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January 28, 2013

Future of theater focus of meeting

By Denise Richardson
The Daily Star

---- — The curtain rose Sunday on efforts to save the Oneonta Theatre.

About 45 supporters stepped onto the stage of the historic venue at 47 Chestnut St. to share ideas about the future of the theater. Dressed in winter jackets, they mingled in pairs or clusters, or sat at one of nine tables, and addressed topics ranging from dance, music and youth programming to finances, fundraising and hospitality.

“Getting us back here to talk with tables according to subject was brilliant,’’ Joe Ficano of Oneonta said. Fincano said he would like the theater to continue as a showcase for music, particularly for local and regional groups.

The two-hour meeting at the theater was called by Tom Cormier, theater and building owner, and the Friends of the Oneonta Theatre, a nonprofit organization. After Cormier announced in December that he would close the theater Jan. 1, he and FOTOT members met and began on the road to find long-term viability for the venue.

On Sunday afternoon, two local women were checking into volunteer options.

“We don’t want to see the theater close,’’ Amanda Mason of Oneonta said.

“Exactly,’’ said Angela Bouchard of Oneonta.

John Gill of Maryland said he could draw on past experience in public relations to help FOTOT. Gill, a drummer and teacher, said he has performed on the Oneonta Theatre stage.

“It’s important to the community and people in the arts to have this theater as a venue,’’ Gill said.

Cormier bought the 115-year-old theater for $225,000 in June 2009. Initially, he worked with FOTOT to upgrade the building. However, Cormier, a businessman, said after he realized how long it would take the group to renovate the theater, he stepped in to make improvements and expedited the theater’s return to operations by mid-2010.

In the 675-seat theater Sunday, Macaluso reviewed the theater’s recent history using slides projected on the giant movie screen. She invited listeners to join her on stage as the screen rose, in the meanwhile explaining a project estimated at $15,000 could provide the required spray-on insulation needed back stage to prevent drafts settling into the audience area.

Macaluso praised Cormier’s rescue of the building from water damages, including mildew, and work to restore and improve the building. FOTOT members were disappointed when Cormier took over restoration efforts, she said, but is eager at this juncture to do the research and continue networking to create a not-for-profit organization that can operate the theater.

The development requires consideration of programming, hospitality, cleaning, fund-raising and other categories of operations and management, according to a organizational diagram she presented.

“At this point, we want the community to engage,’’ Patrice Macaluso, president of the Friends of the Oneonta Theatre board, told listeners seated in the theater during introductory remarks.

FOTOT and the Oneonta Theatre remain separate organizations, Macaluso said. Another key step is a study to help transform the vision into reality and gain a better sense by fall of how to use the theater.

Cormier and Macaluso, interviewed separately, described the evolving collaboration as a “win/win’’ opportunity.

Events are planned for the theater in February and March, Cormier said. In five years, he would like to see FOTOT as a solid organization that operates the theater with fine-tuning under way to make improvements, he said.

Oneonta has held its own during the recession, Cormier said, and Oneonta’s location, its college communities and development on Southside are factors supporting its economic transition and potential for growth.