“There’s a THEATRE in here?” the Amtrak passenger asked, pointing to the Actors’ Equity sign in the lobby of the train station. “There sure is,” I answered as usual, preparing my regular spiel. “It’s very convenient, as actors can ride the train from Broadway directly to the stage here in the Adirondacks!”
It’s a frequently asked question about a unique situation. The circa 1876 historic building located in the community of Westport on Lake Champlain is not only a working train station with daily Amtrak service to and from Montreal and New York City, it’s also a professional theatre.
The building and the theatre are forever linked. In 1978, the building was slated for demolition. As part of a community-wide effort to save the historic structure, the Westport Historical Society decided to use the space for cultural activities, and the Depot Theatre was born. The Depot operated as a community theatre until 1988, when it became its own not-for-profit theatre company.
Today, the Depot Theatre is the only professional Actors’ Equity Association (AEA) and Stage Directors and Choreographers Society (SDC) affiliated theatre company in the Adirondack Mountains. The building is owned by the Town of Westport and leased to both Amtrak and to the Depot.
The theatre itself is located in what used to be the freight room, and it seats 134 patrons. The rustic setting has a charming, historic feel, though it does have fancy air-conditioning during performances, and all new seats, carpeting, aisle lights, and a lighting grid that were all installed in 2017.
A big year
While 2017 was a year of great improvements, 2018 is a big anniversary, as the Depot celebrates its 40th anniversary season.
Artistically, the theatre will produce three favorite shows from the past 39 years: Always…Patsy Cline from June 30 through July 15, with a $20 Preview on June 29; The 39 Steps, from July 21 through August 5, with a $20 Preview on July 20; and Ain’t Misbehavin’ on stage from August 11 through 26, with a $20 Preview on August 10.
To finish up the summer, the Depot’s neighbors from the Schroon Lake Region, Seagle Music Colony will be in Westport for a special, limited run production of “Hey Big Spender” The Music of Cy Coleman over the Labor Day weekend. Seagle Music Colony is the oldest summer vocal training program in the United States and the premier opera and musical theatre producing organization in the Adirondack region of upstate New York. In 2018, Seagle Music Colony is celebrating its 103rd Anniversary Season.
In celebration of this milestone year, the theatre has also been walking down memory lane by posting photos of past productions, playbills, and other archival items on their website and social media channels, and will have some of their treasures on display in the lobby this summer — a treat for theatre audiences and Amtrak passengers, too.
The Historical Society’s original intentions have certainly been fulfilled. The Depot has had a direct impact on the region, with a reputation for presenting high quality live performances, hosting visual arts in the lobby’s gallery, and administering education and outreach programs for area youth.
Having grown up in Westport, I never realized how lucky we were to have a genuine professional actor from the local theatre as our drama club and talent show advisor. The Depot’s former artistic director, Shami McCormick, provided her expertise to our little school productions over the years, and the theatre continues to contribute as needed — even if it’s just by providing some hard-to-find props or costumes!
As an added bit of excitement for the anniversary season, the Depot has taken the Boquet River Theatre Festival (BRTF), a popular children’s theatre program, under its wing this year. BRTF consists of a junior and a senior program, and culminates in two musical productions each summer, rehearsed and performed at the Whallonsburg Grange Hall.
Take a journey
Though the Depot’s tagline is “Take a journey without leaving the station,” alluding, of course, to the transformative experience of live theatre, its location in a transportation hub with direct connections to Montreal, New York City, and a shuttle to and from Lake Placid also serves to connect recreational, natural, and cultural experiences from Broadway to the Adirondack High Peaks.
So feel free to visit the Depot Theatre, and take in a show, or take a trip. There IS a train station at the theatre, after all.
Kim Rielly is the Depot Theatre’s executive director.
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