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Albany’s Capital Repertory Debuts New Building

Albany’s first professional resident theatre is preparing to reopen in a new location for the first time in decades.

Capital Repertory Theatre was established in 1981, and for the last 40 years has called 111 North Pearl Street home. In October 2019, WAMC got a preview of Cap Rep's new venue at 251 North Pearl Street, a 19th century building that once was a Nabisco bakery. Now, a $14 million dollar makeover is complete. The theatre shut its doors in mid-March 2020 as the pandemic took hold. Governor Andrew Cuomo's recent announcement that indoor theaters could reopen at 33 percent capacity has given Cap Rep new hope. Cap Rep had made the most of its old location, a former supermarket without much wiggle room for reconfiguring the floor plan.

The new site offers a welcoming lobby with a hardwood floor. Original wooden support beams look almost new after having been blasted with crushed walnut shells. The theater area is roughly the same size as the old, but with a better view of the stage from any of its 302 seats.

The ability to redesign the building from scratch opened the door to adding amenities for performers and patrons alike.

Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill, Cap Rep's producing artistic director, says the new digs are more welcoming for artists and staff.

"The facility improvements alone, a prop shop, a costume shop, a loading door that loads directly onto the stage, instead of everything having to come in the front door at Pearl Street, just up the block. Rehearsal space that turns into a beautiful flexible space studio theater. Dressing rooms, amazing private dressing rooms for the first time ever, so that we can give that benefit to some of our wonderful, incredible artists. And I have to say it, 25 years I've been here as producing artistic director and I have an office with a window for the first time. So all of these things, but what will really make a huge connection for our artists is some very fun equipment that we have in sound and lights."

Mancinelli-Cahill added the facility also offers increased accessibility, more than a dozen restrooms and ample parking.

Mayor Kathy Sheehan, a Democrat running for a third term, has been a supporter of the arts throughout the region.

"The completion of this renovated space at a time that we are all starting to slowly and safely emerge from what has been an experience that no one in our lifetimes has ever had, is to me a symbol, and it is a sign of our hope for our future, of our ability to be resilient.  And to have something to look forward to that's new and amazing. And I think it's going to be appreciated in a way that it wouldn't have necessarily been, had we not gone through what we've gone through in the last year.  And so I'm a silver linings person, and I'm always looking for that silver lining.  But I think coming into this space literally takes my breath away, in an incredible way that I am so much more appreciative of what is going to happen here."

Cap Rep's board President Harold Iselin says building a new home for the theatre fulfills a dream.

"It is the result of many years of hard work by our board and our senior management. We had to find a new home. We had to raise the financing. We had to design the building. We had to start construction. And then we had to restart construction a second time after it was interrupted by COVID. At every step, we ran into significant obstacles. But we persevered. We found solutions. And here we are today. This project will be great for the cultural life of our region. But we also hope it will be transformative for downtown Albany."

Iselin says the last obstacle to overcome is reopening. Officials say they'll move cautiously toward full occupancy by 2023. They haven't ruled out staging outdoor productions. Staff members will return as needed when it is deemed safe.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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