Spa Little Theatre to undergo review to better accommodate performing artists


SARATOGA SPRINGS — For decades, the Spa Little Theatre in Saratoga Spa State Park has played a major role in the city’s performing arts community — hosting packed-houses for Opera Saratoga, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Home Made Theater, and in the 1980s, actor/director John Houseman’s Acting Company.

But state Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Regional Director Alane Chinian admits the brick theater with its commanding doric columns has not always been ideal venue for artists. The stage has no wings, the HVAC system is aging, there is no adequate rehearsal space or dressing rooms. And since its partners have vacated to other venues during the pandemic, she said, the time has come for the state to evaluate how to make the building more accommodating and accessible to artists and their patrons.

“It’s an interesting space,” Chinian said. “It’s a lecture hall disguised as a proscenium theater. It has gone under modifications to make it sort of less friendly to performances over the many decades. We are looking forward to having the theater evaluated to understand how it could be better for performers – wings space, backstage, rehearsal areas, a green room, an orchestra pit.”

The 550-seat theater has already undergone some modest renovations this year – mainly to its bathrooms, which cost the state about $44,000 in new tiling and fixtures. Still, she said, the state, which owns the building, would like to improve accessibility and air quality, something that came up during the pandemic.

“The pandemic raised an awful lot of questions about everything about the facility,” Chinian said. “What kind of air filtration, what kind of air conditioning do we need? … We are going to take a much more thorough investigation on what the theater can be. How can it be the best benefit to the arts community.”

But it’s not just accessibility and old heating and air conditioning systems. Eric Rudy, general manager of Home Made Theater, said the basement, where the community theater stored props and costumes was a problem as it frequently flooded. 

“Anytime it rained, there would be several inches of water on the floor,” Rudy said. “The drainage grates in the floors would overflow. … We had everything in plastic bins up off the floor, but it took time to dry things out and several of the actors couldn’t wear the costumes because of mildew.”

Right now, Home Made Theater is storing its costumes and props at the Wilton Mall and performing at Saratoga Arts. Opera Saratoga is staging its summer season at a number of venues like Saratoga Performing Arts Center, The Egg and Proctors while the chamber music series has been moved to Pitney Meadow Community Farms in Saratoga Springs.

Now that the bathrooms are complete, which Chinian said was frustrated by the supply chain delays, she expects SPAC to announce plans to host two dance programs there at the end of August. In the 1990s, a modern dance series also on of the regularly booked offerings in the theater.

That was not, however, the building’s original intent. Built around 1930, Chinian said, the Spa Little Theatre was erected by the Work Progress Administration for the Simon Baruch Research Laboratory, which was studying the health benefits of the mineral waters. One of four buildings on what is referred to as the Roosevelt Campus, the theater hosted academics who would share their findings on the waters.

By the mid-1950s, interest in the waters declined. Eventually, the Spa Little Theatre gained a new audience – those in the performing arts. To keep that tradition going, Chinian said the state is looking to sign a contract within the next few months with an engineering firm to examine the building.

“We are very interested in getting a sensible plan and in seeking input on that from our arts partners,” Chinian said. “We are absolutely committed to the preservation of our buildings. We like to see our spaces used. We don’t like to see them dark and unoccupied. There is a lot of potential for what could be offered there if the physical space was more accommodating. We want to see what is feasible and what would best benefit our cultural partners.”


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