We spoke to Superintendent of Water John Speight, whose title sounds to us like the name for a superhero that one’s mother might think is cool. John essentially agrees with you. “At some point in time, it will be dealt with,” he tells us, but “we have no intent to do anything now. It’s not a priority. It’s costly to repair, and there’s no money for that.” We appreciate the pragmatic and honest answer. Now, as for you, Nick, may we recommend You can start a get-rid-of-eyesore cause.

The White Plains Performing Arts Center, a local “producing house”

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