HAMBURG — Arts enthusiast and former Broadway star Tony Baksa, the creative director and founder of the Hamburg Theatre Under the Stars, has joined forces with Hamburg Library Director Jack Edson, to further promote the arts in Hamburg.
Play-reading club The Drama Circle will begin meeting once, per month, kicking off on Sept. 17.
When HUTS canceled this year’s annual Labor Day performance, due to a lack of funding, Baksa said that he received an “outpouring of support” from local people. In response, he and Edson put their heads together, in a stated effort of keeping Hamburg connected to the arts.
Baksa said that he had already been contemplating starting a play-reading club and, when he brought the idea up to Edson, the library director immediately came on board.
“The library likes to find partners in the community,” Edson said. “The plays in the park have become a tradition. We need to keep the impetus going. The library has literature and plays; we have a meeting room.”
A play will be chosen, cast and read by members of The Drama Circle, at each meeting. “What I love about this is it’s not just for actors,” Baksa said. “It is for anyone and everyone of all ages. Plays are literature. To hear them read adds another dimension.”
The Drama Club will not utilize lighting, makeup or costumes. The informal gatherings will allow participants, regardless of acting experience, to read through plays together. There are no membership fees and no officers and there will be no roll call.
“The plays will not be directed,” Baksa stressed. “I will assign the play and then they will live with it.” The first play will be announced during the orientation meeting on Sept. 17 and assigned and read, at the October meeting. At the end of that event, the next play will be announced, and so forth.
“To see what people’s perception of roles are is cool,” Baksa said. “Their interpretation gives an edge to the character. No one will be wrong. There should be no agenda.”
Because Baksa will be the one assigning the roles, he encouraged participants to “live” with the plays for a while before the actual readings, familiarizing themselves with the whole pieces, “or just do a cold read. That’s fun too.
“I am merely a guide,” he added. “If people want to discuss the play with me, they can, but I want them to be their own directors. There are no butterflies. No judgments.”
He said that he enjoys playing with gender and age roles and might incorporate that idea into the play-readings. “To bring that out is terribly creative,” he said, about actors’ bending roles. “Many times, something very rich happens.”
While Baksa and Edson stressed that anyone is invited to participate and that no judgement will be cast on the readers, they added that community members are invited to merely watch the proceedings. “You can opt out of reading and just sit and listen,” Edson said. Baksa added, “When you hear a play read, it adds new meaning and definition. It will make it very fresh for you.”
Baksa said that he will attempt to have participants in The Drama Club read through the entirety of a play at every meeting, but in the event that he chooses a long theatrical work, he will focus on key scenes for the members to read.
“This is a great opportunity for people who have always wanted to try [acting], but don’t want to get on stage in front of everybody,” Edson said.
The Drama Club is open to anyone, not merely Hamburg residents. “Any time you offer something like this, something good comes out of it,” Edson said. “And everyone who participates will get the benefit of Tony’s experience.”
Baksa, a Frontier High School graduate, started his career on the stage and in film. He appeared in several Broadway productions, including “Grease” and “A Musical Journey to the U.S.” He worked as a casting director and then did fundraising for the New York Philharmonic. He had also worked at Carnegie Hall, where he met the likes of Frank Sinatra and Leonard Bernstein, whom Baksa called “fantastic.”
Baksa continued his artistic career by doing promotions for the Roundabout Theatre Company in New York City and then came to live in his Hamburg home full time.
The actor and singer said that he is looking forward to hosting both novice and experienced actors at The Drama Circle. “It will be friendly and nurturing,” he said. “It will be a very pleasant way to spend an evening.”
He said that he will be choosing plays that have a classic edge to them. “We will be keeping them all-age appropriate, with a nod toward the classic, but still contemporary,” he said, adding that he will focus on Pulitzer-prize winners and classic writers.
“You really think differently of yourself after a stage experience,” said Edson, who has also acted. “It is such a great feeling. You can’t buy this.”
The Drama Circle’s orientation meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 17. The play announced at that meeting will be read on Oct. 1; the following meeting will be held on Nov. 5. All meetings will be held at the Hamburg Library, located at 102 Buffalo St. in Hamburg. Preregistration is not required and individuals may come to any or all meetings.
“I really think this will hit home with many people,” Baksa said. “We’ll keep it playful.”
For more information about The Drama Circle, call 648-6963, email firstname.lastname@example.org
or visit www.facebook.com/dramacircle.