5 Questions with Barbara Davis

Barbara Davis has built a strong resume working at many of the Capital Region’s strongest community theaters on adventurous fare: numerous one-acts with Confetti Stage’s annual ConfettiFest, “Wit” with Troy Civic Theatre, “4,000 Miles,” and especially “Alabama Story” with Albany Civic Theater. She directed “Alabama Story” after catching it at the Majestic Theatre in West Springfield. She brought its Capital Region Premiere to Second Avenue, even attracting a visit from its playwright, Kenneth Jones. She kicks off her season with “Chapter Two” by Neil Simon. We spoke by email as she prepared for Opening Night last week.

PW: When did you look at the theater and say that’s for me?

BD: I was in the 10th grade.  A friend encouraged me to get involved in our high school’s production of “Oklahoma!”  Prior to that, I had been involved in a few school productions that were fun but it wasn’t until “Oklahoma!” that I really became hooked.  The teamwork, camaraderie, and excitement of being a part of something where I felt I belonged were very strong, and I was “just” a backstage crew person who opened the house curtain! After that, I would work on any play that came my way in high school, and I majored in theater education in college. I really wanted to make a difference in the lives of kids like me, who never really felt a connection to something before discovering theater. It’s not just for those people who aspire to Broadway or the silver screen. It builds a student’s character, their sense of responsibility in the world, and their sense of self.

PW: I don’t think I’ve ever seen you act. Have you always directed, and how did that get started? Is there a stage appearance I’m forgetting?

BD: I have acted a few times, but I much prefer to hide in the wings!  I’ve been in a few short play festivals (ConfettiFest and Foothills Short Play Festival), and I appeared in “The Vagina Monologues,” as well as a locally written play entitled “Electric City Blues,” by Jonathan Riven, which performed in a play festival/competition in NYC.  We performed in an extremely small theater in NYC, but it was literally right off Broadway, which was pretty exciting!  Other than one of the two front teeth in a 3rd-grade play, taking college acting classes round out my entire acting resume!

PW: Why did you want to do “Chapter Two,” and how does this play continue to resonate today?

BD: I saw “Chapter Two” when it first appeared on Broadway (yes, I’m that old!), and I loved the story. Neil Simon’s work is, of course, funny, but it touches on the experiences we all have as we navigate through every day of our sometimes dull lives, and by writing this way, he managed to make so many of us laugh at ourselves while also empathizing with others as we watch them struggle through life.  “Chapter Two” is also a beautiful, semi-autobiographical love story about his marriage to Marsha Mason, which really intrigued me then and now. 

As far as how it resonates today, I think any story of the human experience continues to resonate through time.“Hedda Gabler” still resonates today. “The Heiress” does as well. Even when written about and in different times in history, we can still see ourselves, and the connection can be so moving.  With “Chapter Two,” the language is sometimes odd and dated, but the emotions the characters experience are still so real.

PW: What’s your favorite thing about Schenectady Civic Players?

BD: There are so many things!  I love the theater space. I love the people affiliated with SCP who I have worked with and how helpful they are, from showing me where all the light switches are to helping develop the characters more through observation and critique. A person who is lucky enough to direct at SCP can tell that this is a very well-organized, dedicated group of local theater people. The fact that they are in one of the most beautiful parts of Schenectady doesn’t hurt either!

PW: What is a play that changed your life, and how?

BD: Oh wow! Just one?!  There are dozens!  I would have to say that working on that sappy musical, “Oklahoma!” in my sophomore year of high school changed my life because it gave me the feeling that I had found where I belonged. A silly children’s play-“Once Upon a Time”(?)- I directed in my senior year of high school proved to me that I could do this, and directing shows for Troy High School gave me such a thrill when I would get to see the light go on and the spark ignite in so many students. I knew how lucky I was to have had that experience to give them what my high school directors gave me.  As a member of the local theater community, being able to direct a regional premiere of “Alabama Story” is probably one of the biggest highlights. It was such an important story to tell, and working with the playwright and so many talented theater people was an experience I will never forget. This doesn’t even scratch the surface, but I don’t want to put anyone to sleep!

“Chapter Two” by Neil Simon runs November 10-19, 2023, Fri & Sat at 8:00 PM, Wed & Thu at 7:30 PM. Sunday at 2:30 PM at the Schenectady Civic Playhouse. Tickets: www.civicplayers.org

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