Sunday, April 29, 2012

Proctors Historical Walking Tour

Last fall, Mr. D. and I went to Proctors for their first ghost tour (they will be having another one on August 25, 2012) and left wanting to know more about the history and architecture of the 1926 crown jewel of F.F. Proctor's Vaudeville circuit. Lucky for us (and about 100 others), they offered a walking tour of the facility today (and do this every now and then).

...and this is why you have no good photos from me. I was too distracted to bother remembering my camera this weekend...

[Note: the stage was set for Menopause: the Musical, so no photos of the stage here]
We started out the tour with a brief history of Mr. Proctor and his theater and then split into groups to tour the building. The first stop was Key Hall, a banquet facility in a space formerly occupied by Key Bank. The space still contains the bank vault as well as the safety deposit box vault, giving the room a unique feel. If Bonnie and Clyde ever tours and Proctors gets the show, I really, really, really hope that they will have some kind of party here (and invite me). Can't you just picture it? Photo opportunities with the cast in front of the vault, catering staff in period dress, tommy guns here and there, and some sort of red specialty cocktail. It's genius, I tell you.

It's always difficult for me to imagine Schenectady in its heyday as a thriving city growing up around General Electric and American Locomotive Company - with 95,000 people living there during its peak in the 1930's (methinks thinks could be worked into that Bonnie & Clyde party...). As a matter of fact, the skylights in the arcade are a testament to the prominence of Schenectady in times past; during WWII, it was such a big deal of a place that it was a potential German target! The lights had all been blacked out as a result, but are now restored.

We spent some time backstage talking to Keith, the production manager - which was a real treat. He showed us the load-in area, talked about the flexibility of the space, and the wide array of considerations a production manager must make for shows coming into town (ranging from technical requirements to catering). I did not take too many photos backstage, as the Menopause props/wardrobe were set up, but I could have listened to him talk all afternoon.

We were also able to tour the dressing rooms, both the larger areas and the star rooms. The large ensemble dressing room was full of tables - some bare and just waiting to be decorated, others designed to represent various touring shows (and signed by that cast). I cannot even say how much I love this idea (ok, it's even better than my Bonnie & Clyde party).

If you know me at all, you know exactly which table I made a beeline for (and if you don't, let's just say that I like Hair a little bit).

Of course, there's the theater itself, with over 2,600 seats (want an idea of how big this is? The Gershwin, the largest Broadway house which currently features Wicked, seats 1,933. Most seat 1000-1300.) and loads of original fixtures (from the bathrooms to the fireplaces).

As I noted during the last tour, I'm not alone in loving this huge historical theater. Every person we talked to obviously loves what they do and I couldn't help but wish I could hear every story that our guide alluded to being able to go on and on about.

If you've ever seen a show at Proctors, have any interest in the history of Schenectady, or are fascinated by what happens behind the scenes in the theater, go on a Proctors tour. They are currently free of charge and it's a wonderful way to spend a morning.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Day Trip From New York: The British School of Falconry in Manchester, VT

I wanted to do something a little different for my birthday this year and decided to try a falconry lesson at The British School of Falconry, associated with Equinox Resort in Manchester, VT (about a 1.5 hour drive from Albany). There was not much information about it online (other than a bunch of positive TripAdvisor reviews), but we went for it anyway.
We arrived around 1pm, signed some waivers, and followed our instructor, Jay into the barn. He introduced us to the hawks we would be working with - Monty (above - my bird), Haggis, and Billings. Remember, falconry refers to the sport (using birds of prey to catch game); many birds of prey will not work with people they don't know. Jay explained that Harris Hawks are very social birds that are willing to work with strangers (for food), making them ideal birds for this scenario. Well, expect for Mr.D's bird, Haggis, who does not like women.
The first big surprise I had was in the weight of the birds, with the male birds weighing under two pounds and the female under three. As a matter of fact, weight and diet is very strictly controlled in order to get the birds to work. A hungry bird will keep coming back for bits of meat; a full bird will go hang out in a tree and ignore you.
Jay worked with each of us individually to teach us how to send the bird away from our glove and then call him back. It was just amazing to see Monty glide back to my glove.
After we all practiced these basics, our birds went back into the barn, Jay loaded two new birds, Wallace and Skye, into the truck and we drove up to Hildene (the Robert Todd Lincoln estate) for a hawk walk.
We spent some time walking through the trails at Hildene* (protip: if you have waterproof sneakers, wear them), letting the hawks follow us, search for prey (with Jay running off to make sure they didn't get said prey once), and periodically called them to our gloves.
It was such a unique experience to work with the birds and I appreciated so much being instructed by someone who obviously loves what they do. Everyone I spoke to in booking the lesson (and worrying about the rain...the indoor lesson in the barn would not have been as much fun, so try to get an outdoor one) and during our lesson was genuinely nice and made the lesson and walk everything I hoped it would be. There are even opportunities to return during hunting season and take the birds hunting; I can honestly say this is the first time in my life I've even considered hunting. If you have enjoyed birds of prey demonstrations before (it's our favorite part of the Scottish Games at the Altamont Fairgrounds every year), do yourself a favor and check out the British School of Falconry.

*While you're in town, do check out Hildene, the summer home of Robert Todd Lincoln. There's an ├ćeolian pipe organ in the house that is VERY cool (and if you talk to the guide in the house, they will play a recording through the pipes - you don't want to miss that), beautiful gardens, and a 1903 Pullman palace railroad car (Robert Todd Lincoln was President of Pullman). There's even a goat/dairy farm, though the rain kept us from being too keen on visiting the goats.