New York State Theatre Institute
In 1974, the New York State Legislature enacted legislation creating the Empire State Youth Theatre Institute (ESYTI). In 1982, through a collaboration with "the Egg" (the Empire State Plaza Performing Arts Center) it became known as the Empire State Institute for the Performing Arts (ESIPA). In 1992, the New York State Legislature reconstituted the organization as a public benefit corporation and renamed it the New York State Theatre Institute (NYSTI)(Snyder, 1991, pp. 11–12). It was the first state mandated theatre for children in the United States (McCaslin, 1987, p. 132).
NYSTI's website explains that its mission is fourfold: 1) to produce professional theatre of the highest artistic standards for family and school audiences; 2) to use those productions to provide provocative and innovative arts in education programs; 3) to exchange theatre, culture, and humanity with the people and artists of other nations; and 4) to develop new plays and musicals for family audiences that speak clearly to a changing world.
Methods and Educational Programs
Performers, technicians, staff, and guest artists use theatre to reach beyond the stage into the classroom, motivating students to find new interest in their daily subjects. The Institute's educational services include Pre-Show Intros and Study Guides, Inservices, inter-disciplinary classes following performances, educational outreach programs, a Theatre Arts School, summer theatre programs, and an extensive intern and educator-in-residence program. All members of NYSTI's professional staff participate in educational programs.
Highly individualized internships provide school-to-work transition experience for high-school seniors as well as college under-graduate and graduate students from schools in New York and other states, as well as from other countries. Each intern is assigned a mentor from the professional staff who guides and assists the intern. More than 1,500 interns from more than 90 colleges, high school seniors, and thirteen foreign nations have worked and studied at NYSTI.
From its inception, the Institute has maintained a strong commitment to international cultural exchange beginning with the tour of “The Wizard of Oz” to Moscow in 1974 by the troupe from the State University of New York at Albany whose leadership later founded the Institute. In 1986, the Institute became the first theatre company from the United States to perform in the former Soviet Union upon resumption of cultural relations between the two countries. The company returned to Russia in 1989 and has twice hosted visits to the United States by the Moscow Musical Theatre. NYSTI also has represented its state and nation in cultural exchanges with Canada, England, France, Israel, Italy, Sweden and Jordan, including a month-long performance run in London's West End. NYSTI has hosted more than thirty foreign artists or companies from such places as Russia, Israel, Jordan, Sweden, Scotland, Hungary, England, France, Canada, and Japan.
New Plays and Musicals
Eight of NYSTI's premieres have been accepted for licensing and publication by Samuel French Inc., the world's largest publisher of plays. Among NYSTI's count of more than forty-five premiere productions are William Gibson's “Rag Dolly,” which toured to Moscow in 1986 (a later version opened on Broadway as Raggedy Ann) and Paul Shyre's “Hizzoner!,” starring Tony Lo Bianco, which won five Emmy awards in a WNET/13 co-production and later played on Broadway before touring to Moscow in 1989. The New York and East Coast premiere of Jeffrey Sweet's “American Enterprise,” was nominated by the Outer Critics Circle for its 1994 John Gassner Playwriting Award and chosen for special citation in The Best Plays of 1993-1994.
Warner Music Group awarded NYSTI $400,000 in 1996 to develop five new musicals for family audiences. The first of those was “A Tale of Cinderella” by W.A.Frankonis, Will Severin, and George David Weiss, made possible in part by funding provided by Warner Music Group and by the participation of Warner/Chappell Music, Inc. An immediate success, the award-winning show is available as an Atlantic Theatre CD or cassette and has been released by Warner Bros. in both VHS and DVD editions. Warner Bros. Publications also published “Vocal Selections from ‘A Tale of Cinderella’.” The video was broadcast nationwide on PBS stations which reached more than 56 million households. In the 2000-01 Season, “A Tale of Cinderella” toured all the major cities of New York including Buffalo, Syracuse, the Capital Region, and Manhattan.
Other new musicals developed with the Warner Music Group grant are “The Silver Skates,” “Magna Carta,” and “The Snow Queen” (which toured to London’s West End and won numerous awards for its audio book).
In addition to its tour of “A Tale of Cinderella,” NYSTI has toured its education programs and performances to New York City, with productions of Institute originals “Sleeping Beauty” and “Beauty and the Beast,” and new stagings of “Narnia” and “Slow Dance on the Killing Ground.” The theatre company has also performed at the Kennedy Center, Ford's Theatre, Queens Theatre in the Park, the Fulton Opera House, and the Honolulu Theatre for Youth.
In recent years, NYSTI, through Family Classic Audio, began producing audio books and has found remarkable success—ten titles winning awards from as many as five national presenters in all kinds of genres: musicals, mysteries, and dramas. Two titles won Audie Awards from the Audio Publishers Association (“The Killings Tale,” “Sherlock’s Secret Life”) and another six were named Audie Award Silver Finalists (“Hollowville,” “Sherlock’s Legacy,” “King of Shadows,” “Heart of Troy,” “Zoe Caldwell reads Oscar Wilde Fairy Tales,” “A Little Princess”). AudioFile magazine gave its Earphones Award to “A Tale of Cinderella” and “The Snow Queen.” Foreword magazine named “The Snow Queen” a finalist for its ‘Book of the Year’ award and the Independent Book Publishers Association also recognized “The Snow Queen” with a Benjamin Franklin Award. “King of Shadows,” also received a nomination for a Benjamin Franklin Award. USA Book News gave “The Killings Tale” its Best Books Award and named “The Snow Queen” a finalist.
A report by the New York State Inspector's Office, issued in April 2010, charged that the theatre was rife with corruption, mismanagement, nepotism and possibly illegal conduct. It claimed that Artistic Director Patricia Snyder improperly used state money to pay herself and her family, and to subsidize trips to Europe. (New York Times, April 20, 2010.)
A Study of the Empire State Youth Theatre Institute, State University of New York Snyder, Patricia Di Benedetto, Ph.D. New York University, 1991
Historical Guide to Children's Theatre in America Nellie McCaslin Greenwood Press Inc., 1987
"Report Finds Corruption in N.Y. Theater Group," New York Times, April 20, 2010. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/21/nyregion/21theater.html?hp
"A Theater On the Defense Over Spending," New York Times, June 5, 2006. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C01E1DE1431F936A35755C0A9609C8B63&sec=&spon=&&scp=2&sq=New%20York%20State%20Theater%20Institute%20and%20Patricia&st=cse
"NYSTI head's hiring, spending blasted," Troy Record, April 21, 2010. http://www.troyrecord.com/articles/2010/04/21/news/doc4bce7552d1cc5951990592.txt