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HVCC professor right at home on stage as elf in ‘SantaLand’

'Charlie Brown,' 'White Christmas' also opening in area theaters

December 6, 2013
Updated 2:02 p.m.
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Theater


Mark Stephens is the elf in the Schenectady Civic Players production of “SantaLand Diaries,” opening today.
Mark Stephens is the elf in the Schenectady Civic Players production of “SantaLand Diaries,” opening today.

In all his hard work leading up to the premiere of “SantaLand Diaries” at the Schenectady Civic Playhouse, Mark Stephens has learned two things about performing a one-man show.

“I’ve had to worry about blocking before,” he said, referring to where an actor stands and moves while on the stage, “but nothing ever like this. There’s so much, and this is new territory for me. The good thing, however, about a one-man show is I don’t have to worry about cueing anyone. The worst-case scenario if I forget a line is I kind of move the gist of the story along and hopefully the audience won’t realize it.”

Don’t expect him to forget a line but, if he does, no one will notice. While he did take a bit of a hiatus from acting to concentrate on a teaching career, he feels as if he’s always been on stage.

“I love teaching and I never want to give that up,” said Stephens, who teaches chemistry at Hudson Valley Community College.

[UPDATE: "SantaLand Diaries" was scheduled to open tonight and have performances Saturday and Sunday. Because Stephens is ill, the show is now set to open Wednesday, Dec. 11]

“I like to think I’m an entertainer when I’m teaching. I’m conveying information and trying to keep people’s attention. Laughter is good, it helps people relax and you’re more receptive when you’re relaxed, and I bring those same skills that I use in the classroom to the stage. They benefit me in both areas.”

Opening Wednesday ...

WHAT: "SantaLand Diaries"

WHERE: Schenectady Civic Playhouse, 12 S. Church St., Schenectady

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 11 and Thursday, Dec. 12; 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 13; 2:30 and 8 Saturday, Dec. 14; and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 15

HOW MUCH: $17

MORE INFO: 346-6204, www.civicplayers.org

* * *

WHAT: "You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown"

WHERE: Schenectady Light Opera Company, 427 Franklin St., Schenectady

WHEN: Opens 8 tonight and runs through Dec. 15; performance times are 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday

HOW MUCH: $28-$18

MORE INFO: 1-877-350-7378, www.sloctheater.org

* * *

WHAT: "White Christmas"

Where: GE Theater at Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady

WHEN: Opens 8 tonight and runs through Dec. 15; performance times are 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday (No Sunday show on Dec. 8)

HOW MUCH: $18.50-$15.50

MORE INFO: 346-6204, www.proctors.org

Stephens has worked with the Schenectady Civic Players in a variety of ways for more than 20 years. He has had roles in SCP’s production of “Amadeus” and most recently “Leading Ladies.” He made his main stage directorial debut last season in “Mrs. Mannerly.”

Ambitious effort

He has also performed at the Schenectady Light Opera Company, Albany Civic Theater and Home Made Theater, but “SantaLand Diaries,” a memoir of David Sedaris’ time working as an elf at Macy’s, is his most ambitious undertaking to date.

“I’m very excited and also a bit terrified,” he said with a laugh. “I have never seen a production of this play, but I’m very familiar with Sedaris’ work and I’ve read all of his books. I’m ecstatic that I’m getting this opportunity.”

“SantaLand Diaries” was first brought to life in essay form by Sedaris on National Public Radio in 1992. The piece was so well-received he put together a longer version for NPR in 1996. That same year the essay was adapted for the stage by Joe Mantello and the show debuted in November of 1996 at the Atlantic Theater Company in New York. Timothy Olyphant, the star of HBO’s “Deadwood,” played the part of the Christmas elf and the show became a huge off-Broadway smash.

“The elf tells the story of how he was employed at Macy’s SantaLand one Christmas and all the absurdities that went along with it,” said Stephens. “I really enjoy Sedaris’ kind of humor, so I’m having an awful lot of fun.”

Degree in science

Stephens grew up in South Carolina, went to Clemson University and eventually got his master’s degree in chemical engineering at the University of Florida. He initially came to the Capital Region to work at GE Global Research in Niskayuna and then got a job teaching physics at Catholic Central High School in Troy.

“There aren’t too many people out there wearing that physics/drama hat,” said Stephens, who also ran the drama program at Catholic Central. “I had done some things in elementary school, but then I got onto the science track and didn’t do anything theatrical at all until graduate school.”

Duncan Morrison is serving as director, producer and set designer for the show.

Other openings

Also opening Friday night is “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” at the Schenectady Light Opera Company and the Classic Theater Guild production of “White Christmas” at the GE Theater in Proctors.

Rebecca Straight is directing “Charlie Brown” at SLOC with Will Whisenhunt in the title role. Erin Graney is Snoopy. Joining them on stage will be Jocelyn Stuto as Lucy, Cody Logan as Linus, Gabrielle Straight as Sally and Gino Liardo as Schroeder.

“You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” was an off-Broadway smash in 1968 and played for a short time on Broadway in 1971. A revival in 1999 was a big hit, winning two Tonys and earning two more nominations.

“White Christmas” is based on the 1954 Hollywood movie with Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen. It was first made into a stage production in San Francisco in 2004; a Broadway production in 2008 earned two Tony nominations.

The story begins on Christmas Eve 1944 in Europe, and then relocates a few years later to an inn in Vermont, where two war buddies become involved in helping their former commander make a go of his business venture. The show is filled with the songs of Irving Berlin, including the title number, which was actually an Oscar winner for Best Song back in 1942 in “Holiday Inn,” starring Crosby and Fred Astaire.

In the Classic Theater Guild production, the two war pals are played by Jeffrey Jene and Tony Yates, and Alan Angelo is Maj. Gen. Waverly. Playing the two female leads are Nicolle Galligan and Jennie Pines. Ed Bablin is directing the show.

 
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