A Brief Conversation with Curtain Call Theatre’s Carol Max

LATHAM – When you speak with Carol Max about Curtain Call Theatre, you can see the passion light up in her eyes.  She’s more than happy to tell you about the adventure of the past 30 years. From the beginning, producing an original play by a Skidmore professor entitled Sheepskin at Caffe Lena, to her voyage to the “new” Curtain Call home four years ago, it is a story of following a dream, perseverance, and the support of an ever-enthusiastic spouse who encouraged her to follow that dream. 

The ribbon-cutting for the current location of Curtain Call Theatre (2018)

That support began at 3 a.m. one night after Sheepskin, when she woke up her husband Peter to let him know that she was starting a theatre company. Peter’s response was “Are the kids okay? Is the house on fire? Then can I please go back to sleep and can we talk in the morning?” That seems to pretty much sum up the two of them…Carol is the artist, Peter is the pragmatist. 

Carol is the first to point out that Peter was pulled into this project with both feet, and 30 years later is still there beside her. He works the box office for almost every performance, builds the sets for almost every production, and supports her however he is able, as long as he doesn’t have to appear before the audience. It was Carol’s thought that starting her own company would be a great way for her to juggle motherhood and marriage, and use her theatrical talents without having to run to Manhattan to audition and hopefully perform.

Carol Max (front) performing

The journey from Saratoga to Latham has been anything but linear. There were stops along the way for dinner theatre at the Holiday Inn in Saratoga and the Albany Marriott. From there to Congregation Gates of Heaven in Schenectady before moving to, as she calls it, “Little Curtain Call” in Latham for 17 years and, since 2018, their current home at 1 Jeanne Jugan Lane. 

One of the things that differentiates Curtain Call is the personal connection Carol has built with her audience. They are her “extended family” going on the journey with her, following her own family’s lives, from marriages to grandchildren to Carol’s health issue almost 16 years ago. The entire Curtain Call community rallied around her and Peter during her illness; actors, tech people, and friends picking up the slack, working the box office, doing the curtain speeches before each performance, and keeping the audience apprised of her recovery. 

Not unlike many Community Theaters, the tech staff are paid while the actors are all volunteers, honing their craft, stretching their abilities, and performing for their love of theater. The theater has also allowed Carol to polish her skills theatrically, as a performer and director, and entrepreneurially, on the business side of show business.

Carol Max

From the creative side, Max prides herself on producing a wide range of plays; love stories, mysteries, timely pieces, as well as many standards that appeal to her audience. She also attempts to expand her audience’s vision by producing many regional premieres and plays not frequently seen on area stages. 

Max feels that the future of theater rests with the youth. “It is imperative to begin to expose and educate the youth into the world of theater, as they are the audiences of tomorrow.” In order to support that hope, and in honor of the theatre’s 30th anniversary, she is offering a “kids come free” promotion. Every season subscriber can bring with them a child between the ages of 10 and 17 for free, to become immersed in live theatre.

Exterior view of the Curtain Call Theatre (Skip Dickstein/Times Union)

It has been a long, exciting, and at times frustrating journey for Carol (and Peter) these past 30 years. Just when subscriptions were at their highest and audiences were selling out performances, the pandemic hit, shutting the theatre down for 16 months. But Carol was not about to give up, and though audiences have been slow to return and subscriptions are down, people are returning. There is a pent-up hunger to see live art again. 

This year, the schedule is almost entirely regional premieres, done partially in hope of luring fresh new audience members into Curtain Call seats.  Carol has faith in her audience and the general public that they will once again return to the numbers before COVID. Perhaps, (she hopes) with the resurgence of the theater-going public, she will see new faces, younger faces, and the 30-year legacy she has created will continue to grow and flourish.

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