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Fast Start: Creating memories in Naples

Rochester Business Journal
May 23, 2014

David Shane is at home behind scenes and on stage at Bristol Valley Theater. (Photo courtesy of ASA Photographic)

There is no place like Naples for David Shane.

Downstate, Shane acted, taught, directed, even opened his own business. But it is in Naples, Ontario County, with a population of just over 1,000, that he has found his home.

Shane, 30, has spent his summers in Naples acting or directing since 2006 and has been the associate artistic director for Bristol Valley Theater, a professional summer stock theater, for roughly a year.

BVT was founded in 1964 as Bristol Valley Playhouse on Seman Road north of Naples.

Along with many other professional actors, Shane has returned to the 50-year-old theater summer after summer, a rare occurrence in the theater circuit.

“It’s not very typical for a summer theater like ours to have as many repeat actors as we have,” Shane says. “There’s something about the area, there’s something about this theater particularly, that people really have an affinity for.”

Shane brings business understanding to his role as co-founder of Footlights Entertainment LLC in 2012 with two friends. The New York City-based company provides live music for parties and milestone events.

A native of St. Louisville, Ohio, Shane attended Otterbein University in nearby Westerville to pursue musical theater. He spent 10 years in Manhattan as an actor, director and acting teacher.

He has a knack for seeing the big picture—a quality that has helped him progress in his career. Shane says a holistic view has aided his development as a director and prepared him for his current role of growing a non-profit.

“You need someone to understand how to run the business end of it, and I think more and more theaters are going to realize that there are people like me who can do both,” Shane says. “I think it’s an old assumption that you’re either an artist or a businessperson.”

Finding donors or sponsors for theater is an art in itself, he adds.

“The nuts and bolts of it is we’re a non-profit organization,” he says. “We need money to function and people to support (us), but there’s a lot of give and take. It’s not just about going around and saying, ‘Don’t you love theater?’ It’s about being able to articulate to business owners and business professionals what we bring to the community.”

Bristol Valley Theater helps to bring over $1 million to the local economy annually, according to a 2010 economic impact study by Keuka College.

At its current location on South Main Street in the village, the theater marked its 50th anniversary in March with a celebration that included a reading of the play “Noises Off.” Cast members included George Hamlin IV, chairman of Canandaigua National Bank & Trust, who performed in BVT productions for 17 years until 2006.

Its main season is summer, with a schedule of six plays and musicals in 12 weeks. The 2014 season begins June 12 with “Oh, Coward!” The rest of the year the theater hosts events such as youth programs and concerts. Shane spends the offseason figuring out details such as the upcoming season’s shows, planning fundraising and development activities and determining marketing tactics.

The theater has one other full-time employee and a part-timer during the majority of the year.

Shane has the challenge of marrying the comfortable affinity and reputation of the Bristol Valley Theater to the innovation and contemporary pulls of the drama industry.

“You walk into our space and it doesn’t feel stuffy—and that’s important because we’re a summer theater and it should be fun,” Shane says. “But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t still a high-quality thing that you’re experiencing. That you can get both—that’s what makes it appealing.”

Finding a new audience and keeping its established audience can be challenging, but Shane says it comes back to the art.

“I think theater at its best works in that it sheds some kind of light on life,” he says. “It doesn’t need to be profound. Sometimes it’s you just want to go and laugh; sometimes it’s that you want to explore a world or a subject that you haven’t explored before. I think it’s inaccurate to say that only retired people want to do that. I don’t think that’s true.”

Many of BVT’s more than 700 subscribers are from the Rochester area, including Canandaigua, Webster, Penfield, Pittsford and Fairport. The company has many sponsors, among them 13 corporate sponsors that donate dollars or services.

Its Naples location is a big reason Bristol Valley Theater has been around so long, Shane says.

“Naples is very close-knit, so you would be hard-pressed to find a business in Naples who didn’t know who we were, and they all support us in some way,” Shane says. “I think there is a very strong understanding of what the theater brings the community and vice versa, because the community brings so much to us as well.”

Ultimately, Shane’s role is to continue to leverage the theater’s legacy. He says he will do so with continual evolution.

“Just because we are your comfortable, hometown-feel sort of theater doesn’t mean that we’re not still growing and stretching our wings and staying relevant,” he says, “not just in terms of our programming but also relevant in what we bring to the community—as any good business would do.”

5/23/14 (c) 2014 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email service@rbj.net.


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